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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Don Cooper's view on why so many perfect games and no hitters-Bill Madden

6/16/12, Bill Madden, "When Don Larsen pitched the only World Series perfect game, Oct. 8, 1956, it was the first such perfecto in 34 years — since Charley Robertson of the Chicago White Sox on April 30, 1922. It would be another eight years until Jim Bunning pitched only the fifth perfect game in modern (since 1900) baseball history, on Father’s Day against the Mets, in 1964. This was how rare perfect games were.

But in the last eight years we have seen no less than six perfect games. That includes two in this still young season, from Phil Humber of the White Sox against the Seattle Mariners on April 21 and, just last week, Matt Cain of the Giants against the Houston Astros. And sandwiched between the Humber and Cain perfectos, of course, we had the first no-hitter in Mets history by Johan Santana. Meanwhile, in case you hadn’t noticed — and how could you not? — runs and overall production have been in dramatic decline in recent years. At the same time perfect games have become practically an annual event and no-hitters (there have been 21 since 2007) a nothing-special occurrence. So what gives?

Well, the one obvious conclusion for the reason we are moving inexorably back to the dearth of the ’60s (pre-DH and lowering of mound), is the 2006 advent of testing for steroids and amphetamines. For, it is in that season that the decrease in runs-per-game, batting average and ERA began. No level-headed person would say this is merely a coincidence. At the same time, however, there are those who maintain this decline can also be attributed to other more natural factors.

Listen to White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, who has the distinction of having presided over perfect games by two of his pitchers, Mark Buehrle in 2009 and Humber this year.

I’m not so naive as to think steroids and greenies didn’t play a part in the offense explosion in the ’90s,” Cooper said, “but at the same time, we’ll never know who did them, and I don’t think it was limited to hitters. What I do know is, we have more information on hitters today than we ever had in terms of location, what pitches they can’t hit etc. There are no secrets about hitters. You have to have a plan — which pitches they’ll take, which ones they’ll swing at — and you still have to execute that plan. But pitchers today are better prepared than they ever were. In addition, we’ve come up with all kinds of new data for defensive adjustments that you never had before, and there’s no telling how many extra outs instead of hits that’s brought to games.”

Cooper also thinks the pitchers are in general better today.

There are so many new, younger pitchers in the game every year that it takes awhile for the hitters to get a handle on them,” Cooper said. “I’m not talking about just starters, but relievers as well. It seems like everyone who comes in from the bullpen now throws 95-96 mph. The hitters of yesteryear never saw that.”

And as for the perfect games, prolific as they’ve become in recent years, you still can’t overlook the element of luck. Just like Buerhle’s perfecto doesn’t happen without Dewayne Wise’s sensational over-the-fence catch in the ninth inning, Cain’s was similarly saved by Giants rightfielder Gregor Blanco’s diving, “out-of-body experience” grab at the warning track on Jordan Schafer’s sinking liner in the seventh inning.

“I just feel blessed to see two of the 22 perfect games first hand,” Cooper said. “But just to show you how random they really are, Buerhle leads the league in hits allowed practically every year, while Humber’s was even harder to fathom because he’s still trying to establish himself.”"

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