Rick Porcello

Rick Porcello’s 0-walk, 0-strikeout shutout was miraculous

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If you go back to 1914 — which is how far back Baseball Reference’s amazing Pitching Game Finder goes back — you will find that 67 different pitchers have thrown shutouts without walking or striking out a single batter. The list includes Hall of Famers like Christy Mathewson and Eppa Rixey and Jesse Haines along with a handful pitchers you probably do not know. It has always been a rare feat — the zero-walk, zero-strikeout shutout.

But these days it’s not rare. It’s all but impossible. In fact, if you had asked me I would have said it IS impossible in today’s game. But apparently it’s not. Detroit’s Rick Porcello pulled it off Tuesday night.

How crazy was Porcello’s game? Well … crazy. Let’s put it this way: Do you know how many pitchers last year threw a complete game without striking out anybody or walking anybody — I’m not talking shutouts here I’m just talking any game with zero walks, zero Ks. Answer: 0.

2012: 0.
2011: 0.
2010: 0.
2009: 0

In fact, the only person since 2000 to throw a complete game without walking or striking out anybody was Seattle’s Joe Pineiro back in 2006. He gave up two runs. Before that, you have to go back to Pedro Astacio in 1994.

As mentioned, these zero-walk, zero-strikeout shutouts — let’s call them Porcellos to make it simple — these Porcellos used to be rare but they did happen. If you go back to 1969 — that expansion year championship series in each league — there have been nine Porcelllos pitched:

July 18, 1971: Cincinnati’s Ross Grimsley throws three-hit shutout against Padres.

June 4, 1974: Kansas City’s Al Fitzmorris throws three-hit shutout against Baltimore.

July 23, 1976: San Francisco’s Jim Barr throws four-hit shutout against Astros.

May 26, 1978: Cubs’ Dave Roberts throws seven-hit shutout against Cardinals.

June 4, 1979: Milwaukee’s Mike Caldwell scatters eight hits against White Sox.

July 20, 1986: White Sox Neil Allen throws two-hitter against Yankees.

July 21, 1987: Boston’s Roger Clemens pitches five-hit shutout against Angels.

August 21,1989: Baltimore’s Jeff Ballard gives up seven hits against Brewers.

July 1, 2014: Detroit’s Rick Porcello throws 95 pitches and gives up four hits to A’s.

Well, you can see that’s a 25-year gap between Ballard and Porcello. What did you expect? Shutouts are way down. Strikeouts are way up. Math is math. The only pitcher in the last decade to throw a shutout without a strikeout was Derek Lowe a couple of years ago — he walked four batters. You would never expect this Porcello thing to happen in today’s age.

Here’s why: If you let hitters put the ball in play in 2014, you are almost certainly going to get hurt. It’s really that simple. See, when players actually hit the ball, they are hitting it much harder than they ever have. You probably know about BABIP — Batting Average on Balls in Play — and that gets talked about a lot. It stays pretty constant. But what’s easy to forget is that BABIP does not include home runs. Home runs are not in play, so they are excluded from the average.

If you include home runs, batting averages DO NOT stay constant. The batting averages on balls hit has skyrocketed the last 20 or so years. In fact, 22 of the top 23 averages on balls hit have occurred since the 1994 strike year. The only other year to sneak on the list was 1930, which you might recall was this crazy offensive season where Bill Terry hit .400 and Hack Wilson drove in 191 RBIs and Chuck Klein hit 59 doubles and so on.

In 1989, the last time anyone threw a Porcello, batters hit .305 when they hit the ball. In 1978, when Dave Roberts had his Porcello, batters barely hit .300 when they hit the ball. My friend Al Fitzmorris, who threw a Porcello in 1974, has talked often about his approach as a pitcher which was basically: Keep the ball low and let them hit it. That year, 1974, was his best season: He struck out 53 batters ALL YEAR. Well, batters were hitting .301 when they hit the ball. You could get away with that back then.

In 2014, though — and remember, this is a year dominated by pitching — batters are hitting .324 when they hit the ball. And, of course, they are hitting with a lot more power too. So, as a pitcher, you really CAN’T let them put the ball in play. And that is a big factor in what the game has become.

Here’s a quick timeline of what I think has happened the last 20 or so years:

1. Batters started to get stronger — both through a new emphasis on working out and various performance enhancers both legal and illegal — and began swinging harder to take advantage of smaller strike zones, better bats, more home-run friendly ballparks.

