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Could 2021 Be the Year of the No-Hitter?

I was unwinding on Friday after a long week of work when I got an alert from MLB that Wade Miley was throwing a no-hitter against Cleveland. I blinked my eyes a couple of times in disbelief before putting the game on, but as I was watching Miley complete his no-hitter, my alerts went off again: Sean Manaea had a perfect game in progress in Oakland. He ended up losing it when Randy Arozarena walked in the seventh and his no-hitter when Mike Brosseau led off the eighth with a double, but if your head is spinning a bit from all the alerts, you are not alone. We are barely five weeks into the 2021 season, and we’ve already seen four no-hitters (five, if you count Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning no-no, which MLB officially doesn’t). As fun as it has been to follow the action this season, something historically anomalous is afoot.

Let’s start with the raw numbers. There are only 21 full MLB seasons with four or more no-hitters since 1901, and the only season that saw more than four no-hitters happen before May 15 is 1917, when five took place (all before May 6). That season ended with six no-hitters and a tie for the highest percentage of no-hitters per game played — until now.

The existing record of no-hitters as a percent of total games is at 0.48%, which has happened twice in MLB history, but it’s unlikely many of us were around for those 1908 and 1917 seasons. The vaunted 1968 “Year of the Pitcher” season that resulted in the mound being lowered five inches doesn’t even crack the top-10 list in terms of no-hitters as a percent of total games. Here are the top 20 seasons for no-hitters as a percent of total games, including 2021 data through May 9: Read the rest of this entry »

These Aren’t the Hits MLB Wanted

There have been some scary moments in the first few weeks of the 2021 major league season. On April 28, Phillies Manager Joe Girardi was ejected after both Didi Gregorius and Bryce Harper were hit by pitches while they were playing the Cardinals. Harper’s incident was particularly scary as he was hit in the face with a 97 mph fastball. On April 5, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras was plunked by a 93 mph fastball to the helmet. Two days later Reds rookie Jonathan India had a similar moment after a fastball ricocheted off his helmet.

It’s not your imagination: batters are being hit by wayward pitches at a record clip. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic made note of the trend this morning. Baseball Prospectus’ Rob Mains recently published an excellent breakdown of this year’s record-setting pace for hit batsmen. I was particularly taken aback by this chart showing that prior to 2018, no season in baseball history had a hit batsman in more than 1 in 103 plate appearances:

Mains continues:

There was one batter hit per 96 plate appearances in 2018, a new record. It fell further, to 94, in 2019. Then all the way to 81 in last year’s short, weird season.

This year? Through Tuesday night’s games, it’s down to 74.5. Batters are being hit thirty-eight percent more frequently than in 1901. There are just over eight hit batters for every five just a decade ago. We’re averaging 0.997 hit batters per game in 2021, a single HBP shy of one per game—a level the sport’s never approached. Batters so far have a .309 on-base percentage. Hit batters account for thirteen points of that figure. Ten years ago, there were only eight points of hit batters in MLB’s .321 OBP.

I wanted to take a look at possible reasons the HBP rate is at record levels so far in 2021, but first we need to be clear about which parts of this trend are continuations from previous seasons and which parts are actually new. In 2019, Devan Fink demonstrated that the HBP rate per plate appearance was approaching the highest levels seen since the early 1900s. He looked at increased velocity and reliever usage to demonstrate that while a pitches’ speed didn’t necessarily mean a pitcher had worse command, relievers had a larger share of HBP than their starting counterparts. Read the rest of this entry »

The Curious Case of the Cubs’ Offensive Woes

Playoff baseball has become something of an expectation on the North Side of Chicago since 2015, but there are good reasons why the Cubs have been somewhat derisively known as the “lovable losers” since the term was first applied to them 1977. For most of their 145 year history, the Cubs have not been worried about their record in October. In fact between 1945 and 1984, they didn’t appear in the postseason at all. Which is why it’s such a remarkable statement to say that the 2021 Cubs got off to one of the worst offensive starts in franchise history. It’s even more perplexing because this season’s offense is mostly made up of the same core of players that won the World Series in 2016 and brought playoff baseball to Wrigley Field in five of the last six seasons.

Twelve games into the season, there was no shortage of pieces about the Cubs’ broken offense. However, those concerns were briefly allayed when the team went on a torrid run, scoring 55 runs in six games. Some fans may have breathed a sigh of relief as the bats came to life, but close observers noticed a pattern. Sahadev Sharma at The Athletic speculated that the Cubs offense was neither historically broken nor magically fixed. He argued the team is trapped in the same boom and bust cycle that allowed the Brewers to chase them down and force a game-163 in 2018. That offensive outage lead then-president of baseball operations Theo Epstein to declare that “our offense broke somewhere along the lines.” It’s the same cycle that saw them get off to a red hot, 13-3 start in the pandemic-shortened season, only to be unable to score against an upstart Marlins squad in the Wild Card Series. So let’s explore what’s changed with this offense since 2016. Read the rest of this entry »

Take Me Out to the (Socially Distanced) Ballgame

Even after baseball returned in 2020, a walk around Wrigleyville was anything but normal. The sounds of the Lowery organ, the players’ walkup music, and the fake crowd noise pumping out of the empty ballpark made the streets felt haunted. There were a handful of ballhawks at the corner of Kenmore and Waveland, and a few adventurous souls watched the games from the limited capacity rooftops across the street. But vendors were nowhere to be seen, and most of the nearby pubs and taverns were shuttered. A neighborhood that welcomes more than three million fans annually to the majors’ second oldest park felt like a ghost town.

Ten and a half months later, baseball and fans have returned to Wrigley Field, and so did I. Though I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect as I joined the 25% capacity crowd during the Cubs’ first home stand, I braced myself for that same feeling I experienced so many times walking through the neighborhood in 2020. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised that the sense of desertion had been replaced by one of cautious renewal. Pandemic baseball isn’t the same as the standing-room-only crowds I remember from 2019, but it isn’t the shell we saw last season, either.

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Nick Castellanos Is the Hottest Hitter in Baseball

This is Sara’s first piece as a FanGraphs contributor. She has been writing about baseball on and off since her byline first appeared in her local paper at age 13. Her work has appeared at Baseball Prospectus, where she contributed to Short Relief, and as a lead voice covering the Chicago Cubs for SBNation’s Bleed Cubbie Blue, where she also co-hosts their podcast, Cuppa Cubbie Blue. She’s a fan of advanced metrics, keeping score by hand, and bat flips. Sara is a meticulous researcher who applies that talent to all parts of baseball, from big issues like labor relations to idiosyncratic issues like Javier Báez and his uncanny ability to deliver on an 0-2 count in 2019. She looks forward to bringing her research skills to FanGraphs, which has long been her first stop for data to support her writing.

Most of the talk around Nick Castellanos to start the 2021 season has focused on his two-game suspension for his role in the events preceding the benches clearing between the Reds and the Cardinals during their second game of the season:

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