Was Jordan Zimmermann’s shutout the best start in Nationals history?


(John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

The morning after the start of Jordan Zimmermann’s career (so far), Manager Davey Johnson doubled down on his stance that it was “definitely the best I’ve seen here.” Under Johnson’s watch, that is almost certainly true. But what about since the Nationals moved to Washington?

There are no wrong answers. If you liked the improbability of Ramon Ortiz carrying a no-hitter into the ninth inning in 2006 or the electric dominance of Stephen Strasburg’s 14-strikeout debut, the argument can surely be made.

But there is one unofficial, quantitative method to measuring the quality of starting pitching performances. Bill James’s Game Score formula, which credits pitchers for innings and strikeouts and docks them for runs, hits and walks, is the closest thing to a consistent, impartial judge of starting pitching performances.

Using the Game Score as a guide, Zimmermann’s one-hit, one-walk, four-strikeout shutout ranked right at the top in Nationals’ history … but not quite the very best. Zimmermann’s tour de force rated an 88 Game Score. One start in Nationals’ history matched it, and one surpassed it.

On Aug. 14, 2005, at RFK Stadium, John Patterson submitted, by a fairly wide margin, the best Game Score in Nationals history. Patterson allowed four hits and no walks while he struck out 13 hitters in a shutout against the Dodgers. The performance earned a Game Score of 92. Because baseball is so good to us, there is this: Playing shortstop that night for Los Angeles was Cesar Isturis – the same Cesar Izturis started at short for the Reds last night against Zimmermann.

There has been only one other start in Nationals history that rated as good as Zimmermann’s performance last night, and it’s a doozy. On Aug. 15, 2006, Pedro Astacio struck out five, walked none and allowed two hits in a shutout against the Braves. The start matched Zimmermann’s 88. In 16 other starts that season, at age 37, Astacio recorded no Game Score better than 58. He finished the season with a 5.98 ERA over 90 1/3 innings. But, for one day in August, he was essentially as effective as any Nationals pitcher has ever been.

For those curious, here’s the 10 best Nationals starts based on the Game Score scale. (Gio Gonzalez’s one-hit, eight-inning performance Friday night, which rated an 81, just missed the cut.)

1. 92 – John Patterson, Aug. 14, 2005, Dodgers: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 13 K, 0 ER

2. 88 – Pedro Astacio, Aug. 15, 2006, Braves: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 5 K, 0 ER

3. 88 – Jordan Zimmermann, April 26, 2013, Reds: 9 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 4 K, 0 ER

4. 87 – Edwin Jackson, April 14, 2012, Reds: 9 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 9 K, 1 HBP, 1 ER

5. 87 – Livan Hernandez, June 15, 2011, Cardinals: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 6 K, 0 ER

6. 84 – John Patterson, April 15, 2005 Marlins: 8 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 13 K, 1 ER

7. 84 – Jason Marquis, April 29, 2011, Giants: 9 IP, 5H, 0 BB, 7 K, 0 ER

8. 83 – Jason Bergmann, May 14, 2007, Braves: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 10 K, 1 ER

9. 83 – John Patterson, Sept. 16, 2005, Padres: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 6 K, 1 ER

10(t). 82 – Gio Gonzalez, Aug. 31, 2012, Cardinals: 9 IP, 5 H, 3 BB, 8 K, 0 ER

10 (t.) 82 – John Patterson, July 19, 2005, Rockies: 8 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 8 K, 0 ER

By the way: Strasburg’s debut earned a 75 Game Score, while Ortiz’s near-miss no-hitter was a 78.

Adam Kilgore covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.
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Adam Kilgore · April 27, 2013

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