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If a pitcher came up and threw nothing but perfect games, how long would it take him to lock in all of the major awards?

Answering a nonsensical question.

Baseball: Dream Series-Workouts
You wouldn’t know who to make the featured photo for this dumb article either
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What you’re about to read is a stupid hypothetical that, even by my own recent standards, is extremely far-fetched. The scenario we’re going to envision will never, ever happen in any of our lifetimes. I’m already upset at myself for spending so much time on it.

And yet, I’m curious. In Jeff Sullivan’s February 17th FanGraphs chat. a user named Chaps asked the following:

Chaps: Suppose a pitcher is called up from the minors, and from his first day in the majors until the end of that regular season, he only throws perfect games (assume the manager doesn’t know what pitch counts are and just keeps letting him pitch). When would he need to be called up (and ostensibly, how many games will he have pitched) for him to win the Rookie of the year, Cy Young, and MVP awards?

Despite spring training being underway, we’re still in the doldrums of the baseball writing season. There’s just not much to talk about, so we have to get a bit more creative and work a little bit harder when we’re putting posts together. In this case, Chaps has provided the creativity, and I will happily do the extra lifting.

First, we should start where just about anybody would start with a question like this: with a guess. Here is how Sullivan responded to Chaps’ question at the time:

Jeff Sullivan: Called up in the middle of August, for RoY. Called up around the ASB or the start of July for the Cy Young. Probably somewhere in June for the MVP

I think that hypothesis is generally on target. A mid-August call-up for someone who threw nothing but perfect games would mean eight or nine perfect games in a row. Unless there is a Troutian rookie flying around somewhere, that probably would be enough to earn Rookie of the Year. The narrative of all those perfect games would probably be enough to overcome your average Rookie of the Year.

It probably wouldn’t be enough to win either of the major awards, as I think there would still be a large enough crowd yelling “small sample” that even the seven straight perfect games narrative wouldn’t be enough to overcome. But if you’re looking at 10 or 15 straight perfect games, that would probably be tough to look past, even if it’s not a full season.

Rather than just go with our gut on this, however, let’s do a little math and see if we can pinpoint at what point in the season our hypothetical pitcher would need to come up in order to win each award.

Unfortunately, if there is a way to calculate the WAR of a pitcher who throws only perfect games, I do not know how to do it. But what I can do is look back at history’s perfect games and measure things like Win Probability Added (WPA) and Run Expectancy based on 24 base-out states (RE24) and create averages from there. They aren’t perfect stats for what we’re trying to do, but this is a good enough starting point. Here are some of the stats we’ll want to keep in mind from all of the perfect games since integration:

Perfect games since 1947 (regular season)

Player Date Tm Opp WPA RE24 K Pitches
Player Date Tm Opp WPA RE24 K Pitches
Jim Bunning 6/21/1964 PHI NYM 0.293 3.877 10 89
Sandy Koufax 9/9/1965 LAD CHC 0.674 3.749 14 113
Catfish Hunter 5/8/1968 OAK MIN 0.489 3.209 11 n/a
Len Barker 5/15/1981 CLE TOR 0.474 4.046 11 n/a
Mike Witt 9/30/1984 CAL TEX 0.812 4.581 10 n/a
Tom Browning 9/16/1988 CIN LAD 0.694 4.016 7 101
Dennis Martinez 7/28/1991 MON LAD 0.574 4.036 5 96
Kenny Rogers 7/28/1994 TEX CAL 0.359 5.222 8 98
David Wells 5/17/1998 NYY MIN 0.477 4.944 11 120
David Cone 7/18/1999 NYY MON 0.259 5.202 10 88
Randy Johnson 5/18/2004 ARI ATL 0.670 4.721 13 117
Mark Buehrle 7/23/2009 CHW TBR 0.290 5.123 6 116
Dallas Braden 5/9/2010 OAK TBR 0.339 4.430 6 109
Roy Halladay 5/29/2010 PHI FLA 0.838 4.520 11 115
Philip Humber 4/21/2012 CHW SEA 0.399 4.097 9 96
Matt Cain 6/13/2012 SFG HOU 0.124 3.808 14 125
Felix Hernandez 8/15/2012 SEA TBR 0.712 4.097 12 113
Average 0.499 4.334 10 107

Here is where we can debunk one of Chaps’ caveats: pitch counts. Since our hypothetical pitcher would never have any baserunners, he really wouldn’t be throwing an exorbitant amount of pitches. 107 pitches is above-average, sure, but it’s probably not so many that the team would rest him rather than throwing him out there to keep the streak going. There could hardly be a better incentive to push a players limits than the fact that he only throws perfect games.

