On Wednesday, June 13, Matt Cain nearly lost his perfect game against the Houston Astros. Leading off the top of the seventh inning, Astros centerfielder Jordan Schafer crushed a 3-2 fastball deep into the right-center-field gap. A hit at that speed in that location is just never caught. The crowd had been roaring its support of Cain when the count went full, but now they let out an discernible "aww." Cain's bid for perfection was over.
Except that right fielder Gregor Blanco raced back, went into a dive as he approached the warning track and -- oh, yes -- came up with the catch. Cain, of course, then went on to seal his place in baseball history, completing the 22nd perfect game, but no other moment from the game was as awesome and memorable as Blanco's catch.
At Baseball Info Solutions (BIS), the plus/minus system calculates the historical odds of each ball in play being converted into an out based on hit trajectory, velocity and location. Schafer's drive into the gap is a base hit 96.8 percent of the time, and usually for extra bases. Perfect game bids are rare enough, but for one to be spiked with that kind of glovework is really special.
The plus/minus system assigns the defense a "plus" credit for converting balls in play into an out, and a "minus" for failing to do so. Blanco's play, for example, earned a "plus" of 0.968 "plays above average," because that drive would go for a hit 96.8 percent of the time.
BIS' video scouts also record good fielding plays (GFPs) when they occur. You can think of GFPs as anti-errors, or to borrow the "Baseball Tonight" lingo, web gems.
Adding up the plus/minus value of every ball in play and looking at the GFPs in each of the five 2012 no-hitters this season gives us the opportunity to compare the defensive contributions required to seal the bid for history.
1. Johan Santana versus the St. Louis Cardinals (June 1)
+2.34 plays made above average
The first no-hitter in Mets history was highlighted by plenty of sparkling outfield defense. Santana is a strong fly ball pitcher, and his no-hitter featured just three grounders compared to 16 flies.