Sara Sanchez’ excellent article about Kyle Hendricks’ 81-pitch shutout last May 3 against the Cardinals as part of her 12 Days of Cubsmas series got me to thinking: Just how often does a game like that happen?
Complete-game shutouts as a whole have become an endangered species in modern baseball. Across all of MLB in 2019, there were just 25 CG shutouts of nine innings, about one percent of all games — and that number was actually up from just 17 in 2018.
For the Cubs, they have just eleven over the last 10 seasons, and two of those were no-hitters by Jake Arrieta. Arrieta threw three of the other nine. Hendricks also has three, and there’s one each by Randy Wells (!), Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana:
|1||Kyle Hendricks||2019-05-03||CHC||STL||W 4-0||SHO, W||9.0||4||0||0||0||3|
|2||Jose Quintana||2017-09-24||CHC||MIL||W 5-0||SHO, W||9.0||3||0||0||1||10|
|3||Kyle Hendricks||2016-08-01||CHC||MIA||W 5-0||SHO, W||9.0||7||0||0||3||5|
|4||Jake Arrieta||2016-04-21||CHC||CIN||W 16-0||SHO, W||9.0||0||0||0||4||6|
|5||Jake Arrieta||2015-09-22||CHC||MIL||W 4-0||SHO, W||9.0||3||0||0||1||11|
|6||Jake Arrieta||2015-08-30||CHC||LAD||W 2-0||SHO, W||9.0||0||0||0||1||12|
|7||Jake Arrieta||2015-06-21||CHC||MIN||W 8-0||SHO, W||9.0||4||0||0||0||7|
|8||Kyle Hendricks||2015-05-21||CHC||SDP||W 3-0||SHO, W||9.0||5||0||0||0||7|
|9||Jake Arrieta||2014-09-16||CHC||CIN||W 7-0||SHO, W||9.0||1||0||0||1||13|
|10||Jeff Samardzija||2013-05-27||CHC||CHW||W 7-0||SHO, W||9.0||2||0||0||2||8|
|11||Randy Wells||2011-08-29||CHC||SFG||W 7-0||SHO, W||9.0||2||0||0||1||7|
Even rarer is the complete-game shutout with fewer than 100 pitches. In 2012, Jason Lukehart termed this a “Maddux,” in honor of Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, who accomplished this feat 13 times in his career (three with the Cubs, 10 with the Braves). That’s more than a third of Maddux’ 35 career shutouts. (Lukehart, was running our SB Nation Indians site Let’s Go Tribe at the time he coined this term.)
But what about the Hendricks game, in which he threw that CG shutout with just 81 pitches? Only three other pitchers have accomplished that feat in the 29 total seasons since 1991 (four total games, since one did it twice):
Jon Lieber, Cubs, May 24, 2001, 78 pitches vs. Reds
Rich Harden, Athletics, July 14, 2005, 80 pitches vs. Rangers
Aaron Cook, Rockies, July 1, 2008, 79 pitches vs. Padres
Aaron Cook, Red Sox, June 29, 2012, 81 pitches vs. Mariners
The fewest pitches in any complete game since 1990 by a pitcher who threw nine full innings (recorded 27 outs) is 74, by Carlos Silva of the Twins vs. the Brewers, May 21, 2005, and Cook again, for the Rockies vs. the Padres, July 25, 2007.
1991 appears to be a significant cutoff date for doing things like this because this feat (complete-game shutout, 81 or fewer pitches) was accomplished four times in 1990.
So what Kyle Hendricks did against the Cardinals last May 3 was indeed quite rare. Hendricks is unique in major-league baseball in 2020, a guy who can retire hitters without 95 mile per hour velocity (or even 90, as he rarely touches that mark, either). The way “The Professor” works hitters has been compared to Maddux, and while Hendricks likely won’t make the Hall of Fame, we should celebrate him as long as he’s around. He will pitch at least four (and possibly five, if an option is picked up) more seasons in a Cubs uniform.
While Maddux threw 13 shutouts now termed with his name, one of his best career outings was a 77-pitch complete game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field July 22, 1997 in the first game of a doubleheader.
As you’ll note in that boxscore, the Cubs actually hit Maddux reasonably well that afternoon — they had five hits and a run off him, though the Braves won 4-1. Greg threw 63 strikes in those 77 pitches, and this Associated Press story (via the Los Angeles Times) quoted manager Jim Riggleman about the Cubs’ approach to Maddux in that game:
“You have to get to him early in the count. If you go deep in the count, you are not going to see a lot of base hits,” Cubs manager Jim Riggleman.
“If he throws a nine-inning game, it will probably be a low-pitch count. We tried to go after him on the first pitch. That’s been our approach since the middle of last year. . . . Years from now I will look back and appreciate the games we were in with him. Now we are just trying to beat him.”
The Tribune recap of that game (no link available) broke down Maddux’ gem:
Statistics provided to the Tribune by STATS Inc. showed just how dominating Maddux was Tuesday. Of the 31 batters Maddux faced, 14 took a called strike on the first pitch, nine put the ball into play on the first pitch and three swung and missed at the first pitch, meaning there were 26 first-pitch strikes and only five first-pitch balls. The most pitches any Cubs batter saw was five by [Mark] Grace in the seventh inning.
Incidentally, the AP article says Maddux threw 78 pitches in that game. Other sources say 76. The baseball-reference boxscore indicates 77, so I’m going with that unless there’s a source proving otherwise.
The time of that Maddux game was 2:07. The time of the second game was 2:44, for total playing time that afternoon of 4:51.
Try doing that in a doubleheader in 2020.