There’s been a lot of internet ink spilled about Diamondbacks pitching at this website recently. That’s due to a host of issues, the fact that pitching does make up half of a baseball game not withstanding. But while there’s been a lot of stressing over who will take the mound in 2015, this is the season for joy and what better way to temporarily disregard Trevor Cahill’s future starts than to acknowledge the greatest of Diamondbacks pitching performances in history?

I know of no better way to ease modern pitching discomfort than to get all nostalgic, so let’s take a look at the ten greatest starting pitching performances in team history. But how do we determine “the greatest?” There are a number or ways to accomplish this, but I’ll share some of my favorite stats for making such a determination:

  • Game Score: created by Bill James, the Game Score is used to evaluate a pitcher’s performance from an objective, statistical point of view. It focuses on innings pitched, strikeouts, walks, hits, runs, etc. It’s a nice, easy-to-use catch-all stat to sum up a pitcher’s performance. For reference, here are the greatest performances, sorted by game score, by starting pitchers since 1950: Game Score Leaderboard
  • Win Probability Added (WPA): this essentially credits and debits a pitcher for how he has influenced the game, either positively (credits) or negatively (debits). A score of 0.000 would mean he had a neutral impact on the game. A score of 1.000 or -1.000 would mean he either single-handedly won or lost the game for his team (truly impossible). In a 1-0 win a pitcher will get more credit for the victory than a 9-0 blowout since the batters scored enough runs to easily win the game.
  • Run Expectancy (RE24): similar in theory to WPA above, RE24 instead sums the run expectancies for the 24 base-out states. If you’re not familiar, you can take a look at the Tango Tiger blog or, as I would heavily recommend, buy The Book by Tango, et al. In the context of RE24, 0.00 is average, negative numbers are below average and positive numbers are above average. Just another way to effectively judge the performance of a player, whether over the course of a play, game, season or career.
  • Average Leverage Index (aLI): this stat tells us what the average “leverage” was during the pitcher’s time on the mound. A one-run lead with the bases loaded and nobody out is obviously extremely high leverage, whereas up 7-0 with two outs in the ninth is extremely low leverage. For aLI, a score or 1.00 is average. This stat essentially tells us just how “close” the game was that the pitcher pitched in.
  • Outcome: not really a “stat” per se, but still important insofar as it denotes the overall impact of the accomplishment. For example, complete-game shutouts are very good, but no hitters are better, and perfect games are a beast all their own. This is probably the least-important part of my analysis, but can serve to break ties and isn’t entirely without value, especially in historical context.

With these things in mind, let’s dive right into the ten greatest pitching performances in the history of the Arizona Diamondbacks, focussing on our advanced stats to make that determination.

#10: Ian Kennedy, September 19, 2011

IPK Sept 19

Behold the greatness of Ian Patrick Kennedy! For real, this is a unique name on this list (you’ll see why very soon) and it was a great game for IPK, pitching eight innings and protecting a one-run lead before giving way to J.J. Putz for the save. He did in dominant fashion, too, striking out twelve while surrendering just one hit and one walk. In a game where he recorded 24 outs, he faced just 26 batters and I’m sure that removing him from the game wasn’t an easy decision, but at 113 pitches thrown through eight innings and just a one-run lead, the decision was probably the right one.

#9: Randy Johnson, August 5, 2002

RJ August 5

One of many great RJ performances in a Diamondbacks uniform, Johnson simply mowed down the Mets in route to one of his many complete-game shutouts. The game was high-leverage all the way, but he allowed just four base runners and struck out 11 over nine innings as his WPA was also impressive in the win.

#8 Curt Schilling, April 10, 2001

CS April 10

In another close, low-scoring affair, Schilling was amazing! He allowed just two hits and no walks, facing just two batters over the minimum while punishing the Dodgers with 10 strikeouts over nine innings. His WPA and RE24 numbers are incredible here, as he received a ton of credit for his team’s win, plus if there aren’t bonus points baked in there for beating the Dodgers, well, there should be!

#7 Randy Johnson, September 14, 2002

RJ Sept 14 2002

Hey look! The Diamondbacks scored more than two runs! Not that Randy Johnson needed it or anything, he was mad at the Brewers, striking out 17 over nine innings. He allowed five base runners on three hits and two walks, but he scattered them as the offense provided him with an early lead and he never looked back.

#6 Randy Johnson, September 14, 2003

RJ Sept 14 2003

That’s not a typo: one year after racking up a game score of 96 against the BrewCrew, Johnson was at it again on September 14th, this time crushing the Rockies. He struck out 12, walked one and gave up a hit, but a caught-stealing meant that RJ only faced one batter over the minimum. Once again, he was provided a lead and locked it down on his own.

#5 Curt Schilling, May 14, 2003

CS May 14

Not one to be outdone, Schilling was on his game as the D-backs narrowly beat the Phillies. He struck out 14, walked one and gave up just two hits, one of which was a double. Schilling pitched around it, though, and needed just 106 pitches to dispatch the Phillies in a high-leverage complete-game shutout.

#4 Randy Johnson, April 21, 2002

RJ April 21

Run support wasn’t a problem in this win, and neither was the competition for RJ. An unearned run was surrendered, but Johnson faced just 31 batters and struck out 17 of them. Although he leverage was low due to the lead being safe, Johnson never took his foot off the gas and did unspeakable things to the Rockies en route to an impressive RE24 total and game score.

#3 Randy Johnson, May 8, 2001

RJ May 8

Randy Johnson didn’t get the win here. He also allowed an earned run. But any time you can strike out 20 batters in nine innings while facing just two over the minimum, you’ve just done something incredible. He walked none and allowed three hits, but a caught-stealing erased one base runner. The game was a high-leverage affair and Johnson exited after the ninth with the game tied. In the top of the 11th, Russ Springer gave up two runs without recording an out, but the D-backs got to the Reds’ Danny Graves in the bottom of the 11th for three runs, walking it off in dramatic fashion.

#2 Curt Schilling, April 7, 2002

CS April 7

Schilling racked up the highest WPA on this list as he destroyed the Brewers almost single-handedly. He gave up just one hit, walked two and struck out 17. He needed 127 pitches to get through nine, but despite the close score, he finished the job. He faced just 29 batters and carried a one-run lead through the eighth before the D-backs tacked on an insurance run, then Schilling slammed the door on his own.

#1 Randy Johnson, May 18, 2004

RJ May 18

I might get fired for this, but I’m ranking RJ’s perfecto as the best starting pitching performance in team history. I would argue that Schilling was actually better in the game above from a context-neutral standpoint, but perfect games are so rare that I’m sticking with the traditional outcome when naming my number one. What can you say? Johnson struck out 13 and didn’t allow a single base runner. Chipper Jones, who actually played left field that day, was hitless in three at-bats and struck out each time, which was representative of just how good Randy Johnson was in the best game pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks (Perfect Game Video).

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3 Responses to The Gift of Great D-backs Pitching

  1. John k says:

    I thought Collmenters complete game facing the minimum # of batters might have made the list

  2. Steely Dan says:

    Unbelievable that Brandon Webb didn’t have at least one game on the list, but I suppose that’s more a testament to Schilling and Johnson’s dominance than anything else.

  3. Anonymous says:

    how bout game 4, 5 closing of world series?

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