Matt Cain’s 14 strikeout perfect game tied the great Sandy Koufax for the most strikeouts in a perfecto. Whether it is the fact that the Giants won 10-0 (highest margin of victory ever in a perfect game) compared to Koufax’s 1-0 win or just the general nostalgia for past superstars, there is some belief that Koufax’s gem was still “better.” Whether in support of Koufax’s as the best perfect game or not, several comments have been thrown around with regards to quality of Cain’s opponent., some even outright dismissing the feat because it came against the Astros.
No, the Houston Astros aren’t a very good team. In fact, they are among the league’s worst, but they aren’t the worst. They’re 26th according to record at 26-36, and their 4.3 runs per game are tied with the league average (and with the Dodgers). They have plenty of below-average players on their squad, but they have some solid ones, too, and they were in the lineup on Wednesday night:
2. Jose Altuve – 126
3. Jed Lowrie – 134
4. J.D. Martinez – 85
5. Brett Wallace – 195
6. Chris Johnson – 103
7. Brian Bogusevic – 75
8. Chris Snyder – 66
9. J.A. Happ – (30)
PH Brian Bixler – 63
PH Jason Castro – 94
This team is not being confused with the ’27 Yankees. Obviously. However, Koufax faced an even worse lineup. First off, the Cubs were a 72-90 doormat that finished eighth in the NL (out of 10) and 15th overall (out of 20). While they scored just below the 4.0 league average at 3.9 runs per game, they weren’t exactly trotting out their
A-squad C-squad (let's get real, they didn't have an A-squad) in their early September showdown with the soon-to-be-crowned Cy Young winner and MVP runner-up.
They had eight guys who logged more than 105 games played on that team, five sported a 77 or worse OPS+. Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks were the only good players on that team. And Banks was winding down his career. He was still a good bit above average, but a far cry from the stud who posted a .292/.357/.570 line (good for a 145 OPS+) in his peak years from age 24 through 30.
They rolled out this lineup… on purpose:
2. Glenn Beckert – 61
3. Billy Williams – 157
4. Ron Santo – 146
5. Ernie Banks – 116
6. Byron Browne – (100)
7. Chris Krug – 61
8. Don Kessinger – 37
9. Bob Hendley – (100)
PH Joey Amalfitano (for Kessinger) – 92
PH Harvey Kuenn (for Hendley) – 69
Young and Browne were youngsters, 19 and 22 respectively, who were making their major-league debuts that day. Welcome to the big leagues. Kessinger must have been one of those prototypical all-glove, no-bat shortstops that were prevalent in the game back then, as his 37 OPS+ was amassed in 336 plate appearances. Apart from the heart of their order all driving in 101 or more with 28 or more home runs (Williams and Santo has 34 and 33, respectively), no one on the team drove in more than 34 or managed more than six home runs. I realize it was a down offensive era (only 49 players hit 10+ home runs), but that is still pretty lame. The clincher is the pair of rookies making their debut which significantly weakened an already-bad lineup that confined the vast majority of its value into three players. An off day from the trio was going to spell trouble the Cubs.
In short, there isn’t much of a case that the team Koufax faced was any better than the one Cain faced last night. Hey Cubs, good job, good effort.