Picture of Perfection: Rewatching Roy Halladay’s Perfect Game
By MARK SIMON
Friday marks the 10th anniversary of Roy Halladay’s perfect game for the Phillies against the Marlins. It was the first of two no-hitters that he would pitch that season, the other coming in the NLDS against the Reds. These were the signature starts of Halladay’s Hall of Fame career.
Some of the recent news on Halladay and his tragic death in a plane crash has been rather unpleasant. We’re not here to focus on that. We wanted to relive the perfect game, which you can watch at this link. We’ll enhance it with some of the data we collected that night.
Halladay had gotten beaten up by the Red Sox in his last start, allowing seven runs in 5 2/3 innings pitched. But even with that, Halladay had been great through his first 10 starts of the season, pitching to a 2.22 ERA.
Nonetheless, it was noted during the broadcast that he had been working on some issues (later revealed by pitching coach Rich Dubee to be related to the first step in his delivery).
After all, the best pitchers tend to be perfectionists.
Halladay threw 19 pitches, 11 for strikes in the first inning, the inning in which he looked least comfortable on an 85-degree Miami night (we might surmise he was still getting acclimated to his mechanical adjustments). He didn’t know it at the time, but he’d only get one run to work with, so he had to be on his game.
The Marlins started a good lineup that day. No. 3 hitter Hanley Ramirez was hitting over .300, as was No. 6 hitter Cody Ross. Ramirez (4-for-8) and Dan Uggla (4-for-7) each had prior success against Halladay in small samples.
Halladay’s changeup didn’t look great. He threw four in the first inning and got only one strike. His fastball was a little off too – only three strikes on seven pitches.
One pitch was perfect: His cutter. Five pitches, five strikes.
This pitch, whose grip was taught to him by its master, Mariano Rivera, was the biggest key to the perfect game.
He threw 27-of-34 cutters for strikes (79%). He netted only one missed swing, but 11 of the 18 takes against it were called strikes (more on that in a moment). The pitch got him 11 outs (the most of any of his pitch types that night), including five punch-outs, and yielded no baserunners.
The Man in Blue
After the game, Halladay credited catcher Carlos Ruiz for being integral to the result, saying he put his trust in every sign Ruiz flashed. But the path to a perfect game doesn’t just require a pitcher and catcher to be in sync. The pitcher also needs to be in sync with the home plate umpire, knowing what the man in blue will call and what he won’t.
This was Halladay’s lucky day.
You know how sometimes we’ll say of someone “That person just gets me.”
If you look at the numbers, it’s fair to say that Roy Halladay got Mike DiMuro. For his career, Halladay had a 2.17 ERA and four complete games in seven starts with DiMuro behind the plate.
The last three were a three-hit shutout of the Red Sox in 2009, the perfect game against the Marlins, and a 14-strikeout 8 2/3 inning gem against the Padres in 2011.
Halladay got 26 called strikes in this game and consistently worked the edges of the zone.
They were perfect pitches because the hitter’s instincts made them think ‘ball’ when the pitch was repeatedly called a strike. Credit Halladay for making the most of this aspect of the game. His location was just about perfect. He did this with Carlos Ruiz catching. Though Phillies pitchers raved about Ruiz’s ability to call a game, pitch framing was never a strength of his. In fact, from 2010 to 2011, Ruiz ranked tied for third-worst in our framing metric, Strike Zone Runs Saved.
The tone was set with the game’s first batter, Chris Coghlan. Halladay dotted the outside corner for a strike with his first pitch, then threw one to nearly the same spot on a 3-2 count. Ruiz made it look like it caught a little more plate than it did. DiMuro rung Coghlan up for the first of Halladay’s 11 strikeouts.
“I’m not a guy who really argues calls,” Coghlan said (Miami Herald). “I thought it was close – a ball – but obviously it was a strike to the umpire and that’s all that matters.”
The pitch had a 90% strike probability based on its horizontal and vertical location, the count, and how far the catcher had to move his target horizontally to catch the ball.
Coghlan had a better case on the 2-2 pitch he took for strike three and the 3-2 pitch that Hanley Ramirez took for strike three in the seventh inning. They were thrown to nearly the same spot and had the same strike probability, 22%.
Were they strikes? Well, they had a lot of tail on them. It’s a tough call for any umpire. Most umpires are reluctant to call strike three. DiMuro did it six times in this game. Makes sense given that by our tracking, he called extra strikes at the seventh-highest rate of any umpire in the major leagues in 2010 (2.4 per 150 pitches).
And as Coghlan says, it only matters how the umpire saw it.
Halladay danced a fine line in this game, even with a pitcher-friendly umpire behind the plate. He ran a three-ball count to seven batters. They saw a combined 11 pitches in which they needed one ball for a walk.
MLB pitchers retired 43% of hitters in plate appearances ending with a three-ball count.
Halladay retired 100%, 7-of-7, three with the fastball, three with the cutter, and one with the curve.
|1st- Chris Coghlan||3-2||Strikeout Looking|
|1st- Hanley Ramirez||3-2||Ground out to second base|
|2nd- Jorge Cantu||3-2||Strikeout Swinging|
|5th- Dan Uggla||3-2||Flyout to center field|
|6th- Cameron Maybin||3-1||Ground out to shortstop|
|7th- Gaby Sanchez||3-2||Lineout to left field|
|7th- Hanley Ramirez||3-2||Strikeout Looking|
Help in the Field
The Phillies were without both shortstop Jimmy Rollins and third baseman Placido Polanco, who were both out with injuries. They started Wilson Valdez at shortstop and Juan Castro at third base.
Valdez made one nice play, on a ground ball hit on a 3-1 pitch by speedy Cameron Maybin in the sixth inning. The out probability on the ball hit in the 5-6 hole was 73%. It was a tough play but one made well more often than not.
Castro’s presence was more prominent because he turned in the game’s best defensive play. In the eighth inning, Jorge Cantu hit a rocket in the shortstop-third base hole that had a 41% out probability. Castro made the play on one hop. If he didn’t field it, the ball would have been a base hit. But Castro made the play and threw Cantu out.
“He hit it pretty good,” Castro told reporters afterwards. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Every little ball that’s hit here, I have to dive for it. I was fortunate to get some glove and catch the ball.”
Of the 16 balls hit by the Marlins, these were the only two with less than a 90% out probability.
Castro also handled the final out of the game, going two steps to his left to field Ronny Paulino’s ground ball, and threw Paulino out easily.
Defense at third base was not Castro’s forte. He only played eleven games at third base that season and finished with -11 Defensive Runs Saved there for his career. Valdez was a better fit for his position. He saved 10 runs in his time as a part-time shortstop.
But what matters is that in this game, they were perfect.
Halladay would go on to win the NL Cy Young that season, leading the league in wins (21), innings pitched (250 2/3), complete games (9), and shutouts (4). It was one of a run of six straight seasons in which he made at least 30 starts every year and pitched to a 2.86 ERA.
At his Hall of Fame induction in 2019, Halladay’s wife, Brandy, gave a touching speech. We’ll let her words close this piece out.
“I think that Roy would want everyone to know that people are not perfect. We are all imperfect and flawed in one way or another. We all struggle, but with hard work, humility and dedication, imperfect people still can have perfect moments. Roy was blessed in his life and career to have some perfect moments. But I believe that they were only possible because of the man he strived to be, the teammate that he was, and the people he was so blessed to be on the field with.”