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Is 2021 the next Year of the No-Hitter?

May 11, 2021
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Is 2021 the next Year of the No-Hitter? (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Every couple of years, I find myself writing a variation of the same story. There will be a cluster of no-hit games pitched in the majors and I, as a fascinated student of baseball history, will wonder if we are about to see a season in which we get more than the record seven no-hitters we saw in 1990, 1991 and 2012 (I got to write about that last one).

But after the past week saw not one, but two no-hitters added to the total of the still-nascent 2021 MLB season, the question must be asked again: Is THIS the year of the no-hitter?

With no-nos thrown by John Means of the Baltimore Orioles and Wade Miley of the Cincinnati Reds within days of each other, the season’s total for no-hit games already stands at four – more than halfway there.

(Well, officially four anyway. Unofficially, it’s five, because I am firmly in the “Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning complete game no-hitter is a no-hitter” camp. I’m not going to relitigate that argument again here – just head to the website and check out my piece from a couple of weeks ago to get the entirety of my feelings on the matter.)

So will we see that magic number of seven fall this season? It certainly seems within the realm of possibility, though there are factors working against it as well.

We’ll start with the pitchers themselves. The nature of pitcher usage has changed dramatically in just the past decade or so. Rather than expecting to go the distance, starting pitchers are increasingly expecting to come out of games after five or six innings. Gone are the days of mid-three figure pitch counts and the like; with a seemingly unending parade of 100 mph-throwing relievers, the complete game in general has largely disappeared.

The exception, however, seems to be the no-hitter. Managers have proven thus far to be willing to give their starters a good deal more leeway when they haven’t given up a hit. It makes sense, of course – a pitcher who hasn’t given up any hits is probably dealing – though one wonders if the slow erosion of mound time has overly impacted stamina.

That said, the key factor in all of this is probably the hitting … or lack thereof.

As the game has evolved, the prevalence of three true outcomes batting philosophies has risen. Specifically, hitters are all about home runs, which means that they are both taking more pitches in search of one to drive and swinging as hard as they can when they see one. This attitude leads to significant numbers of three things – home runs, walks and strikeouts. Roughly a third of all plate appearances end in one of those three manners. And the latter two, well … they aren’t hits.

Thus far, 2021 is on pace to be the most anemic season since the deadball era in terms of batting average. Teams are putting the ball in play more infrequently than ever, and even when they do, the explosion in defensive shifts means that they’re even more likely to hit it at someone ready to catch it. At this rate, we’ll see the lowest league batting average and fewest hits per team EVER.

As you might imagine, it’s an environment ripe for no-hitters.

Now, the reality is that this offensive downturn is likely to rebound at least somewhat as the weather warms up and batter preparation catches up to that of pitchers. How much it rebounds remains to be seen – it’ll need to be pretty significant to even get back to the rates of just a couple of years ago.

It will also be interesting to see how things like openers and/or bullpen games will impact the situation. Will we see any multi-pitcher no-nos in 2021? If the trend of relative hitting futility continues, it’s a distinct possibility.

Regardless, we’ve got four (five, dammit!) no-hitters in just the first six weeks of the season. Halfway to the goal with some three-quarters of the slate yet to be played. One can argue as to whether these various trends are bad for the sport as a whole – personally, I’d love to see more balls in play – but until analysts can uncover some new inefficiency, expect this version of baseball to continue as we move forward.

That said, I’m always going to say yes-yes when it comes no-nos.

Last modified on Tuesday, 11 May 2021 09:51

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