This past Thursday was the sixth anniversary of the perfect game thrown by Mark Buehrle, then a member of the Chicago White Sox, against the Tampa Bay Rays at US Cellular Field. Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs were no-hit by Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. Other than the venue of the Windy City and proximity on the calendar, these two games had one other thing in common: the two teams who were perplexed by the pitching performances were both managed by Joe Maddon.
Yesterday’s Hamels no-hitter marked the sixth time that a Maddon-managed team was either no-hit or had a perfect game hurled against it.
- Saturday, Sept. 11, 1999 – Maddon’s Anaheim Angels recorded no hits against Eric Milton of the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome
- Thursday, July 23, 2009 – the afore-mentioned perfect game by Buehrle
- Sunday, May 9, 2010 – Dallas Braden of the Oakland Athletics hurls a perfect game against Maddon’s Rays at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
- Friday, June 25, 2010 – Edwin Jackson of the Arizona Diamondbacks allows no-hits in a complete-game shutout of Maddon’s Rays at Tropicana Field
- Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012 – Félix Hernández is perfect at Safeco Field against Maddon’s Rays
Maddon leads all active major-league managers in this category by a long shot (Bruce Bochy is the next closest on the list with three such instances on his record), making the reasons behind Maddon-led teams being dominated from the mound with such frequency worth investigating.
To be thorough, few of Maddon’s current peers in the dugouts of Major League Baseball teams have managed a similar volume of games. Outside of Bochy, only Terry Collins, Terry Francona, Clint Hurdle, Bob Melvin, Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter and Ned Yost have managed as many or more games in the majors than Maddon. Comparisons are difficult to make relevant, as there is a multitude of variables that go into a no-hitter or perfect game being thrown. Accounting for all of them is nearly impossible, and many of them are beyond a manager’s control.
Even comparing one of the no-hit or perfect games managed by Maddon to another is difficult, for the same reasons. Most of them featured different batters in the lineup and during different seasons. All six of them came in different stadiums against different pitchers. Weather conditions were a factor, along with the myriad of individual decisions and corresponding actions of players, whom Maddon does not control.
The only justifiable analysis includes the decisions that Maddon made in these six games relevant to producing baserunners and/or recording hits. Those would include batting lineups and substitutions in the batting lineup during the games. Certainly, managers make other decisions pertaining to a particular at-bat. As an example, managers often give a player a sign to bunt. However, as data telling us when a player was instructed to bunt versus deciding to bunt on his own is not comprehensive for these games, we can’t analyze such data, much less in a meaningful way.
Considering the first game in question, Maddon used a very different starting lineup in the Sept. 11, 1999 game than he had in the previous days’ game, in which the Angels collected 13 hits. Only third baseman Troy Glaus was in the starting lineup for both games, and Glaus batted cleanup on Sept 11. He had hit fifth on Sept. 10. Also interesting was the fact that Maddon made no substitutions during the game on Sept. 11.
Jumping forward to the Buehrle perfect game, there were only two lineup changes from the previous day’s game to the game in which Buehrle was unscarred by Tampa Bay’s bats. Gabe Kapler replaced Gabe Gross in right field, and Michel Hernadez started in favor of Dioner Navarro at catcher. Kapler and Hernandez hit seventh and eighth, just as Gross and Navarro had the day before. Just like in the Sept. 11, 1999 game, Maddon did not make any substitutions during the July 23, 2009 game.
Comparing the two games in 2010, none of the players who started the May 9 game hit in the same spot in the starting lineup of the June 25 game. True to his form, Maddon did not make any substitutions in the Braden game. He did deviate from what seems to be an emerging pattern slightly when he pinch hit Willy Aybar for Sean Rodriguez in the Jackson game.
Four spots in the Aug. 15, 2012 lineup were occupied by the same players as they were in the Aug. 14, 2012 lineup. Against a perfect Fernández, Maddon made the decision to use a pinch-hitter twice. So ends the record of Maddon’s American League teams being blanked in the hit column.
Yesterday began what might become a story of similar incidents in the National League for Maddon. Comparing yesterday’s lineup against Hamels to Friday’s Cubs’ starting lineup, the only change was Chris Denorfia batting fifth in place of Chris Coghlan. In both games, Maddon batted his pitcher eighth. Maddon used Jonathan Herrera to hit for Jake Arrieta yesterday, then pulled a double-switch to replace David Ross with Kyle Schwarber at catcher.
Considering these aspects of these six games, it appears that Maddon took liberty in changing up his starting lineup from one game to another during his time managing in the American League. However, he strayed from making replacements once those lineups were set. Yesterday we saw deviation from those patterns, but it must be noted that it was the first incident for Maddon at the helm of a NL team.
How much the starting lineups and substitutions figure into creating a no-hitter or perfect game is up for debate. Much of the credit should go to the opposing players involved, especially the pitcher. For whatever reasons, Maddon-managed teams have been especially susceptible to them.