Best MLB Post-Season Pitching Performance

by john on October 8, 2010

I was listening to Mike & Mike in the Morning this morning on the radio coming into work and the topic was MLB post-season pitching performances and which was the best of all time. Of course the discussion started because of Roy Halladay’s no hitter on Wednesday, the first day of the playoffs. Halladay’s gem was only the second in the post season since 1956, when Don Larsen threw a perfect game in the 5th game of a 7 game series that his New York Yankees would go on to win over their rival the Los Angeles Dodgers. By the time I started listening to the show I think they had already concluded that Larsen’s perfect game was a better pitching performance than Halladay’s, and given that one was perfect and one was not that seemed a reasonable conclusion to reach.

But then Mike Greenberg opined that Jack Morris’ 10-inning victory in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series was the all-time best post-season pitching performance, and that was a position that Mike Golic, an ex-football player mind you, was just not willing to take. In his simplistic way of looking at it Larsen’s was a better performance because he gave up no hits, and since Morris gave up 7, clearly Morris’ performance was subpar.

They argued back and forth quite a bit on this and I wasn’t satisfied with Greenberg’s argument of “Morris put up 10 0s and Larsen only put up 9” (meaning Jack Morris pitched 10 innings compared to Don Larsen’s 9), which I think was as overly-simplistic as Golic’s.

For me the argument hinges on the context of the moment.

All other things being equal, would a no-hitter in the first game of the season compare to a no-hitter in the 163rd game of season (with this game being a one game “winner goes to the playoffs” extra game, such as the Twins had to play in a couple of times recently)? I don’t think so – I think it clear that because of the context of the moment, the “win or you go home” pressure of the moment, that, all other things being equal, the 163rd game no-hitter would be a better pitching performance. In fact I would argue that context is so important that even if the first game no-hitter was a perfect game that it wouldn’t stand up to the final game no-hitter.

How about two similar no-hitters in the post season, one the 6th game in the World Series where the pitcher’s team holds a 3-2 lead in the series and the other a 7th game where the series is knotted 3-3? Again, the context of the second example, where if you lose the season is done, makes me weigh that performance over the first, where the pitcher knows that even if he loses there will be a game 7.

What about a game where the other pitcher is throwing equally as well? If someone threw a no-hitter in a game where his team won 12-0 would that pitching performance be as impressive as one in which the opposing pitcher gave up only a single run? I don’t think so. The pressure in the second example, the context of that situation, elevates that performance to a higher level.

So the question becomes how important is context when comparing two pitching performances where the results were not equal, such as when comparing Don Larsen’s 5th game perfect game which gave his team a 3-2 series lead and Jack Morris’ 7th game 10-inning 1-0 gem that gave his team the World Series? Larsen had a 1-0 lead when he took to the mound in the 5th and a 2-0 lead when he took to the mound in the 7th. For Morris the game was tied 0-0 the entire game, including the 10th inning when he simply refused to be pulled out of the game. In the 7th game of the World Series.

The answer for me is that context is supremely important. No question Jack Morris’ pitching performance in the 7th game of the 1991 World Series is the best pitching performance of all time, and I will throw the regular season in there too. Talk to me all you want about perfect games, no-hitters, 20 strikeouts, or whatever other metric you want to use. Best all time.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m a Twins fan who watched every minute of the game.

Morris is the man.

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