Before we get into how long it would take this player to lock up each award, let’s set some baselines for what a good full-season WPA and RE24 is for both pitchers and hitters, since that’s probably not something any of us know off the top of our heads. The FanGraphs library makes this easy, as they have some nice scales that help us remember what is good and bad for both WPA and RE24. This is just something to keep in mind as we compare pitchers and hitters, as the numbers differ in the case of RE24.:

WPA & RE24 scales

Rating WPA RE24 (Starting Pitchers) RE24 (Hitters)
Rating WPA RE24 (Starting Pitchers) RE24 (Hitters)
Excellent 6 25 45
Great 3 15 30
Above-Average 2 10 15
Average 1 0 0
Below-Average 0 -5 -5
Poor -1 -10 -10
Awful -3 -20 -20

Anyway, on to the first of our three awards. Here are the WPA and RE24 season totals for each Rookie of the Year in the last 10 seasons:

WPA & RE24 for Rookies of the Year

Year Name Team WPA RE24
Year Name Team WPA RE24
2007 Ryan Braun Milwaukee Brewers 2.35 35.78
2007 Dustin Pedroia Boston Red Sox 0.69 14.12
2008 Geovany Soto Chicago Cubs 1.32 23.01
2008 Evan Longoria Tampa Bay Rays 0.97 9.90
2009 Chris Coghlan Florida Marlins 1.45 21.54
2009 Andrew Bailey Oakland Athletics 2.59 24.65
2010 Buster Posey San Francisco Giants 0.99 28.33
2010 Neftali Feliz Texas Rangers 4.85 32.75
2011 Craig Kimbrel Atlanta Braves 2.37 22.63
2011 Jeremy Hellickson Tampa Bay Rays 2.13 25.18
2012 Bryce Harper Washington Nationals 1.87 11.57
2012 Mike Trout Los Angeles Angels 5.69 55.38
2013 Jose Fernandez Miami Marlins 3.64 33.19
2013 Wil Myers Tampa Bay Rays 1.37 12.55
2014 Jacob deGrom New York Mets 1.43 12.71
2014 Jose Abreu Chicago White Sox 4.18 45.44
2015 Kris Bryant Chicago Cubs 5.99 45.58
2015 Carlos Correa Houston Astros 2.00 14.59
2016 Corey Seager Los Angeles Dodgers 4.03 44.36
2016 Michael Fulmer Detroit Tigers 1.42 21.37
Average 2.57 26.73

Using those averages, it would take our hypothetical player about six starts to reach the thresholds they’d need to win the Rookie of the Year in an average season. If he made his first start of the season on September 1, he would probably be able to reach those marks before the playoffs started. In a down year, all it might take is about two weeks of perfect games to be the most valuable rookie in the league by WPA and RE24.

It’s not that unusual for a player to win Rookie of the Year despite not putting in a full season’s worth of work. Look at how close Gary Sanchez just came to winning it despite really playing only about two months.

That doesn’t work for either the Cy Young or MVP awards, except in the rarest of cases — and a player who threw solely perfect games would certainly qualify for that. Let’s start with recent Cy Youngs, again comparing our hypothetical player with recent winners:

WPA & RE24 for Cy Young winners

Year Name Team WPA RE24
Year Name Team WPA RE24
2007 Jake Peavy San Diego Padres 3.95 32.87
2007 CC Sabathia Cleveland Indians 3.23 33.47
2008 Tim Lincecum San Francisco Giants 4.94 48.16
2008 Cliff Lee Cleveland Indians 5.82 47.39
2009 Tim Lincecum San Francisco Giants 4.55 42.90
2009 Zack Greinke Kansas City Royals 5.96 60.64
2010 Roy Halladay Philadelphia Phillies 5.05 49.31
2010 Felix Hernandez Seattle Mariners 4.57 39.13
2011 Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers 3.57 35.49
2011 Justin Verlander Detroit Tigers 5.01 52.66
2012 R.A. Dickey New York Mets 2.18 27.01
2012 David Price Tampa Bay Rays 3.42 37.04
2013 Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers 4.90 47.71
2013 Max Scherzer Detroit Tigers 3.80 30.48
2014 Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers 5.11 44.51
2014 Corey Kluber Cleveland Indians 3.45 33.96
2015 Jake Arrieta Chicago Cubs 5.87 55.40
2015 Dallas Keuchel Houston Astros 4.11 40.76
2016 Max Scherzer Washington Nationals 4.24 37.66
2016 Rick Porcello Boston Red Sox 2.30 29.34
Average 4.30 41.29

In an average year, it would take our guy somewhere between eight and 10 starts to surpass the thresholds he’d need to get through from a strictly numbers standpoint. He could accomplish that in just a couple of months. In a really good year, like the American League in 2009, it would probably take at least three or four starts beyond that. But in a down season, like the AL in 2016, he would need a month at most.

