Monday, August 17, 2009

Concerning Randy Wolf's Day

As I browse around my favorite numbers-laden corners of the web, it seems that no one is as fascinated with last night's Dodgers-Diamondbacks game as I am. Are my eyes deceiving me? Or was Wolf's performance last night on the very cusp of all time greatness?

Randy Wolf (Aug. 17 vs. Diamondbacks)
On the mound: 7.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 10 K, 1 HR

At the plate: 3/4, 2B, HR, 3 RBI

... and it's probably better than it looks. If not for what seemed like sheer physical exhaustion (he'd had a long day), Wolf looked unhittable before the 8th: 4 of those hits including the HR coming in that final 2/3 of an inning. So assuming Joe Torre removes Wolf after the 7th, here's the pitching line:

7 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 10 K.

Between the 1st inning with one out and the end of the 7th, no batters reached against him. 20 retired in a row. 74% of a perfect game was thrown in the same period that the pitcher fell a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. Simply amazing.

Small caveat here: Wolf's double came in the top of the 8th inning, so Torre would have had to leave him in to bat in this situation to complete the offensive leg of this feat. In retrospect, it's probably running out that very double that finished off that last bit of gas.

So if Randy Wolf could have finished off 7 additional hitters without allowing a hit (a feat accomplished in 49% of games played this year) and hit a triple, would this have been considered the single best performance by a player well ... ever?

If a PA can reasonably be considered 20% of a hitter's offensive day, an equivalent number of batters faced for a pitcher would be around 5-6. So for a hitter facing an equally improbably milestone, he was the equivalent of just one appearance away as both a hitter and a pitcher from completing a feat unlikely to ever be matched again.

I'm still in a pattern of trying to capture the scope of just what we're talking about here. Has a pitcher hit for the cycle before? He has - although Jimmy Ryan was primarily a centerfielder for the Cubs ... in 1888.

Perfect games? We know what those look like, thanks to Mark Beurhle earlier this year ... only the 16th one of those in Major League history. So how on Earth could you quantify those two feats? It is the very peak of not one but two types of performance.

Vince Young in the 2006 Rose Bowl? 467 total yards of offense. Best ever in a BCS championship game. But even just accomplishing those feats with his arm would pale in comparison. He'd have to compile two historic days into one. Something like 500 yards passing and 200 yards rushing. That's possible ... if he stays at home instead and plays the game on the XBox. With twenty minute quarters. And playing against a roommate using the broken controller.

Muhammad Ali vs. Cleveland Williams in Houston, 1966? A third round knockout where your opponent lands approximately one punch? Maybe if Williams' trainer was allowed to fight alongside him simultaneously.

Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points? Only if it comes with 20 blocked shots and rebounds, and 8 women after the game. Okay, that last part probably happened.

Ferris Beuhler? Maybe if he was used as a relief pitcher for the Cubs that day.

All in all, it's actually a tragic story. At the end, it's a really good game, one the annals of baseball are chock full of. Randy Wolf just got the five lottery numbers without hitting the Powerball, and got the 200,000 dollars. And his family can all celebrate, and he'll be a human interest story on a drab local news broadcast, and he can buy that new car he's always wanted and have a nice party.

But if you're in his shoes, how do you not spend the rest of your life wondering what happens if that last little red ball had blown into place, exchanging that nice new sedan in for a nice new oh, private island? This is probably the legacy of Randy Wolf that I will remember. And unfortunately, no one else.


  1. Bloody fantastic article, Walter.

  2. Good article, and Wolf did have one hell of a game... but I'd say that a cycle, while impressive, is not the peak of offensive achievement in baseball. Hitting three homers in a game would be superior, for example, if for no other reason than the batter scores on the play instead of possibly being stranded on the bases.

    Of course, neither has a pitcher gone yard three times in a game, as far as I can recall. Rick Wise is the gold standard there: two dingers and a no-hitter against the Reds in 1971. That would have to be the greatest overall game a pitcher has enjoyed, if one includes offense.

    It would be interesting to add the offensive and defensive game scores of Wolf's game and Wise's game (and a few others) to see what happens.

  3. If pigs had wings......

  4. @nightfly - good point about the cycle not necessarily being the best offensive feat for a pitcher to achieve.

    But it certainly is rare.

    Perhaps we could simply rely on total bases to determine a better performance? Either way, the key to this night was having the offensive performance on the same night as the almost-no hitter.

  5. I think that's why the QB comparison ends up working the best, r.e. 500 yards passing and 200 yards rushing - 200 yards rushing is a fine day for a running back - a great day even, but certainly not unheard of, similar to the cycle. But for a non-option QB? It's an even more elite company that Wolf finds him in ... one that doesn't exist in the modern era.

  6. @dtoddwin: We just saw one almost take flight.