Have We Lost Our Appreciation for No-Hitters?

There are a handful of reasons why Edinson Volquez’s no-hitter didn’t get a ton of attention. It happened on a weekend day in one of baseball’s least engaged markets (Miami). The pitcher involved was a journeyman in the midst of another just okay season. And as for making history and grabbing headlines, this particular Saturday wasn’t ideal, as one the greatest players of all time, Albert Pujols, was busy hitting a grand slam to record his 600th homer. So, yes, there were a lot of factors working against extensive coverage of this particular no-hitter. But it’s also possible that the no-hitter itself has lost a little bit of its cachet.

Some have lamented that Pujols’s 600th homer didn’t net the attention it should have garnered, given the rarity of such an event. It has actually been a while since a modern player — whether Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, or Jim Thome — hit their 600th home runs, and we might not see another player get there for quite some time. The home-run barrage of the 90s and early 2000s might have dampened the enthusiasm for career accomplishments like a 500th or 600th homer. As for a no-hitter, it’s more of a single-game oddity and, in terms of rarity, comes nowhere close to a big career home-run threshold. But Scooter Gennett’s four-homer game received a lot of attention, and that’s a single-game exploit, as well. (Although, in fairness, it’s probably closer to a perfect game in terms of frequency.) Whatever the case, it appears as though interest in the no-hitter has decreased and it’s quite possible that the volume of them over the last half-decade is the reason why.

From 2012 to -15, there were 20 no-hitters, an average of five per year and the greatest number over any four-year stretch in the last century. Here are the number of no-hitters by season over the past 50 years.

The past decade has produced four of the top 10 individual seasons for no hitters out of the last 50 years, and every single year of the past decade has seen at least three no-nos. In looking at things another way, let’s go back even further, and look at the period of time it took to get to the 20 no-hitters that we saw from 2012 to -15.

The Eras of No-Hitters
No-Hitters Number of Years
1915-1923 23 9
1924-1946 20 23
1947-1957 20 11
1958-1966 21 9
1967-1971 21 5
1972-1978 21 7
1979-1990 20 12
1991-2000 21 10
2001-2011 22 11
2012-2015 20 4

We get sort of close to the present rate in 1968 — a season literally known as the Year of the Pitcher — but otherwise the present is unrivaled by this standard. Perhaps that’s why most of us didn’t even notice we were going through the longest no-hitter drought in more than a decade when it was two seasons between Randy Johnson and Anibal Sanchez no-nos between 2004 and 2006. To find another drought longer, you have to go back to 1988 to 1990, when Randy Johnson ended a drought begun by Tom Browning.

As for the particulars of Volquez’s no-hitter, there are some rare qualities to it. Consider:

  • Only 15 pitchers have thrown no-hitters with more strikeouts than Volquez’s 10 and fewer walks with Volquez’s two.
  • Volquez erased both walks with double plays. There are only 10 other games with pitchers striking out at leastĀ 10 andĀ facing the minimum in a no-hitter and nine of those are perfect games, with Sandy Koufax the only other pitcher to match Volquez.
  • While we don’t have pitch counts going all the way back through history, only Jim Bunning, David Cone, Koufax, and Volquez himself have managed to strike out double-digit batters and throw a Maddux in a no-hitter, per the Baseball-Reference Play Index.

It’s certainly possible that analytics over the past few years has taken some bite out of no-hitters’ prestige. For example, a pitcher can record a no-hitter while still racking up a bunch of walks — which is to say, he can still be somewhat ineffective. We also know that batters have a lot of control over what happens when the ball hits the bat and that there’s a certain element of luck involved on balls in play. While that could play a role in the potentially diminished interest in a no-hitter, I certainly hope that’s not the case, as I still find them fascinating.

Certainly it takes a lot of luck to throw a no-hitter, and some of the pitchers who’ve accomplished the feat aren’t necessarily among the game’s best. Even after accounting for luck, though, it’s still usually pretty impressive. As for role of luck in Volquez’ case, we find that he recorded 10 outs via the strikeout, four more outs on a pair of double plays, and the other 13 via batted-ball outs. If we took just that information, we might say a simple way of determining the odds of a no-hitter can be made by multiplying the odds of an out in play (roughly 70%), times 13, times the odds of a double play (roughly 11%) twice. We do that and we come up with .00011 or one in about 8,500 games.