2. Batters started hitting the ball much harder and setting all sorts of records.

3. Baseball began testing for PEDs, deadened the ball (I think) and expanded the strike zone through various means.

4. Pitchers (and managers) realized their one defense against these harder-swinging batters was to strike them out. So they began throwing much harder and in much shorter spurts.

5. Strikeouts went way, way up as hitters kept swinging hard and found themselves unable to adapt to the new environment.

6. Pitchers began blowing out their arms in greater numbers.

That seems to be where we are now. Strikeouts are at an all-time high. Tommy John surgeries seem to be a growth industry. And the whole “throw strikes and rely on your defense” strategy kind of went out the window.

Which brings us back to Porcello’s great shutout (his second in a row). It’s was a fascinating performance from another time — it began with four ground ball outs. He gave up a double to Jed Lowrie and a deep fly ball to Steven Vogt, but then the game settled down again. The Tigers shifted on John Jaso and that worked a couple of times. The A’s managed a couple of decently hit balls. But generally it was groundballs and pop-ups, groundballs and pop-ups. In the ninth, Jaso, Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss all got the ball into the air but not deep enough and that was that. It was like something out of the 1970s. And it was pretty great.

There is a theory I’ve heard from several people working in baseball that hitting — the actual talent of hitting line drives and ground balls to all fields — is the next big commodity in baseball. Power has been the hot market for a long time — and hitters took hold of the game with their free-swinging homers. But now pitchers have taken back the game with their swing-and-miss pitches and bullpens filled with 100-mph flamethrowers. The theory is that teams will start to place big value again on hitters who are smaller and quicker guys who can hit .300, who will not strike out, who cannot be shifted against.

I don’t know if that’s really where the game is going … but I hope it goes that way at least a little bit. The Porcello game was a reminder that baseball is pretty great when there’s action, when balls are in play and fielders are moving and base runners are in motion. The game lasted two hours and 13 minutes, and it was crisp baseball. Hey, strikeouts are great. And walks are a powerful offensive weapon. But I think most fans would be just fine with just a few less of each.

Padres trade starters Andrew Cashner, Colin Rea to the Miami Marlins

Andrew Cashner
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8:47 AM: The Padres may be giving up two pitchers, but they’re getting a nice return. Early reports have first baseman Josh Naylor, the Marlins’ top position playing prospect, heading to San Diego. Naylor, the Marlins’ first round pick in 2015, is currently in A-ball, where he’s hitting .269/.317/.430 with nine homers and 54 RBI in 89 games. He has no real defensive value but he’s only 19 and is expected to hit wherever he goes. Naylor, from Canada, recently played in the Futures Game, where he had two hits and drove in a run for the World team.

8:31 AM: Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that the Marlins are also getting pitcher Colin Rea from Padres. Rea has started 18 games this year for San Diego, posting a 4.98 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 76/44 in 99 and a third innings. He’s definitely more innings eater than effective starter, but the Marlins are clearly looking to throw as many pitchers at the problem as they can get. Plus: Rea is under team control through 2021 and won’t be arbitration eligible until 2019, so he’ll be with Miami for a long time if they want him.

8:29 AM: Ken Rosenthal just reported that this trade is “bigger than just Cashner,” and that the Marlins may be getting more from the Padres. So stay tuned.

8:26 AM: Buster Olney reports that the San Diego Padres have traded pitcher Andrew Cashner to the Miami Marlins. There’s no word yet on the return.

This is a rental of a guy with a live arm but who has experienced some mighty struggles this season. Cashner is 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA and a 67/30 K/BB ratio in 79 1/3 innings. He missed over three weeks between June 11 and July 2 due to a strained neck. A righty, Cashner is earning $9.625 million this season and will be eligible for free agency after the season.

Miami has been in desperate need to upgrade the back of its rotation. If Cashner can regain the form he showed before injuries slowed him down in the past two seasons, he will be an upgrade. That’s not necessarily a pipe dream — he’s pitched pretty well of late — and he certainly has some incentive to show what he can do down the stretch to potential suitors this coming offseason.

The Marlins currently sit five games back of the Nationals in the NL East and are tied with the Cardinals for the second wild card slot.

