Analysis

The most one-sided games in MLB history

On Sunday, the Astros and Mariners squared off in a game that, according to FiveThirtyEight, the Astros had a 75.8% chance of winning. Houston came in with a 93-50 record, sending Cy Young contender Gerrit Cole to the mound, while Seattle entered 58-85 with long-past-his-prime Felix Hernandez pitching. Of the near-220,000 games that FiveThirtyEight has retroactively determined the expected outcome for since 1871 using their Elo Rater, only 380 have been more unfair coming in. That puts the match in the 99.8th percentile in terms of how favored one of the teams was coming in.

Unfortunately for the visiting Mariners, the game lived up to the hype, and then some. After holding the Astros scoreless in the first inning, Seattle allowed a 4-spot in the second and a 9-spot in the third. The game was practically already over. Seattle second baseman Shed Long hit a solo home run in the fourth inning to bring the Mariners back within 12, but more importantly kept them from being perfect-gamed. It was the only baserunner the Mariners managed the entire game. Houston would end up scoring 8 more runs the rest of the game, winning 21-1. Gerrit Cole not only pitched 8 innings allowing only a solo homer as his one baserunner, he also struck out 15 Mariners and “closer” Chris Devenski tacked on two more.

It was ugly. It’s one of those rare cases that a game finishes 21-1 and the final score alone doesn’t tell the whole story. It wasn’t just a 20-run win. Those happen from time to time. The Astros have even done it earlier this year. It was a blowout of epic proportions. The Astros won 21-1, facing one over the minimum, striking out 17. They had 13 extra base hits in 47 at bats. They had Garrett Stubbs and Myles Straw enter the game as pinch runners for Altuve and Bregman because the game already got out of hand, and those two guys combined to go 4-for-4 with six runs scored. The Astros pinch runners had four times as many hits as the Mariners entire team.

My favorite number of the game was the time of possession number. It’s not football, no, but it is possible to find the stat for baseball and it really illustrates how much of a blowout the game was. According to gameplay data compiled by my buddy @can0k on Twitter, the Astros were up to bat for 4,909 seconds and the Mariners were up to bat for 2,035 seconds. That’s 1 hour, 21 minutes, 49 seconds for the Astros and 33 minutes, 55 seconds for the Astros. The other 54 minutes, 16 seconds the game took was during non gameplay, so like commercial breaks and pitching changes and such. That’s crazy.

So I wanted to see if any other games have come close to that kind of sheer domination. Yeah, there was a 30-3 game one time, but even the Orioles managed nine hits and only struck out four times. It was a blowout for sure, but I’d argue that the Rangers didn’t dominate the Orioles as much as the Astros did with Seattle. They dominated on offense no doubt, but it was just an above average pitching performance that wouldn’t really have been of note had the offense not scored 30 runs. Houston, on the other hand, essentially threw one bad pitch the entire game resulting in the only run and only baserunner that they allowed, all while striking out over 60% of the batters they faced.

What other games fall into this category where a team dominated as much on both sides of the ball?

Not including the Astros game, only 9 games since 1920 have seen a team score at least 15 runs and allow 0 or 1 hits. But again, the Astros scored 21 runs, but again did allow a hit. So I’ll make a scoring system for dominance in this regard. I’ll look for all teams that scored at least 15 points in which you get a point for every run you score, but lose 5 points for every hit you allow. In this, the Astros earn 16 points. Only one other team since 1920 scored 15 points and that was the 2016 Cubs behind Jake Arrieta’s no hitter. The Cubs beat the Reds 16-0 and tossed a no-hitter for good measure. Sounds pretty one sided to me.

But was it more one sided than the Astros game? I mean, Arrieta walked 4 and only struck out 7. Yeah, Houston allowed a hit, but they didn’t walk any and struck out 10 more than Arrieta and his Cubs did.

How about another arbitrary model for dominance? I’ll disregard the amount of hits and baserunners and even runs allowed for this one and just look at runs scored and strikeouts. The Astros scored 21 and struck out 17. Instead of adding them, lets multiply them to see who has dominated in both categories the most. Just adding them would skew towards teams that just scored a lot of runs and struck out a few guys, but when multiplying them, you need to have a lot.

The Astros get a score of 357, the second highest in recorded MLB history. Three other games hit 300, but I’ll disregard one which went 15 innings.

May 18, 1912. Athletics at Tigers. Athletics win 24-2, Tigers strike out 15 times. Score of 360.

June 18, 1874. White Stockings at Mutuals. Mutuals win 38-1, White Stockings strike out 8 times. Score of 304.

The first one fits the mold I was looking for. The second one was just a crazy high scoring game, and while 8 strikeouts was a lot back then, it’s not much now.

So based on run scoring and hits allowed, and run scoring and strikeouts, the Astros-Mariners game was one of the top two most dominant games in recorded (Retrosheet database) history. There you have it!

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