Here, though, is where I start to become torn over how much of an effect the narrative would have on this hypothetical pitcher’s candidacy. I think it could swing both ways. On one hand, it’s easy to envision some portion of pundits saying that even two whole months of perfect game would be less valuable than a full season of your average Cy Young winner. It might not be true, technically, but that would be the narrative.

However, I could also see a healthy number of people arguing that dude, they’re perfect games and telling everyone who would listen that it doesn’t matter whether it’s only been a couple of months. I suspect if this were to ever actually happen that we’d hear a little of both.

Anyway, that’s just something else to keep in mind as we burrow further and further down the rabbit hole. Finally, let’s wrap things up and compare our guy to the recent MVP winners:

WPA & RE24 for MVP winners

Year Name Team WPA RE24
Year Name Team WPA RE24
2007 Jimmy Rollins Philadelphia Phillies 3.04 34.56
2007 Alex Rodriguez New York Yankees 7.68 84.36
2008 Albert Pujols St. Louis Cardinals 6.49 73.13
2008 Dustin Pedroia Boston Red Sox 3.19 23.79
2009 Albert Pujols St. Louis Cardinals 8.04 79.37
2009 Joe Mauer Minnesota Twins 3.85 56.81
2010 Joey Votto Cincinnati Reds 6.88 68.99
2010 Josh Hamilton Texas Rangers 5.94 55.38
2011 Ryan Braun Milwaukee Brewers 6.33 63.96
2011 Justin Verlander Detroit Tigers 5.01 52.66
2012 Buster Posey San Francisco Giants 4.93 51.55
2012 Miguel Cabrera Detroit Tigers 4.80 47.27
2013 Andrew McCutchen Pittsburgh Pirates 4.56 41.66
2013 Miguel Cabrera Detroit Tigers 6.82 77.09
2014 Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers 5.11 44.51
2014 Mike Trout Los Angeles Angels 7.18 66.71
2015 Bryce Harper Washington Nationals 6.16 75.38
2015 Josh Donaldson Toronto Blue Jays 6.01 57.82
2016 Kris Bryant Chicago Cubs 2.26 45.30
2016 Mike Trout Los Angeles Angels 6.64 74.22
Average 5.55 58.73

This is a good spot to remind you of those WPA and RE24 scales, because we’re mostly comparing our hypothetical pitcher to hitters. While the WPA scale is the same for both groups, an excellent hitter earns almost twice as much RE24 as an excellent pitcher. While many players on this list exceed even those “excellent” thresholds, just remember that not all things are equal in this comparison.

Regardless, take the averages in WPA and RE24 for the ten most recent MVP winners in both leagues, and our player would probably need somewhere between 11 and 13 starts to get the numbers he’d need to be in contention with your average MVP winner. Again, WPA and RE24 aren’t perfect for this exercise, but they’re the best we have.

I have the same caveats about narrative here that I talked about in the Cy Young section, but in order to really garner the numbers and attention he’d need to win MVP, his team would probably have to call him up around the All-Star break.

So to recap, going strictly by the averages for Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP, here are the WPA and RE24 numbers he would need, along with the number of starts and call-up date necessary to compile those statistics:

Call-up dates for each award

Award WPA RE24 # of starts Call-up date
Award WPA RE24 # of starts Call-up date
ROY 2.57 26.73 5-6 Late August
Cy Young 4.30 41.29 8-10 Early August
MVP 5.55 58.73 11-13 All-Star break

So there you go. A pitcher who throws only perfect games turns out to be super valuable in a very short amount of time. Who knew?

Again, while this is not a thing that will ever happen, it’s fun to think about. Once you throw in the narrative angle on top of the number we’ve talked about in this post, there’s still room for debate about just how much time this pitcher would need to actually win each one of these awards. If that’s a conversation you want to have, go right ahead. But real baseball is almost here, and it won’t be long before we have reality, not fantasy, to talk about.

. . .

Joe Clarkin is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Clarkin.