Let me start off by saying that the no hitter Matt Garza threw on Monday night was amazing. I loved it as much as any moment in Rays’ history aside from Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS. It was fantastic to see the Rays claim the national spotlight, if only for a night. I hadn’t felt the “Oh, God, I think I’m going to throw up” feeling quite some time, so, thanks for that, Matt. As talented as the pitching staff currently is, it's still surprising that a team that has employed such esteemed arms Tanyon Sturtze, Albie Lopez, Casey Fossum, Bryan Rekar, and Paul Wilson had a no hitter thrown in their favor.
I don’t mean to go all Curb Your Enthusiasm on you, but, having said all of that, Garza’s no hitter was not the top pitching performance in team history. You’re probably asking yourself, “Erik, what are you? An idiot?" While you’re figuring out just what kind of idiot I actually am, let me explain my rationale.
Not all single game performances are created equal. This we know. There have never been two baseball games that are exactly alike. The lineups differ, the conditions are never exactly the same, some players may feel better/worse on a given day, outs are recorded differently, etc. You get the idea. This all plays into accepting the truth, as Dave Cameron so excellently noted yesterday, that randomness does happen. Luck, both good and bad, rears its head in every game. A bloop single that barely gets over the infielder’s head? Good luck. A sharp line drive that is hit directly at the third basemen for an out? Bad luck. All of these things can have an effect on how we perceive a game, let alone a pitching performance.
Garza is perceived by many to have had the best performance in team history simply because he allowed no hits. While that is impressive, not allowing hits is not the only thing that goes into the makings of a great performance. Other things like, walks, quality of opponent, and total pitch count play a part in measuring how good a pitcher was on a given evening. This is why I consider James Shields' May 5th, 2008 start against the Angels to be the best in Rays' history.
In that game Shields went all nine and allowed just one hit, a third inning single to Brandon Wood. He would later hit Erick Aybar witha pitch, but that runner would be wiped out with a double play. He would go on to strike out eight Angel batters while throwing just 92 pitches. Garza struck out just six and needed 120 pitches to complete his no hitter. The lineup Shields faced was also considerably better than one Detroit trotted out Monday. Anaheim sent Gary Matthews, Erick Aybar, Vlad Guerrero, Garret Anderson, Torii Hunter, Casey Kotchman, Mike Napoli, Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez at Shields, while Garza was faced with four Major League caliber players (Austin Jackson, Johnny Damon, Miguel Cabrera, Brennan Boesch) and a bunch of guys who might not crack AAA Durham's lineup (Will Rhymes, Ryan Raburn, Don Kelly, Gerald Laird, Danny Worth). It was by random chance that Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen were placed on the DL just days before this series. Those were moves that greatly weakened the Tiger lineup, and greatly improved the chances for Garza's no hitter. Shields was simply better against a better lineup. I'm not alone in this thinking, as ESPN's Pitching Game Score gives Shields' start a 93, and Garza's a 92.
Again, I'm not trying to diminish what Garza did. He's now a part of baseball history and should be damn proud of it. I want to show that so much more goes into any one start than simply the results achieved at the end, and we should consider all of those factors before making our decisions.