BIS: Defensive support in perfect games

Behind every perfect-game pitcher is a good defense, and Dallas Braden’s perfect game on Sunday was no different. Kevin Kouzmanoff made a few nice plays in support of his pitcher, including one foul catch that led him right into the third base dugout. Similarly, Mark Buehrle can thank DeWayne Wise for turning in the top Web Gem of 2009, robbing a Gabe Kapler home run to preserve the perfect game in the ninth last July 23.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could take an objective look at the defense played in each of these two games? Fortunately, we have the Plus/Minus system to do just that. (I took you inside the Plus/Minus and Runs Saved systems on this blog last week, if you want a refresher.)

In his perfect game, Mark Buehrle struck out six batters, and induced 11 ground balls, four fly balls, four fliners, and two line drives. Based on the Plus/Minus system, the White Sox defense totaled +4.3 plus/minus points on the day. In other words, with average defensive play we’d expect an average of 4.3 of these 21 balls in play to fall in for hits. The White Sox were a below average defense last year (totaling -9 Runs Saved), but for whatever reason they stepped it up that day.

Braden is one of the more extreme fly ball pitchers in baseball and relied on his outfielders again on Sunday, retiring six on fly balls, six on fliners, and two on line drives in addition to six via the strikeout and seven on grounders. Fortunately, the A’s defense didn’t have to work too hard to support Braden. When we add up the Plus/Minus for the A’s defense during the game, we find they only needed to contribute +1.8 plays above average to preserve the perfecto. Braden succeeded in inducing lazy fly balls right at his outfielders and high pop-ups on the infield. There was no single play that had a plus/minus value greater than 0.50, while there were three such plays in the Buehrle game (including Wise’s catch in the ninth).

Of course, Kouzmanoff’s foul catch late in the game was replayed on highlight reels all night long. Though we don’t rate fly balls in the Plus/Minus system, we know that Braden was somewhat fortunate to be playing in Oakland this weekend. The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum is notorious for the amount of foul territory in play, and Kouzmanoff needed every inch of it to reach the Carlos Pena pop-up in the eighth. If that foul ball falls into the stands, the at bat would have been prolonged and Pena would have had another shot to break up the perfect game.

So, hats off to Dallas Braden, not only for throwing the 19th perfect game in history but also for making it relatively easy on the defense behind him.