6/4/2013 4:20 P.M. ET
Pitchers dominating this year, but still no no-nos
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
To even broach the subject is slightly silly, armed as we are with an understanding of history. And history tells us that it's awfully hard to hold a Major League team hitless for a length of a game.
But recent history seems to tell us the game is ripe for the elements that allow a no-hitter to occur. And so, against my better judgment, I can't help but wonder:
Aren't we due for a no-no here in 2013? And if so, who's going to be the one to throw it?
If the questions sound presumptuous, preposterous or simply greedy, consider a few things:
The Major League-wide batting average (.253) is at its lowest point since the institution of the designated hitter in the American League, 40 years ago.
The average number of hits per game has dropped each of the last seven years.
The league-wide strikeout rate (once every 5.01 plate appearances) is the highest it has been in the history of the game.
From September 2006 through the 2012 season, we saw an average of one no-hitter thrown every 1.3 months of play.
Teams have been held to one hit 11 times already this season after just 15 such games in all of 2012.
So when you look at it that way, then, yes, we are due.
We've certainly flirted with the feat a few times this season. The Red Sox's Jon Lester took a no-hit bid against the Blue Jays into the sixth inning on May 10. That same night, Cardinals rookie Shelby Miller gave up a leadoff single and nothing else to the Rockies. The White Sox Chris Sale (May 12 against the Angels) and the Pirates' A.J. Burnett (April 17 against the Cardinals) both had no-hitters going into the seventh.
And the two nearest no-nos, to date, belong to the Rangers' Yu Darvish and the Tigers' Anibal Sanchez. Darvish was one out away from a perfect game on April 2 when the Astros' Marwin Gonzalez sent a single through his legs, and Sanchez gave up a one-out, ninth-inning single to Joe Mauer to end his May 24 no-hit bid.
"It's not that I go to the mound and want to do something special," Sanchez said after that one. "It's just that I want to go nine innings, go deeper, get a good command, get a good game."
And that's all any pitcher can reasonably shoot for. Because even if the game's offensive decline in recent years is staggering, these are still Major League hitters we're talking about. You don't go in assuming or expecting perfection or even anything remotely resembling it.
In fact, what we could be looking at here is a simple return to normalcy. In the modern era, dating back to 1901, a no-hitter has occurred about once every 785 games in the regular season. From 2010-12, however, that rate was once every 456 games. We were spoiled. (Well, unless you were a writer on deadline, that is.)
But if we add in this 2013 drought to the 2010-12 picture, the pace is starting to creep back toward the historical norm -- one no-hitter every 508 games. And counting.
Indeed, there's no accounting for when or if a no-no will happen, and we've known this all along. But plenty of fans go into a game hoping to see something historic, and for a while there, they were rewarded at a remarkable rate. So on the heels of a record-tying seven no-hitters (including three perfect games) in '12, the lack of a no-no this season -- with the hit rate dropping yet again -- is at least somewhat surprising, no matter what the broader scope of history tells us.
So who will be the one to end the drought, and when? Who should you have in your No-Hitter Pool, to the extent that such a thing even exists?
Well, the easy answer is that there is no easy answer, because the random nature of sport -- and this element of sport, in particular -- doesn't allow us to predict such a thing. Philip Humber threw a perfect game. Raise your hand if you saw that one coming (not you, Mrs. Humber).
But that can't stop us from making an educated guess, right? To do so, let's look at the qualities it takes to throw a no-no.
For one, it would be helpful if you're a guy not all that prone to giving up hits. Duh. With that in mind, here were the 15 lowest hits-per-nine-innings rates in MLB this season, entering this week:
Matt Moore, 5.66
Clayton Kershaw, 5.87
Max Scherzer, 5.90
Clay Buchholz, 5.91
Travis Wood, 6.13
Matt Harvey, 6.18
Hisashi Iwakuma, 6.39
Mike Minor, 6.56
Jeff Samardzija and Lance Lynn, 6.72
Patrick Corbin and Gio Gonzalez, 6.78
A little luck and a lot of good defensive play never hurt anybody, either. Here were the 15 lowest batting-average-on-balls-in-play (BABIP) rates, entering the week:
Matt Moore, .201
Kershaw and Sale, .236
Jeff Locke, .239
Jordan Zimmermann, .243
Jerome Williams and Gio Gonzalez, .246
Wandy Rodriguez, .249
Madison Bumgarner, .250
Hiroki Kuroda, .252
Scherzer and Darvish, .253
It is also helpful if the pitcher in question simply doesn't allow many balls put in play, period. The 15 lowest percentages of pitches put in play were:
Hector Santiago, 14.8
Ryan Dempster, 14.9
Ubaldo Jimenez, 15.4
Miller, Justin Verlander, Sanchez and Moore, 15.7
Felix Doubront, 15.9
Lynn and Erik Bedard, 16.0
Gonzalez and Scott Kazmir, 16.5
And finally, give me somebody with staying power. Here were the top 15 innings-per-outing marks:
Adam Wainwright, 7.42
Cliff Lee, 7.36
James Shields, 7.17
Ervin Santana, 7.03
Felix Hernandez and Scherzer, 6.94
Justin Masterson, 6.83
Alex Cobb, 6.77
Patrick Corbin, 6.76
Do you see what I see? Because I only see one guy appearing on all four lists. And I'm going to conclude this brutally unscientific experiment -- loaded as it is with arbitrary endpoints -- by concluding that the Detroit Tigers' Max Scherzer is the most likely pitcher in baseball right now to throw a no-hitter. He's facing the Rays on Thursday, and they've been no-hit four times since 2009. So plan accordingly.
UPDATE: Don't ever underestimate my ability to screw up a relatively easy task. Thanks to the magic of misplaced copy-and-paste, Darvish and Kershaw were missing from the top of the hits-per-nine-innings list when this column first ran. Therefore, Darvish, like Scherzer, actually does appear on all four lists. Yu, then, is equally as good a pick to throw a no-no, even if he didn't finish the job in his first start of the season. My apologies to Yu and his entire family.