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - JULY 28:  
 Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim slides past catcher Sandy Leon #3 of the Boston Red Sox to score the tying run in the ninth inning after Leon jumped but couldn't reach the ball on a throwing error at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 28, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  The winning run also scored on the play as the Angels won 2-1.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Last night Hillary Clinton jabbed at Donald Trump by saying that “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” This means that no Phillies fan who followed me from 2009-2012 and no Royals fan who has followed me since 2014 can ever be president. Sad seeing y’all disqualify yourselves like that, but that’s just how it goes.

Anyway, here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rockies 2, Mets 1: Jeurys Familia saved 52 (regular season) games in a row before Wednesday night, now he’s blown two in a row. This one on a day when his manager said he wasn’t going to pitch but used him anyway, but I suppose stuff happens. So do errors by your first baseman and wild pitches in games that, because your offense could do nothing, you had no margin for error. For Colorado, credit Tyler Anderson for allowing only one run in six and four relievers for allowing bupkis to the Mets the rest of the way.

Angels 2, Red Sox 1: Speaking of bad defense from your first baseman, Hanley Ramirez sailed a throw home in the ninth inning which allowed both of the Angels runs to score in walkoff fashion. Assist to Brad Ziegler for loading the bases with one out beforehand, helping squander eight shutout innings from David Price. That’s four straight losses for the Sox. They’re just lucky that the Orioles have lost three in a row themselves.

Brewers 6, Diamondbacks 4: Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Jonathan Villar got the day off yesterday but it didn’t matter. The Brewers had Zach Davies going and, despite a first inning stumble, he was solid, allowing two earned runs while pitching into the seventh. For the Dbacks, Robbie Ray struck out 11 dudes in fewer than six innings but he ran out of gas and the pen couldn’t hold the Snakes’ early lead. There are rumors that Chip Hale is on thin ice as Arizona’s manager. Games like this can’t help his mood.

Twins 6, Orioles 2: A four-run seventh inning for the Twins broke a 2-2 tie. Max Kepler tied the game at 2 with a homer in the sixth and had two hits and two RBI in all. Eduardo Nunez went 0-for-4 and was traded to San Francisco after the game, which was a makeup from a postponed game from back in May. Life is the illusion of control over one’s plans and circumstances.

Phillies 7, Braves 5: Aaron Altherr went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBI in his first game back after missing over 100 of ’em with a broken wrist. Maikel Franco and Tommy Jospeh homered too. Matt Wisler of the Braves gave up all three of those bombs because giving up bombs is what Matt Wisler does.

Cardinals 5, Marlins 4: Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three. His homer came off of Jose Fernandez, who was his childhood friend in Cuba. With friends like these . . . Fernandez was beat up pretty good — he also allowed a homer to Matt Holliday — and gave up five runs in five innings. Dee Gordon went 0-for-4 in his return from his drug suspension. Ichiro got a hit and is two shy of 3,000. In other news, a bunch of my friends were at this game because the SABR convention is going on down in Miami right now. During the game one of them tweeted that, in their opinion, the silly home run sculpture thing in the outfield at Marlins Park should light up when the visitors hit a homer too. This morning I woke up to a bunch of their tweets from karaoke bars in the middle of the night. One of them was doing “Piano Man.” another was doing “Walking in Memphis.” SABR convention attendees: wrong for baseball, wrong for America. Everyone knows that the best karaoke song is “Laid” by James. And that if you don’t do the high notes on the “. . . think you’re so pretty . . .” lines you shouldn’t even bother.

Rangers 3, Royals 2: Cole Hamels allowed two runs and six hits in eight innings, giving his stumbling club both innings and effectiveness just like an ace does. Lookin’ at you, Pete Mackanin. The Royals have lost seven of ten and sit in fourth place, nine games back in the AL Central.

Cubs 3, White Sox 1: Chris Sale came back and allowed two runs in six innings. This is frustrating in that if he pitched either way, way better or way, way worse, I could’ve shoehorned in a “shredded” descriptor about his performance. As it was, he and the Sox lost because John Lackey and the Cubs bullpen pitched better.

Nationals 4, Giants 2: The Nationals’ bullpen tried its hardest to blow this one, allowing the Giants to rally a bit in the ninth, but it wasn’t a big enough rally. Tanner Roark allowed one run over seven innings, striking out three and [all together now] helping his own cause by singling in a run in the Nats’ three-run second inning. The Nats won their 60th game. The Giants are stuck on 59. The Cubs have 61.