Let’s use the game feed from Statcast to go a little bit further. Based on launch angle and exit velocity, we can have a better idea of the batted-ball quality against Volquez and adjust our expectations.

In this particular cast, we lack estimates for four batted balls: three grounders where the ball was pounded into the ground and another that was an easy pop fly. I just made estimates for those plays, including an estimate on whether a double play would be turned. Here’s what we have:

Edinson Volquez No-Hitter By Statcast
Batter Name Inning EV (mph) Launch Angle (deg) Distance (ft) Result HP%
Rey Fuentes 1 77.7 -9 117 Groundout 9
David Peralta 1 105.1 2 151 Groundout 57
Jake Lamb 2 94.9 38 346 Flyout 9
Chris Hermann 2 UNK UNK Groundout 10*
Brandon Drury 2 94.4 23 323 Lineout 25
Jeff Mathis 3 92.2 -24 123 Groundout 12
Rey Fuentes 4 103.4 6 149 Groundout 65
David Peralta 4 108.3 -11 55 Groundout 31
Paul Goldschmidt 4 UNK UNK Groundout 30*
Brandon Drury 5 UNK UNK GDP 20*
Nick Ahmed 6 85.8 -29 136 Groundout 6
Jeff Mathis 6 69.2 79 76 Pop Out 0
Randall Delgado 6 UNK UNK Fly Out 10*
David Peralta 7 87.9 -25 131 Groundout 9
Brandon Drury 8 UNK UNK GDP 15*
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
*No Statcast data. An estimate.

Just two at-bats saw players with a decent shot at hits based on launch angle and exit velocity, and both were converted into outs. The rest of the plays were unlikely to become hits. Of course, putting all of those batted balls together makes no outs pretty unlikely. When we put all of those together, we come out to .01872. Based on knowing nothing about the batted-ball stats, we would think that Volquez had about one in 8,500 shot to throw a no-hitter. When we look at Statcast, we see that maybe his chances were closer to one in 50. Changing the odds on the double plays might move things a little bit, but the actual batted-ball info improves the odds greatly. How much credit Volquez should get is in the eye of beholder. There’s still a ton of luck involved, but a no-hitter, especially in these increased run environments, is no easy feat and deserves some celebration.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 years ago

I’ve always thought that it was weird to make such a big deal about something that happens, on average, more than once per season.

5 years ago

That’s not very often. You expressed it as a common rate 1 time / 1 year, but you could also state that as 1 time / 2400+ games.

5 years ago
Reply to  RonnieDobbs

Interestingly, the current MLB batting average is .251, meaning a failure rate of .749. To the power of 27 outs is .000408 and change, or 1 in 2450 games you would expect a no-hitter just by pure random chance.

One no hitter per year (2430 games) is entirely expected.

5 years ago
Reply to  AaronC

Does that make it less impressive? I remain impressed as it represent one of the high points for the year.

5 years ago
Reply to  AaronC

I think you need OBP instead of batting average for this calculation.

5 years ago
Reply to  cowdisciple

Using OBP would give the expected rate of perfect games.

5 years ago
Reply to  Pie

Almost. OBP does not include reaching on an error, a fielder’s choice, a dropped strike three, fielder’s obstruction, or catcher’s interference.

5 years ago
Reply to  Pie

Really? If a player doesn’t make an out, you need to increment the exponent.

5 years ago
Reply to  cowdisciple

I mean, you’ve calculated the chance that no one gets a hit in 27 plate appearances. But if any of those doods got on base, the game isn’t over after 27 plate appearances.

5 years ago
Reply to  cowdisciple

Using OBP doesn’t get you there either, but the above calculation is still wrong. I’m sure someone mathier than I can provide the correct calculation.

5 years ago
Reply to  cowdisciple

No you don’t, because walks don’t count as At Bats, which is what average uses for its denominator. And pickoffs and double plays will also provide some “free” outs, so (1-BA)^27 is a better approximation than you might think