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The List: Best-Pitched Games in Nationals History

On Saturday, Nationals rookie Shairon Martis tossed such a gem of a complete game, it had folks wondering where it ranked among the best pitching performances in the franchise's history.

But that's a subjective thing, no? To most fans, the best pitching performance by a Nats pitcher in memory was the one they witnessed personally.

There does exist, however, the means for an objective measure of single-game pitching greatness -- the "play index" at (subscription required). The statistic is called "game score" (invented, naturally, by Bill James) and is computed thusly: Begin with 50 points. Add a point for every out recorded (27 for a complete game), another point for every strikeout and two points for every inning completed after the fourth. Subtract two points for each hit allowed, one point for each walk allowed, four points for each earned run allowed and two points for each unearned run allowed.

According to this measure, Martis's gem against the Cardinals ranks in a tie for seventh in Nationals history, with 79 points.

But of course, "game score" does not tell the entire story -- the relative quality of the opposing lineup, how desperately the team needed an exquisitely pitched game, etc. Below are the five best-pitched games in Nats history, by game score. But in the comments section, feel free to explain why you feel one special performance -- whether Martis's on Saturday, or a different one -- deserves better play.

4. (tie) John Patterson at Padres, Sept. 16, 2005 (9 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 83 game score). In what would be the final win of his one productive big league season, Patterson retired the final 14 batters of the game and defeated Padres ace Jake Peavy.

4. (tie) Jason Bergmann vs. Braves, May 14, 2007 (8 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K, 83 game score). For his first victory as a starter, Bergmann carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning and beat John Smoltz. (And as an odd historical footnote, the game also featured Jesus Colome's only save in a Nationals uniform.)

3. John Patterson at Marlins, April 15, 2006 (8 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 13 K, 84 game score). This gem stopped a six-game losing streak and portended a strong season from the Nats' ace. But within a week Patterson was on the disabled list, and by spring 2008 he was released by the Nationals and eventually out of baseball entirely.

2. Pedro Astacio vs. Braves, Aug. 15, 2006 (9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 88 game score). Arguably the most improbable entry on this list, Astacio was a 36-year-old journeyman who would spend only one season and win only four other games in a Nationals uniform. But on this night, he retired the first 14 batters he faced and delivered what remains the low-hit shutout performance by a Nats pitcher.

1. John Patterson vs. Dodgers, Aug. 4, 2005 (9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 13 K, 92 game score). This game featured both the first complete-game shutout and the first grand slam (Brad Wilkerson) in Nationals history, and afterwards an emotional Patterson said, "It's the first time in my career I've been happy."

By Dave Sheinin  |  May 6, 2009; 9:03 AM ET
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Maybe because of the personally witnessed factor, the Patterson game vs. the Dodgers remains one of my fave Nats games. Given the way Patterson's career ended, I'm also somewhat saddened when I think of it now.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 6, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Interesting that Patterson holds three of the Nationals top-5 performances.

Posted by: BinM | May 6, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

This may not rank high on the "game index," but for me the best pitched game was our '05 home opener pitched by Livan Hernandez. Watching it in RFK with my 13-year old son -- baseball has always been our shared pleasure -- created a memory we will both never forget. We got a pretty good jolt, too, during the '06 season when we watched Ramon Ortiz come oh-so-close to a no-hitter.

Posted by: Natsgal | May 6, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Something is wrong with this scoring method if Ramon Ortiz taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning doesn't even rate. True, he did ultimately give up a HR in the 9th - but it was to Pujols for feck's sake.

Posted by: GalRevelsInPee | May 6, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Ortiz' game has a GS of 78. Not a complete game, plus only five Ks, lowers the number a little.

Posted by: flyingdonut | May 6, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse

>Ortiz' game has a GS of 78. Not a complete game, plus only five Ks, lowers the number a little.

Which is why the whole game score system is shady. Ortiz was so improbable, it almost made it more special. Him hitting the HR was like something out of Hollywood. I was keeping score, and kept looking at my scorecard wondering if I had missed something. Here's the box for those who weren't there.

Posted by: mattb2 | May 6, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

This system, like most pitching analysis over-values strikeouts. This is so prevalent that it's never challenged. Explain to me why one type of out is valued over another? Also, show me a pitcher who would rather throw 3-8 pitches to get a strikeout vs a 1st pitch dribbler to 1st base or an infield fly.

Anyway, I have to take Astacio's. 2 hits, no walks, no runs, all 9 IP, and a win. Only two hits from perfection. Only two ways to beat that; 1 hitter and perfect game. Hands down, that one wins, for my money.

I was at Martis' game Sat and it was great, very glad to have seen it.

Posted by: Avar | May 6, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

The best start by a Nationals pitcher I have personally witnessed was by Esteban Loaiza (no kidding) against Philadelphia at RFK on April 27, 2005. The game started at 3:30 p.m. and Loaiza pitched eight shutout innings before Jimmy Rollins tagged him for a home run in the ninth to break a scoreless tie. Loaiza allowed four hits, two runs, a walk and had 11 strikeouts. Too bad the Nats lost 3-0. But there were 27,483 at RFK that afternoon, a crowd Stan the Plan Man would probably kill for now.

Posted by: leetee1955 | May 6, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Natsgal that a pitching performance to be remembered is Livan's home opener in 2005, the first game back in DC. It was a magical night. I will never forget that first pitch, a called strike from Livan, with all the flashbulbs snapping. I am glad that I recognized then that there was something special about that season with no owner in a dumpy old stadium that felt like baseball used to be. It was inevitable that a new owner would come in and sanitize out all the authentic elements that make baseball a great game for the people. In my opinion, only the Red Sox still get that.

Posted by: CNY-DC | May 6, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I agree with putting the Patterson gems against the Dodgers in 2005 and at Florida in 2006 on the list, but I don't see how the Ortiz gem on Labor Day 2006 isn't on it as well. He wasn't as dominant in terms of strikeouts as some of the other pitchers were in their games but for sheer excitement and keeping a pretty good hitting team hitless through eight innings, Ortiz' game should be on the list.

Posted by: VaNat | May 6, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

"Strikeouts are fascist. Throw ground balls, they're more democratic."
-Crash Davis

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 6, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Asked and answered, VaNat. If the list were longer, it would be on.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 6, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

I am setting the over/under for number of starts until JZimm is on this list at 14.

Posted by: curz | May 6, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Strikeouts are "overvalued" in game scores because they don't require fielder assistance. If a pitcher is inducing ground balls/fly balls they are relying on their defense, which means they have less control over the game.

If you strike out a high percentage, however, you're taking out the chance of your fielders messing up and thus giving your team a better chance to win.

Posted by: adampschroeder | May 6, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Nice pickup on that blown Loiaza performance. That was one of the only "tough-to-take" losses of that magical pre-July 4th season.

Good topic overall, but this also doesn't take into account the sheer delight of Livan's ephus-filled gems in '05.

Posted by: SchoenfeldsDonut | May 6, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Re Strikeouts...They are only "overvalued" from the perspective that top-tier pitching performances do not NEED strikeouts, however a pitcher is far, far more likely to have success with a high K rate. Thus strikeouts are an important factor in strong pitching performances. Strongly pitched games with low strikeout totals are more likely to be due to luck.

And there's really a very simple explanation, groundballs are more likely to become basehits and flyballs are more likely to become homeruns.

While good/great pitchers can have high GB% with low BABIP (league average is about .300) and good/great pitchers can have high FB% with a low HR% it's far easier and way more productive to strike a batter out. The skill of inducing a doubleplay or having a batter hit a slow roller to first is far more difficult.

Posted by: noahthek | May 6, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

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