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UPDATE: What Happens After Perfection?

An old sports cliché is that you want to try to get better every day. Tonight, that’s impossible Matt Cain, who takes the mound for the first time since orchestrating one of the best pitching performances in modern baseball history. I don’t know how he’ll follow that act, but let’s look at how others in the past have played under such circumstances.

Excluding Cain, there have been 21 perfect games in baseball history. Nineteen of those have occurred since the beginning of the 20th century, and 17 of those took place after 1918, the first year in Baseball-Reference.com’s regular-season Play Index database. It isn’t quite fair to include a couple of those games in this simple examination. Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game in 1956, and Mike Witt’s 1984 perfect game came about in their final starts of that season, so they will not be counted.

The overall totals of the remaining 15 pitchers in their post-perfection start: 98.1 innings, 98 hits, 56 earned runs, 26 walks, 72 Ks, 17 home runs. Their overall record is 6-6. That’s an ERA of 5.12 and a WHIP of 1.26.

Some specifics:

  • Seven of those 15 starters allowed at least four earned runs in their follow-up start.
  • Philip Humber may have put up the worst start of any pitcher following a perfect game — nine ERs over five innings — but Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter can’t be too far behind. He allowed three homers in the first inning, including one to the first batter he faced six days after his perfect game in 1968. He allowed eight runs over six innings, but unlike Humber, Catfish got the W.
  • The best start after a perfect game probably came out of Tom Browning’s left arm in 1988. Eight innings, five hits, one run, one walk and four strikeouts in a victory.
  • David Cone lasted just four innings in his next start, his second-shortest outing of the 1999 season.
  • Two pitchers — Len Barker and Dallas Braden — were tagged with the loss despite throwing a complete game.
  • Cain and Sandy Koufax both struck out 14 batters in their perfect game. In his next start, Koufax pitched just six innings, allowing five hits and one earned run in a no-decision. he struck out three.
  • Barker, who struck out 11 in his perfect game in 1981, is the only pitcher so far to come back to struck out double-digit batters in his next start (10 Ks versus the Seattle Mariners).
  • None of these pitchers carried a no-hitter past the third inning in their next start. Because, you know, it’s damn hard to throw a no-hitter.

So, not a whole lot of success for the guys who had to go back to work five days after making history. What does this mean for Cain? Quick take: He’ll probably give up some runs. His away splits aren’t awful, but he’s clearly better at home, and the Angels are hitting the ball well. I’m not going to make any predictions other than there won’t be a perfect game pitched by Matt Cain tonight.

But considering how the past couple of years have gone for pitchers in the majors, he might have to wait only a couple of months.

Update: Cain got the win against the Angels, but they worked him into a lot of deep counts, so Cain was able to go only five innings on 100 pitches. He walked a season-high four batters. He allowed more runs in this start — three — than he had allowed in his four previous outings — two. Pretty par for the course with his perfection brethren. But hey, at least it lowered the group’s collective ERA in those follow-up starts.

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