In 2021, there were just 158 pitchers who had an appearance of at least 7 IP and 0 walks. Of those pitchers, only 62 of them carried it into the eighth, and only 28 went deep enough for the complete game.
Just 5-years prior, 47 pitchers threw at least 1 complete game with 0 walks. And in 2011, there were 71.
It’s not new that starters’ length of appearance is at an all-time low, and why wouldn’t they be considering the talent in each of the MLB bullpens.
Better options coming from the pen instead of letting your starter go deep has hurt the number of complete games in the league, especially when discussing the best possible complete game= the perfect game.
There are 23 perfect games in MLB history, and by the dog days of this 2022 season, we will be a decade removed from Felix Hernandez’s perfect gem.
Since that historic date, the average length of start has deflated 14.2%, thus making it that much more difficult for a pitcher to go the distance on a given night.
So, is it fair to start questioning if we will get another perfect game, instead of when?
Although they are tougher to come by nowadays, there may still be hope, as a handful of starters heading into the 2022 MLB season may have the right pedigree to throw a perfect game one day.
But which of them has the best chance of breaking the longest drought since 1981? To figure this out, I began looking at some of the players with the three qualifications necessary to complete a perfect game: hits allowed, walks allowed, and the ability to go nine frames.
Using the expected inflation rates over the next five years, I looked through the bigs to see which is likely to have the most complete games. The winner was Sandy Alcantara.
1. Sandy Alcantara
Alcantara was one of the best pitchers at going deep last year, tying Adam Wainwright for appearances of 7 innings or more allowing no more than 2 walks.
Only 1 of those outings resulted in a complete game, but the 26-year-old has seen a steady increase in length of appearance, which is to be expected in the next 5 years as well.
|Sandy Alcantara||Career||Next 5 Years|
On the year, Alcantara posted 2.2 walks per nine, with an average length of appearance of 6 and a third, which trails just Zack Wheeler for the best ratio in the MLB.
Alcantara is on pace for 1 complete game per season in 140 starts. 5 year projections.
He would also be on pace for 18 appearances of eight or more innings pitched, and 50 outings where he reaches at least the seventh.
So, if he can convert those chances at completing the outing more than he has thus far in his career, he might be perfect as the 24th pitcher.
But a lot of his shortened outings are due less to his abilities, and more thanks to the team he plays for.
Although Alcantara had the 4th-most innings pitched from a starter last season, the Marlins as a team finished among the bottom of the league in the average length of starter appearance, only allowing 4.8 innings per start.
So, unless the Marlins change this aspect of their rotation, it may be the only reason he does not write his name in the history books.
2. Max Fried
One team that was not as hesitant in allowing their starters to go deeper into games was the Atlanta Braves, specifically with their ace Max Fried.
Fried is one of the most efficient pitchers in the bigs, as he averaged just 15.4 pitches per inning last year. With a major emphasis placed on a pitch count for starter’s health, Fried’s 2.2 walks per nine and 1.087 WHIP make him a prime candidate for several potential deep outings a season. And so far when Fried goes the distance, he has a much cleaner box score.
Fried had not one, but two Maddux’s last season, where he did not allow a free pass in either start. He averaged 6 innings pitched per appearance, which is a 15% increase from 2019.
|Max Fried||Career||Next 5 Years|
So, over the next five years, Fried has the possibility of going deep just 4 times as of now.
But of this group, Fried also is on pace to have the best overall statistics for the next five years, projected to have a 3.36 ERA in 147 starts. And his workload is increasing as well, as his innings pitched per year has inflated by 11% since 2019.
3. Zack Wheeler
But, when we talk about a workhorse, it’s impossible to not consider Zack Wheeler in this discussion after his 2021. He led the MLB in innings pitched, complete games, and complete game shutouts.
In terms of individual games, Wheeler had five appearances where he pitched into the eighth without issuing a free pass. Despite facing 849 batters, Wheeler was one of 15 qualified pitchers last year to keep his walks per nine under 2.
The 2021 version of Wheeler is different than what we have seen of him since returning from injury, as his innings pitched per appearance jumped from his career average of 6 to 6.7, also leading the league.
So, in his age 32-36 seasons, what are his chances of making one of these deep starts memorable?
|Zack Wheeler||Career||Next 5 Years|
Wheeler is on pace for 4 more complete games in his next 139 outings. But his ability to surpass the final third of most starts may leave him with the most opportunities in the group overall.
Even though his projections for eighth-inning appearances are only 9, his rate of going past the seventh is by far the most of the group. Since returning from injury, 53 of his 120 starts lasted more than seven frames, which after expected inflation of the next five years will allow Wheeler to be on pace for 61 starts of 7 innings or more.
Although his conversion rate is not quite there yet, this year proved a steady increase in getting the complete game.
The only problem Wheeler has run into ahead of going for perfection is the hits allowed. Wheeler had 7.1 hits per nine in 2021, and 8.1 for his career, Wheeler had just 3 starts last year where he allowed less than 3 hits, and all but 1 of them were 8 innings pitched or less.
So, even though Wheeler’s aggressiveness in the zone allows him to go deep into games, he will have to miss more barrels in the next five years if he wants the ultimate complete game.
4. Freddy Peralta
With so much emphasis on the length of appearance and walks per nine, there has been less of a focus on the most crucial aspect of a perfect game: hits. Nobody discussed yet is within the top 15 of starters in hits per nine. That being said, the next potential player who may add a perfect game to their career would be the 2021 leader of this category: Freddy Peralta.
Peralta allowed just 5.2 hits per nine, with the next closest being Max Scherzer at 6.0.
His only problem is that his average length of appearance is about the same figure: 5.3. His longest appearance of 2021 was 7.1, in which he allowed just one hit and three walks.
Considering this is just Peralta’s second season as a regular starter, it may be safe to assume that the next five seasons will allow for more chances to surpass 8 innings pitched. So, with his growing numbers and inflation, Peralta is on pace for just 3 complete games.
|Freddy Peralta||Career||Next 5 Years|
Peralta is the pitcher with the least amount of certainty in this group simply because his sample size is pretty much just last season as a routine starter and his first season in the bigs in 2018. He was able to get to the seventh 7 times in his career, but only once last year was he able to record an out past that.
So, the key for Peralta to go deeper into games is to take a page out of Wheeler’s book and attack the hitters more. He’s currently in the 31st percentile of walk percentage, issuing 3.5 per nine, but he also strikes hitters out more than the rest of the group as well, with 12.1 per nine last year.
As Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff can attest to as well, that is the makeup of most of the pitchers in Milwaukee. So it will be interesting to see how Peralta develops as a starter.
All this being said, that is one of the best parts of no-hitters is their randomness. While some stars like Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax and Catfish Hunter are on the list of who have done it, so are guys like Philip Humber, Len Barker and Mike Witt, who all combine for 3 career All-Stars.
So, while these guys certainly have the best odds as of now to throw a perfect game, it never seems to be whom you may expect in baseball.