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Saturday, May 3, 2014
Stats & Info: How dominant was Lester?

By Mark Simon

Jon Lester
Jon Lester's numbers against the A's on Saturday added up to an impressive performance.
It’s a shame that Jon Lester didn’t finish what he started, because you could make the argument that this was among the very, very, best-pitched games in Red Sox history a lot more easily if he had.

Lester's eight innings of one-hit ball with 15 strikeouts and two walks rated a 93 on the Bill James Game Score scale.

That stat awards points for strikeouts and completed innings, and subtracts points for hits and walks. Scores typically range from zero to 100.

Lester's game rated the best by a Red Sox pitcher since Lester threw his no-hitter against the Royals in 2008, which rated a 94.

It got us to thinking about that list and what games are on it. These are the ones that first came to mind.

The no-hitters: The Red Sox have had 18 no-hitters, the first being Cy Young’s perfect game in 1904 against the Athletics, the last being Lester’s in 2008 against the Royals.

But not all of those had the dominance factor that Lester’s start on Saturday did (particularly the ones in the pre-1920 “Deadball Era”). The best of those were probably Young’s perfecto and Hideo Nomo’s 11-strikeout no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles in 2001.

Speaking of Nomo, there’s another option for him, one that rated better than any Red Sox no-no per the Bill James Game Score metric.

Nomo’s one-hit, 14-strikeout, no-walk shutout of the Blue Jays in 2001 scored a 99 on that scale.

Pedro: The conversation about Red Sox pitching dominance usually starts and ends with Pedro Martinez, and you could legitimately make a top-10 list that consisted only of his starts (almost all of which came in 1999 and 2000). Pedro’s very best for the Red Sox was a 17-strikeout one-hitter against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium in 1999.

Martinez has three 98s on the Game Score scale: the Yankees start, a 13-strikeout one-hitter against the Rays in 2000 (the difference between that and the Yankees start was the one run he allowed in the Bronx, compared to the shutout that this one was) and a two-hit, 15-strikeout against the Orioles that same season.

If you wanted to be clever, you could include one other game of Pedro’s, though it was a relief effort -- the six hitless innings against the Indians that wrapped up the 1999 ALDS.

Roger: Like him or hate him, you have to include a few starts by Roger Clemens on any such list. At the head of his list would be the two 20-strikeout games -- one against the Mariners in 1986 and the other against the Tigers in 1996. Those both registered 97 on the Game Score scale, hindered by his allowing five hits to Detroit and three (and a run) against Seattle). Not far behind: a 16-strikout, three-hit “95" against the Royals in 1988 and a two-hit “95” against the Brewers in 1987.

Postseason: There are three postseason starts we think belong at the top of any discussion. Babe Ruth had the highest Game Score, a 97 for pitching 14 innings of one-run ball in a win over the Brooklyn Robins in the 1916 World Series (he struck out only four). Jim Lonborg pitched the Red Sox's closest thing to a postseason no-hitter: a one-hit shutout against the Cardinals in Game 2 of the 1967 World Series (an 88 Game Score, also with only four strikeouts).

The sentimental favorite is likely to be one that registered only a 69 Game Score but was popular when we brought up the topic on Twitter: Curt Schilling’s “Bloody Sock” start against the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees. Schilling went seven innings on one foot that day, allowing one run and four hits, willing the Red Sox to an even series.

The verdict: Where does Lester’s gem on Saturday rank among Boston’s best? You tell us. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Mark Simon is a researcher for ESPN Stats and Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @msimonespn