Berríos and Burnes Dazzle in Rare Double No-Hit Bid

For fans of dominant pitching, Saturday evening’s Twins-Brewers contest set a high bar for the season. At American Family Field (ugh), Minnesota’s José Berríos and Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes both turned in electrifying performances, each pitching six complete innings of no-hit ball and reaching double digits in strikeouts. At one point, the pair combined to strike out 10 batters in a row. Burnes carried his no-hit bid deeper into the game, getting one out in the seventh before serving up a solo homer to Byron Buxton and departing. Berríos, meanwhile, became the latest pitcher to be removed with his no-hitter intact. Twins reliever Tyler Duffey finally gave up a hit to Omar Narváez in the eighth, but Minnesota held on to win 2-0.

The two 26-year-old righties offered contrasting styles for their dominance. Berríos, the more established of the pair, averaged 95.3 mph with his four-seam fastball and went as high as 96.9 mph, but racked up strikeouts largely by getting hitters to chase low curveballs. Burnes, the harder thrower and the better hurler last year — his 2.4 WAR tied for sixth among all starters — overpowered hitters with a befuddling cutter that averaged 96.3 mph (3.2 mph faster than last season, when only Dustin May outdid him) and reached 97.9 mph. He paired that with a sinker that averaged 98.0 mph and maxed out at 98.8.

The tone for the matchup was set on the first batter of the game. Burnes, whose 36.7% strikeout rate last year was the majors’ fourth-highest among pitchers with at least 50 innings, struck out Twins leadoff hitter Luis Arraez swinging at a 97.6 mph cutter in the middle of the zone — no small matter given how tough he is to punch out. Last year, Arraez had the majors’ fourth-lowest swinging-strike rate among batters with at least 100 PA last year (3.5%) and the third-lowest strikeout rate (9.1%).

That was the only batter Burnes struck out in a 10-pitch first. Berríos notched his first strikeout by getting Christian Yelich to chase a low curveball to close the first inning, which started the two pitchers’ streak. Burnes returned to strike out Max Kepler, Miguel Sanó, and Jake Cave in the second, with Berríos doing the same to Keston Hiura, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Lorenzo Cain. Then Burnes mowed down Ryan Jeffers, Andrelton Simmons, and Berríos himself, batting under National League rules. The stretch of 10 straight strikeouts finally came to an end when Narváez, who would do double duty in his spoiler role, grounded to third base to start the third inning.

Berríos went on to strike out the side (Kolten Wong, Travis Shaw, and Yelich again) in the fourth. No batter reached base for either side until the fifth inning, when Burnes hit Cave and Berríos hit Hiura in their respective halves. Still, neither team had a hit (or a walk) through six innings, with a 103-mph third-inning flyout by Orlando Arcia to the deepest part of center field the only batted ball with an expected batting average higher than .240 (it was .790). Here’s the highlight reel from the first six innings:

It was the first time since August 2, 2014 that two pitchers both carried no-hitters through six innings. In that contest, Mets rookie Jacob deGrom and Giants veteran Jake Peavy did so, with deGrom holding on until he yielded a double to Pablo Sandoval with two outs in the top of the seventh and Peavy giving up the ghost — and a bid for a perfect game — via a Daniel Murphy double with one out in the bottom of the seventh; the latter sparked a four-run rally.

In this one, Burnes took things further, but paid for it. After retiring Jorge Polanco on a groundout to start the seventh, he threw Buxton a low 95.7 mph cutter on the outer edge of the zone that the Twins’ center fielder dug out and clubbed to deep right center field, with a Statcast estimated distance of 411 feet. That was the last of Burnes’ 87 pitches on the night.

Burnes finished his hard-luck night with 11 strikeouts, making this the fourth time in his past seven starts dating back to last August 28 that he reached double digits. They don’t give Cy Young awards out for seven-start runs bridging two seasons, but over that 39.1-inning stretch, he has a case as the best pitcher in baseball, with the majors’ lowest ERA (1.13) and highest strikeout rate (41.4%) and WAR (2.0) as well as its third-lowest FIP (1.47). Joe Musgrove (1.74 ERA, 1.28 FIP, 38.7% K%, 1.6 WAR) and Dinelson Lamet (1.76 ERA, 1.46 FIP, 37.5%, 1.5 WAR) are the only other hurlers with numbers as dominant during that span.

On Saturday, Burnes netted 17 swings and misses, including seven on the cutter, four on his slider, three on his changeup, two on his curve and one on his sinker. He got a total of 19 called strikes, including 11 on the cutter, and so finished with a CSW% — that’s a new stat we’ve added to our pages, a predictive metric developed by Alex Fast that provides better insight into pitcher skill than just swinging-strike rate — of 41.4%, an elite rate that ranks as the fourth-highest of the season. When Burnes got to two strikes, he was utterly stifling: Batters went 0-for-14 with an .097 xwOBA. Last year, Burnes held batters to a .136 xwOBA with two strikes, the majors’ lowest mark among starters.

