Carlos Rodon and Craig Kimbrel Attained Perfection In Their Own Ways

When Carlos Rodón hit Roberto Pérez in the left foot with one out in the ninth inning of Wednesday night’s game, just about everybody watching who wasn’t pulling for Cleveland let out a collective groan. With one errant pitch, the 28-year-old lefty had lost his shot at completing just the 24th perfect game in major league history, and the first since the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez in 2012. He recovered in time to get the final two outs to complete a no-hitter, the second of the young season — not only a pretty cool accomplishment unto itself but an especially impressive one given the injuries and other ups and downs the former number three draft pick has endured in recent years.

Before Rodón even hit Pérez, he’d already done something cool, though, thanks to the tremendous lunge made by José Abreu to tag first base before Josh Naylor reached safely to start the ninth inning.

That out was the 27th in a row collected by Rodón, giving him a “hidden perfect game” across multiple appearances dating back to his April 5 start against the Mariners. In the fifth inning of that game, he bounced back from hitting Ty France on the right foot with a pitch to retire Kyle Seager and Evan White on balls hit to left field, completing five scoreless frames and starting his streak.

Remarkably, it was the second day in a row that a pitcher completed a hidden perfect game, and a Chicago-based pitcher at that. On Tuesday against the Brewers in Milwaukee, the Cubs’ Craig Kimbrel, whose return to dominance I highlighted in this space earlier in the week, retired the first three batters he faced during a four-out save. That streak ended when he issued a two-out walk to Luis Urías, but not before he completed a streak of 27 straight batters retired that stretched back to last September 12, in another outing against the Brewers in Milwaukee. Funny thing: the stretch began at Miller Park and ended at American Family Field — same venue, different naming rights.

Despite the coincidence of back-to-back occurrences — neither of which drew mention from the announcers, at least from what I heard (feel free to correct me) — hidden perfect games aren’t exactly routine, though they’re not as rare as actual perfectos. Kimbrel’s feat was the only one that involved games in 2020, though there were five such streaks involving the ’19 season, two of which wrapped around from the year before.

With the help of Sean Dolinar and Baseball-Reference’s Stathead, I found a total of 32 instances in which a pitcher recorded at least 27 outs in a row across multiple games since Hernandez pitched his masterpiece on August 15, 2012, about 4.3 per 162-game season. Here it’s worth noting that this doesn’t always require a pitcher to retire 27 straight batters; a double play, pickoff, or caught stealing could being the stretch or — if an inherited runner is involved — prolong it somewhere along the way. If the subject sounds familiar, it’s because a few years ago, I wrote about their more popular (but less impressive) siblings, hidden no-hitters, which at the time I checked in early 2018 in were happening more than 20 times a season.

Here’s the yearly tally of hidden perfect games since the real deal by King Felix:

This is a period featuring the lowest batting averages and on-base percentages since the designated hitter was introduced in 1973, with 19 actual no-hitters since Hernandez, seven of them in that 2015 season alone. Even so, there’s no tremendous rhyme or reason to the above distribution on a year-to-year basis, other than the fact that we shouldn’t be surprised that last year’s 60-game stretch didn’t feature a full streak. Such streaks happen, but rarely do we notice, hence the “hidden” part of the description.

The 32 streaks of perfection were produced by 31 pitchers, with Jon Lester — the author of five hidden no-hitters, the highest total I found dating back to 2007 — doubling up. Three starters besides Rodón threw hidden perfect games that included parts of actual no-hitters, namely Max Scherzer (his June 20, 2015 gem), Mike Fiers (his August 21, 2015 one), and Justin Verlander (September 1, 2019); coincidentally, all three of those pitchers have thrown multiple no-nos. Twenty of the 32 streaks involved at least one start, while three had at least one start and one relief appearance:

Hidden Perfect Games Since 8/15/2012 with at Least One Start
Pitcher Team Start End G GS Consecutive Outs
Shelby Miller Cardinals 5/10/13 5/15/13 2 2 29
Yusmeiro Petit Giants 7/22/14 8/28/14 8 2 46
Wandy Rodriguez Rangers 5/5/15 5/10/15 2 2 34
Max Scherzer Nationals 6/14/15 6/20/15 2 2 31
Steve Geltz Rays 6/6/15 6/24/15 10 1 33
Zack Greinke Dodgers 7/9/15 7/19/15 2 2 28
Chris Tillman Orioles 7/18/15 7/24/15 2 2 28
Carlos Carrasco Cleveland 7/30/15 8/4/15 2 2 28
Mike Fiers Astros 8/21/15 8/29/15 2 2 27
Jon Lester Cubs 9/30/15 4/5/16 2 2 27
Colby Lewis Rangers 6/11/16 6/16/16 2 2 29
Ricky Nolasco Angels 8/31/16 9/6/16 2 2 28
Rich Hill Dodgers 9/3/16 9/15/16 3 3 27
Jon Lester Cubs 7/17/17 7/22/17 2 2 28
Masahiro Tanaka Yankees 7/22/17 7/28/17 2 2 27
Shohei Ohtani Angels 4/1/18 4/8/18 2 2 27
Bartolo Colon Rangers 4/10/18 4/15/18 2 1 30
Jorge López Royals 9/2/18 9/8/18 2 2 27
Justin Verlander Astros 9/1/19 9/7/19 2 2 32
Carlos Rodón White Sox 4/5/21 4/14/21 2 2 27
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Recorded 27 consecutive outs across multiple appearances.

Petit set the major league record for consecutive batters retired, breaking the 45-batter streak of the White Sox’s Mark Buehrle, who did so from July 18-28, 2009, including his July 23 perfect game. Meanwhile, 12 such streaks were done purely in relief:

Hidden Perfect Games by Relievers Since 8/15/2012
Pitcher Team Start End G Consecutive Outs
Bobby Parnell Mets 9/19/12 10/3/12 9 28
Tony Watson Pirates 6/18/13 7/4/13 6 28
Kenley Jansen Dodgers 7/23/13 8/8/13 10 27
Koji Uehara Red Sox 8/17/13 9/13/13 12 37
Brandon Gomes Rays 7/31/15 8/21/15 9 27
Jake Barrett Diamondbacks 8/31/16 9/18/16 10 27
Vìctor Arano Phillies 9/27/17 4/22/18 11 34
Mychal Givens Orioles 9/15/18 3/30/19 8 27
Kyle Crick Pirates 9/15/18 4/19/19 10 28
Seth Lugo Mets 7/21/19 8/10/19 8 27
Hansel Robles Angels 8/21/19 9/15/19 9 29
Craig Kimbrel Cubs 9/12/20 4/13/21 9 27
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Recorded at least 27 consecutive outs across multiple appearances.

Between the starters and relievers, 19 teams have had at least one hidden perfect game over the past eight-plus seasons, with the Angels, Cubs, and Dodgers leading the way with three apiece. Prior to Kimbrel and Rodón completing their feats on consecutive days, the closest proximity within this timespan was the three-day span between Hill and Barrett, with Scherzer and Geltz separated by four days and Greinke and Tillman by five days. It never rains but it pours, right?

I won’t pretend that such streaks have any great import or predictive value, but they’re fun oddities to note and to track. For a reliever, they’re something of a crowning achievement unto themselves, and for a starter, they make a decent consolation prize, if not quite as cool as an actual no-hitter. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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Smiling Politelymember
3 years ago

This was fun 🙂