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In the past few weeks, we’ve seen several pitchers threaten to post a complete game with very few pitches. None of them have come in under 95 pitches, however. This post lists the CGs with the fewest pitches since 2000. You will be surprised.

Only 5 pitchers have posted a game with an average of 3 pitches per out or less (81 pitches total), though one pitcher has done it twice. Here is the list of all the pitchers since 2000 to have a 9-inning CG of 90 pitches or less:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt IP H R BB SO Pitches
1 Aaron Cook
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2007-07-25
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COL
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SDP
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W 10-2 9.0 7 2 0 2 74
Carlos Silva
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2005-05-20
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MIN
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MIL
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W 7-1 9.0 5 1 0 3 74
3 Jon Lieber
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2001-05-24
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CHC
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CIN
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W 3-0 9.0 1 0 1 2 78
4 Aaron Cook
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2008-07-01
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COL
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SDP
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W 4-0 9.0 5 0 0 4 79
5 Luke Hochevar
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2009-06-12
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KCR
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CIN
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W 4-1 9.0 3 1 1 3 80
6 Rich Harden
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2005-07-14
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OAK
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TEX
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W 6-0 9.0 2 0 0 8 81
7 Roy Halladay
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2001-10-05
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(1)
TOR
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CLE
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W 5-0 9.0 2 0 0 8 83
8 Steve Sparks
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2001-06-19
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DET
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NYY
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W 7-1 9.0 3 1 2 0 84
9 Mark Mulder
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2001-09-02
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OAK
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TBD
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W 3-1 9.0 4 1 0 8 86
Tim Hudson
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2004-04-10
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OAK
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SEA
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W 2-1 9.0 4 1 0 2 86
Jason Marquis
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2009-06-30
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COL
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LAD
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W 3-0 9.0 2 0 0 3 86
12 Bartolo Colon
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2003-06-07
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CHW
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LAD
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W 4-1 9.0 4 1 0 5 87
Odalis Perez
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2002-06-25
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LAD
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COL
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W 4-0 9.0 1 0 1 6 87
Todd Ritchie
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2001-07-13
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PIT
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KCR
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W 1-0 9.0 1 0 0 6 87
John Halama
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2000-05-17
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SEA
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MIN
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W 4-0 9.0 4 0 0 2 87
16 Armando Galarraga
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2010-06-02
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DET
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CLE
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W 3-0 9.0 1 0 0 3 88
Roy Oswalt
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2005-06-12
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HOU
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TOR
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W 3-0 9.0 2 0 0 3 88
Sidney Ponson
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2004-04-20
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BAL
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TBD
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W 9-1 9.0 4 1 1 2 88
Chris Carpenter
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2000-04-21
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TOR
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NYY
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W 8-3 9.0 5 3 0 3 88
20 Jaime Garcia
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2010-08-22
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STL
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SFG
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W 9-0 9.0 3 0 0 6 89
Pedro Astacio
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2006-08-15
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WSN
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ATL
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W 5-0 9.0 2 0 0 5 89
Roy Halladay
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2006-05-13
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TOR
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TBD
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W 8-1 9.0 3 1 1 3 89
Sidney Ponson
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2003-07-10
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BAL
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SEA
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W 4-1 9.0 7 1 1 6 89
Greg Maddux
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2000-09-13
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ATL
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FLA
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W 4-0 9.0 4 0 0 4 89
Greg Maddux
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2000-09-07
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ATL
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ARI
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W 4-0 9.0 4 0 0 6 89
David Wells
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2000-04-08
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TOR
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TEX
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W 4-0 9.0 9 0 1 5 89
27 Homer Bailey
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2010-05-12
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CIN
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PIT
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W 5-0 9.0 4 0 0 6 90
Mark Buehrle
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2004-07-21
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CHW
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CLE
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W 14-0 9.0 2 0 0 4 90
Kenny Rogers
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2004-06-25
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TEX
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HOU
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W 3-1 9.0 3 1 1 2 90
Jeff D’Amico
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2003-07-06
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PIT
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HOU
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W 8-3 9.0 4 3 1 3 90
Cory Lidle
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2002-07-19
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OAK
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TEX
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W 10-0 9.0 1 0 1 6 90
Chris Reitsma
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2002-07-15
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CIN
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MIL
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W 2-0 9.0 5 0 3 4 89
Brad Radke
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2001-06-12
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MIN
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HOU
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W 7-0 9.0 4 0 0 7 90
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
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: View Play Index Tool Used
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Generated 5/3/2011.

Aaron Cook posted two of the 4 lowest pitch counts of the decade, and perhaps unsurprisingly, both came against the Padres. What is surprising about those games, however, is that both came at Coors Field. He gave up a total of 12 hits in those games, but since many of them came early in the count, and he didn’t walk anyone, he somehow still managed to stay under 80 pitches both times. I have a new respect for Mr. Cook now.

I was surprised at first to find Carlos Silva and Jon Lieber high on any list of pitching feats, but having thought about it, both make sense. These are guys who are/were very walk averse. They “pitch to contact,” as the vernacular goes. While this generally doesn’t make them great pitchers, it does enable them to keep low pitch counts. It’s no wonder that Lieber was so often called “The Poor Man’s Maddux” while he was pitching for the Cubs.

Speaking of Maddux, he appears twice on the list. If you look closely, you’ll notice that his two 89-pitch masterpieces came in back-to-back starts in 2000. That’s amazing.

One fun note is that none of the decade’s 19 CG no-hitters made the list. Only one no-hitter even came in under 100 pitches–Derek Lowe’s 2002 job took 97. Though, as you may have noticed, Armando Galarraga’s “perfect game that wasn’t” did make the list.

Probably the most surprising names at the top of the list are Hochevar and Harden. The former has yet to really fulfill his potential, aside from that one CG anyway. The latter had some good years, but even then, he was known for very high pitch counts. So to see Harden had an 81-pitch CG is fairly mind-blowing.

To see which of these super-efficient complete games was the most surprising, I compared each pitch count to that pitcher’s career average # of pitches per 9 IP. Here are the ten most surprising super-efficient CGs since 2000:

Rk Player Date Pitches P/9 IP Career Difference
1 Rich Harden
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2005-07-14
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81 153 72
2 Homer Bailey
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2010-05-12
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90 161 71
3 Luke Hochevar
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2009-06-12
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80 145 65
4 Aaron Cook
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2007-07-25
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74 134 60
5 Carlos Silva
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2005-05-20
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74 133 59
6 Steve Sparks
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2001-06-19
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84 143 59
7 Armando Galarraga
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2010-06-02
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88 146 58
8 Jason Marquis
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2009-06-30
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86 144 58
9 Aaron Cook
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2008-07-01
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79 134 55
10 Bartolo Colon
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2003-06-07
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87 142 55
Source: Baseball-Reference.com
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.

Harden’s 81-pitch CG does indeed come in atop the list, though it receives strong competition from Homer Bailey’s 90-pitch outing.

For some reference, the league average has been around 147 Pitches/9 IP, so Bailey has generally needed about 14 more pitches than average to get through 9 innings. That’s about an extra half-pitch per out. Yet he somehow managed a 90-pitch CG last year.

So far in 2011, James Shields has the most efficient CG, a 95-pitch effort on April 24th against the Blue Jays. Based on this data, though, I would not expect that mark to hold up for the rest of the year. We’ll likely have at least one sub-90 pitch CG before the year is out. While the smart bet would be on someone like Roy Halladay, this post should tell us that the pitcher who does it may well be someone whom you would not expect.

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