While it’s extremely rare for two pitchers to take no-hitters through six innings, it’s not tremendously uncommon for one to do so. NoNoHitters.com has been logging no-hitters and no-hit bids of six innings or more since the start of the 2015 season, and since the occasion seemed to merit it, I decided to make a table using their data:

No-Hit Bids Since 2015
Year No-Hit CG No-Hit Combo Broken 7 Broken 8 Broken 9 Broken 10 Broken Up 7+
2015 7 0 20 12 5 0 37
2016 1 0 23 9 4 0 36
2017 1 0 14 4 5 1 24
2018 2 1 29 10 3 0 42
2019 2 2 19 5 4 0 28
2020 2 0 6 1 1 0 8
2021 0 0 2 1 0 0 3
SOURCE: NoNoHitters.com

I’ve broken out the individual and combined no-hitters as noted; this table does include combined no-hit bids of six or more innings as well. For the 2015–20 period, pitchers (starters or multiple pitchers) held their opponents hitless for six innings or longer in 0.67% of games — once for every 150 starts, which is five days worth of full-schedule baseball. The high for this period, 0.86% of games in 2018, corresponds with the lowest full-season batting average in the range, .248, but last year’s rate was just 0.45% in a year where the major league batting average was .245, so the correlation falls apart. Even while starter workloads were lower than ever, and where openers and other bullpen games proliferated, there were fewer no-hit bids than has become the norm. It was a weird season, Charlie Brown.

Anyway, that’s Burnes’ side of the story; he joined Trevor Bauer, who in his Dodgers debut on Friday night pitched six no-hit innings but then gave up three hits and a walk to start the seventh, among 2021 starters whose bids fell short. As for Berríos, who had thrown 84 pitches to that point and now had the lead, he didn’t return for the seventh despite the fact that he was absolutely dealing. He ended up with 12 strikeouts via 18 swings and misses, nine of which came on the curve, four on his sinker, three on his changeup and two on his four-seamer. His four-seamer generated nine of his 19 called strikes, and his 44.0% CSW% is the highest of the young season.

Apparently Berríos was so locked in that he didn’t even realize he hadn’t given up a hit. Via MLB.com’s Manny Randhawa:

“I didn’t know we had no-hitters,” Berríos said of Saturday’s performance. “When [manager] Rocco [Baldelli] came to me and took me out of the ballgame, he just gave me a hug. He didn’t say anything and didn’t let me say anything back to him. When I came off the field, I saw that we had a no-hitter going.”

While Berríos said he respects Baldelli’s decision to pull him from the game, he said he would’ve tried to stay in had he known he had a no-no in the works.

Via The Athletic, Baldelli explained his reasoning:

“Any time we’re sitting in the game and someone hasn’t given up a hit yet, I’ll be honest, it’s not the most comfortable spot to be in, when contemplating taking a guy out of leaving him in the game,” Baldelli said. “It’s hard. And emotions matter, and sometimes you end up doing things that may give a guy an opportunity to do something special in his career. But today, being early on in the season, being as a point where Jose was really efficient but the odds of getting through nine innings probably put his pitch count somewhere well above where we were comfortable.”

The sight of a pitcher being pulled during a no-hitter has become increasingly common in recent years as teams have become more protective of starting pitchers, not only dialing back their workloads in general but also short-circuiting the temptation to push them to uncharacteristically high pitch counts in pursuit of a spot in the history books. At the pace he was on, with 14 pitches per inning, Berríos would have needed 126 pitches to get through nine innings. That’s not an outrageous amount but not one that’s seen often these days; there have been just 14 such outings since the start of the 2015 season. Berrios has never thrown more than 113 pitches in a game, and only twice has he topped 110; he has completed games with counts of 107 and 109. The fan in just about all of us would love to have seen him get his shot at history, but in the first week of the season, that wasn’t going to happen. That’s especially true this year when every team is concerned about how its pitching staff will handle the jump from 60 games to 162. No sane manager is going to let his starter empty the tank on April 3.

The practice of pulling a pitcher who has thrown at least five no-hit innings is something I tracked here at FanGraphs a couple of years ago, when we were in the midst of a record-setting surge of such outings. Specifically, I wrote about the May 4, 2018 combined no-hitter thrown by Walker Buehler and three Dodgers relievers, which was already the fifth such hook of the season, matching the highest total of the Wild Card era (the record at that point was six, set in 1991). That was the only combined no-hitter of the season, but as noted in the previous table, we had two in 2019 as well: one on July 12 by the Angels’ Taylor Cole and Felix Peña, and the other on August 3 by Aaron Sanchez and three Astros relievers. That trio of combined no-nos matched the total of such games from 1995 through 2017, another reminder of just how rare a sight this used to be.

Here’s the trend, updated to include the past few seasons:

With major league batting averages likely to remain in the doldrums, and managers certain to remain cautious about starting pitcher usage throughout the season, the confluence of events that came about in Milwaukee might not be so uncommon as usual. Through Sunday, the 28 teams that have played — we’re still waiting on the Mets and Nationals due to a COIVD-19 outbreak on the latter team— are hitting a combined .237/.320/.395, which at first glance looks a lot like the batting line from 1968, the Year of the Pitcher (.237/.299/.340), albeit with a bit of launch angle revolution thrown in as well as a much higher strikeout frequency (25.0%, versus 15.8% in 1968). Meanwhile, starters are averaging just 4.82 innings per turn thus far, up just a hair from last year’s 4.78. So even on a day when a pitcher has hitless stuff, don’t be surprised if he winds up taking an early shower.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and Mastodon @jay_jaffe.

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amartin
1 year ago

I like Baldelli’s foresight on the reasoning to pull him. There’s no way a young starter is ramping up to 126 pitches in his first start of the season following a year in which teams only played 60 games. It’s a tough situation for sure, and I bet we see a lot of it this year in dominant starts. I’m curious if pitch counts will come full circle at some point, as studies are done on long term health. I know there has been a bit of a parallel between more TJ surgery and lower pitch counts, but I’m pretty certain that’s more due to TJ being generally successful and pitchers coming back the same if not better afterwards as opposed to being caused by pitchers throwing less pitches as some older heads seem to think.