No Hitters are Overrated

Over the past couple of weeks, MLB is streaming some of the greatest games over the course of the past decades each night on their YouTube channel.  Two games I have watched include Roy Halladay’s no-hitter against the Reds in game 1 of the 2010 NLDS and Johan Santana’s no-hitter against the Cardinals on June 1, 2012.  Here are each of their pitching lines:

Roy Halladay:

Johan Santana:

This made me think about no-hitters and how impressive they actually are.  In fact, I came to the conclusion that no-hitters are overrated…at least for now.  Since the beginning of the live-ball era (1920), there have been 212 no-hitters.  Yes, that does make it “rare” considering the amount of MLB games played since that point.  But does that necessarily make it impressive? In the above pitching lines, I find one impressive and one…well…not so much.  Halladay was incredible AND it was in a playoff game.  In addition, he only had one walk.  This is the difference between the two.  It took Santana 134 pitches and he walked five batters.  He may not have given up a hit, but the walks discredit the achievement to a degree.  The saying “a walk is as good as a hit” rings true here.  Halladay allowed one batter to reach base, which if counted as a hit, is still an incredible outing.  In Santana’s case, while a five-hit shutout is still impressive, it is not an uncommon occurrence.  Walks discredit hits when it gets to be high enough and its as simple as that.  Pitchers do not want to give up hits. Why? Because runners on base give the opposing team a better chance at scoring.  Pitchers do not want to walk batters.  Why? Because runners on base give the opposing team a better chance at scoring.

No-hitters have peaks and valleys throughout the decades.  The most current decade has seen more no-hitters than any decade over the course of the past century.

2010-2019           avg 4/year

2000-2009         avg 1.8/year

1990-1999           avg 3.1/year

1980-1989           avg 1.3/year

1970-1979            avg 3.1/year

1960-1969           avg 3.4/year

1950-1950           avg 1.8/year

1940-1949           avg 1.3/year

1930-1939           avg 0.8/year

1920-1929           avg 0.9/year

Maybe the amount of no-hitters we have seen over the past decade is numbing the greatness of it.  Since 2000, there have been 48 no-hitters.  Of those no-hitters, in ten of those instances, there were four or more walks.  The most notable of which is A.J Burnett who threw a nine-walk no-hitter against the Marlins in 2012:

Is this really what we are celebrating??! By no means is this a great game of pitching! What is impressive is the luck he had in not allowing a run with all of those baserunners.

It is clear, of course, a no-hitter with one walk is better than a no-hitter with five walks.  To go all nine innings without allowing a hit is impressive, but also very lucky.  You don’t have to be a top pitcher to throw a no-hitter.  Yes, over the past 20 years we have some usual suspects such as Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, and Randy Johnson, all of whom have won Cy Young awards achieve a no-hitter.  But also in the group that threw a no-hitter, you have guys like Bud Smith, Anibal Sanchez, Matt Garza, Dallas Braden, and Phillip Humber who are not going down in history as great pitchers.

Many other achievements happen that are more rare than a no-hitter that are barely talked about.

  1. Immaculate Inning (9 strikes, 3 Ks, side retired) only happened 97 times.
  2. A 4 strikeout inning. Only happened 47 times.
  3. A 20 Strikeout Game. Only happened 4 times.  Last accomplished by Max Scherzer in 2016.

This link lists many rarely-seen baseball events.

No-hitters are cool, don’t get me wrong.  No-hitters are not alike, however, and walks play a significant role in judging that.  Putting one, two, or even three at most guys on via walks during a no-hitter, fine.  But any more, and it shows that the pitcher simply didn’t have his best stuff that day or lacked control.  I would rather take a pitching performance where a guy may allow one or two runs but give up only 2 hits and strike out 12.  Dominance cannot be dictated by hits, but rather the whole performance.  As pitch count monitoring is closely watched and protecting pitchers a concern of all teams, it is likely we will see a decrease in no-hitters.  The quality of pitching you could argue is better than ever, but unless a pitcher can keep his pitch count down, it is unlikely he will see all nine innings. The more recent no-hitters are games where the pitcher has walked less than three batters.  Eliminating walks will result in lower pitch count which will result in the pitcher having a better opportunity for a no-hitter.  In this sense, we will likely continue to see no-hitters, but it will eliminate the odds of us seeing the BS no-hitters that include four or more walks. Looking into the future, achieving a no-hitter will be more impressive than it was in the 2000s or early 2010s.

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