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What's the best pitched game in Rangers history?

5/15/2014

Yu Darvish's no-hit bid in his last start got us to thinking. What is the best performance by a starting pitcher in the history of the Texas Rangers?

Bill James has a stat that allows us to check— Game Score— which credits a pitcher with points for innings pitched and strikeouts and subtracts points for hits, walks, and runs allowed. Simply put: the more dominant the start, the higher the Game Score.

Bill James Game Score
Definition

Almost all Game Scores fall between 0 and 100 (you’ll see a couple exceptions in a moment) and the ones above 90 are generally the best pitched games you’ll see in a given season.

Not surprisingly, four of the top five Game Scores in Rangers history belong to Nolan Ryan, who scored a 101 for his 16-strikeout no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays and also for a 15-strikeout, 10-inning, no-run, three-hit effort against the White Sox the year before.

Ryan also posted a 99 for his one-hit shutout against the White Sox earlier in the 1990 season and for his 14-strikeout no-hitter against the eventual AL champion Oakland Athletics later in the year.

We have no issues with declaring either no-hitter as the best start this team has ever had. One weakness of the Game Score stat is that it does not factor in the quality of the opponent faced. You could certainly make a case that the Ryan starts against the Athletics and Blue Jays deserved a spike for lineup quality.

Who had the best start among Rangers pitchers not named Nolan Ryan? Chances are this is a name you don’t know.

Best Game Score by Rangers Pitcher

Score-wise, the one other pitcher to post a 101 for the Rangers was Mike Paul, a lefty who threw 11 scoreless innings of three-hit, 10-strikeout ball against his former team, the Cleveland Indians on July 14, 1972.

“It was really hot and humid that night,” said Paul, now 69 and a pro scout for the Colorado Rockies, by phone on Thursday. “(Gaylord Perry and I) went at it pretty good. I got strike one on everybody, made good pitches on both sides of the plate and had a pretty good curveball with good deception that day. Everything fell into place.”

This was the only season in which Paul had an ERA below 3.50. In fact, his 2.17 ERA that season is still a Rangers record for starting pitchers.

“I had a pretty non-descript career,” said Paul, who also was a bullpen coach for the 1988 AL champion Athletics and the pitching coach for the Mariners for Randy Johnson's first three major-league seasons. “That was by far the best year I ever had.”

Paul never came close to replicating that performance in any of the 76 other starts he made in his major-league career, though he did excel in an eight-year career in the Mexican League with a 2.06 ERA. He never had another Game Score that reached 80 in his seven-year major league career, which ended in 1974.

That Indians team went 72-84, a bit better than the Houston Astros team against whom Yu Darvish posted his highest Game Score, a 96 for 8 2/3 innings of perfection last April 2.

That’s one point higher than what Kenny Rogers netted for his perfect game against the Angels in 1994, two points higher than Jim Bibby’s 13-strikeout, six-walk no-hitter against the eventual champion Athletics in 1973 and three points higher than the no-hitter Bert Blyleven threw in 1977 against the Angels.

Yu Darvish's Best Game Scores

Had Darvish struck out Marwin Gonzalez rather than allowed the a base hit, he’d have matched the 101s thrown by Ryan and Paul for what would have been a 15-whiff perfect game.

Darvish’s effort in his last start against the Red Sox rated a 90, dented by the two walks and the two hits he allowed (including the one that was originally scored an error)

That ranks tied for 20th with starts by Colby Lewis, Bert Blyleven, Bobby Witt and Ryan, who had 10 starts for the Rangers that scored 90 or better.

Darvish will be challenged to top that tonight against a potent Blue Jays lineup. In five starts against that team, his best game score was a 74. That’s not too shabby (it was a night in which he allowed one run and three hits in seven innings) but far from best-ever status.

Game Score can be found at the bottom of every MLB box score on ESPN.com. Seasonal leaderboards can be compiled using the Baseball-Reference Play Index.