How Wade Miley Threw A No-Hitter

Though he’s made just 12 appearances for them, Wade Miley’s time with the Reds has already been a rollercoaster. Last season, the first of a two-year, $15-million contract, he hit the injured list three different times and pitched so poorly when he was active that he lost his rotation spot. He earned it back this year, largely thanks to injuries to Sonny Gray and Michael Lorenzen, then began the season with 11 shutout innings over two starts. Eight runs in 16 innings over his next three starts followed, as his ability to miss bats waned and bad pitches landed in outfield seats. All of this adds up to an average pitcher playing on an average team in a division that average teams could win. Then, all of a sudden, came the extraordinary.

Miley no-hit Cleveland at Progressive Field on Friday, walking one batter and watching another reach on an error and striking out eight. It was the Reds’ first no-hitter since Homer Bailey’s second on July 2, 2013, and the 17th in franchise history. Expand the scope to all of baseball, and Miley joined a group whose size is increasing with perplexing speed. When he took the mound Friday, the dust had barely settled from a no-hitter thrown by John Means on Wednesday, who threw his on the heels of a seven-inning no-hitter by Madison Bumgarner, who threw his in the wake of nine-inning no-hitters by Carlos Rodón and Joe Musgrove. That’s five no-nos in a span of 29 days, with no end in sight.

For a while on Friday, the excitement surrounding Miley’s performance was matched only by the concern over whether it would be enough to get the Reds a win. Out of the opposing dugout, Zach Plesac had turned in a dazzling game of his own, tossing eight shutout innings and allowing just three hits, and Cleveland dialed up Emmanuel Clase, who had yet to allow an earned run over his first 15 games of the season, for the ninth with Miley’s no-hitter still intact. But a pair of base hits to start the inning were followed by a pair of blunders by Clase, who allowed one run to score on a bad throw to the infield before balking home another. The Reds finally had their starting pitcher in position to seal a win.

Miley did just that by doing what had worked for him the entire game. Moving at a breakneck pace, the 34-year-old left-hander worked the corners masterfully and rushed Cleveland hitters into swinging at pitches they couldn’t do anything with, strikes or not. Out of 20 balls put in play against Miley on Friday, 15 were on the ground, and only four carried an expected batting average of .300 or better. Far and away the best contact against Miley for the day was this 104-mph liner by Franmil Reyes that still turned into a fairly easy out for shortstop Kyle Farmer.

Miley’s ability to limit hard contact was particularly impressive given that the ball was in play so much. Putting his numbers from Friday’s game up against this season’s other no-hitters, the only pitcher who induced a similar low rate of whiffs was Bumgarner, whose start I’m including in spite of the fact that it is not recognized officially by Major League Baseball.

Stats from 2021’s First Five No-Hitters
Name Innings Strikeouts Walks Whiff% CSW% GB%
Joe Musgrove 9 10 0 28% 35% 60%
Carlos Rodón 9 7 0 35% 35% 50%
Madison Bumgarner 7 7 0 19% 30% 36%
John Means 9 12 0 39% 35% 20%
Wade Miley 9 8 1 19% 28% 75%

With the exception of Musgrove and a healthy Rodón, none of these pitchers are regarded as big strikeout guys, but most of their no-hitters involved them tapping into some bat-missing ability. Miley didn’t do that. His whiff rate on Friday was below his season average of 22.6%, which itself places him in just the 23rd percentile of all pitchers. That makes this no-hitter especially interesting to me. This was no example of a pitcher throwing out of his mind for a day. This was Miley doing more or less what he always does and having success not in spite of that, but because of it.

You don’t need an expert to tell you why Miley doesn’t get a ton of swings and misses. He’s one of just 20 pitchers in baseball right now averaging under 90 mph on his fastball, and he doesn’t possess spectacular movement. What he does do well is locate: His cutters run to or just off the inside corner against righties; his four-seamers stay high in the zone; and his changeups and curveballs are just below the knees. The lack of stuff doesn’t grant him a ton of margin for error, but when he’s commanding his pitches the way he did Friday, there’s still a great deal he can accomplish. Just look at what Cleveland’s hitters were up there trying to hit:

There are 114 dots there, and you can probably count the dangerous spots on two hands. Look at all the cutters that jammed right-handed hitters and changeups that faded away just off the outer edge. Even if the guy on the mound is rarely hitting 90 mph, this is a tough spread to do anything with.

Miley delivered his first pitch of the game Friday more than an hour after he planned to, after a rain delay pushed the game’s start time past 8:30 p.m. ET. In keeping with the year’s other no-hitters, most of which have just been a batter or two away from perfect games, Miley retired the first 16 hitters he faced, collecting backwards strikeouts in each of the first two innings before turning Josh Naylor and Amed Rosario to rubble with curveballs in the third. It wasn’t until Nick Senzel made an errant throw to first from his knees one out into the sixth that Cleveland finally had its first baserunner of the night.

It’s a tough play to look at, but the fact that there weren’t more like it is almost as surprising as the no-hitter itself. Losing Joey Votto to the injured list has forced Cincinnati to get creative with its infield mix. That night, Suarez, a career third baseman who moved to shortstop this season, made his first start of the season back on the hot corner. Mike Moustakas also made his 2021 debut at first base, a position he’s only played some 60 innings of in the majors. Farmer was starting at shortstop for just the third time, and Senzel was starting at second for only the fourth time. Every pitcher will take a moment after throwing a no-hitter to stress that it was a team accomplishment, but the fact that Miley induced such weak contact all night that even this awkwardly-arranged infield could handle it only adds to the quality of his work.

On the other side of this is Cleveland, which has now been no-hit twice in the first 31 games of its season. It’s not the worst offense in the league — wow, are the Tigers a mess — but it is closer than you’d expect a playoff contender to be, clocking in at 26th in baseball with an 86 wRC+. Unsurprisingly, an inability to get hits shoulders a lot of the blame for that: While the team is above-average in walk rate and isolated power, it ranks second-worst in baseball with a .210 batting average.

The situation isn’t completely dire, as Cleveland’s MLB-worst .245 BABIP should bounce back some. But this also isn’t out of nowhere. The team ranked in the bottom third in batting average last year, and one of the most consistent and best players from that group is on the Mets now. Catcher is a black hole, both new infielders who arrived from New York are struggling to provide even replacement-level production, and eight of the team’s players who have at least 40 plate appearances have a batting average under .210. If you’re a pitcher looking to add your name to the history books, you’ve got your start against Cleveland circled on the calendar weeks in advance.

Cleveland won’t be appearing on Miley’s schedule anymore this year, but the teams that do no longer have an excuse to underestimate him. After six starts, he owns the ninth-best ERA in baseball and is in the 70th percentile in both xERA and xwOBA. When he takes the mound again, he’ll be chasing Johnny Vander Meer, the only MLB pitcher ever to throw back-to-back no-hitters. It’s an accomplishment that sounds even more far-fetched now than it did in 1938. If ever there were a year for it, though, this would be it.

Tony is a contributor for FanGraphs. He began writing for Red Reporter in 2016, and has also covered prep sports for the Times West Virginian and college sports for Ohio University's The Post. He can be found on Twitter at @_TonyWolfe_.

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Left of Centerfield
1 year ago

Only other team to get no-hit twice in the first 31 games of the season? The 1917 White Sox, who went on to win the World Series! So yes, Cleveland’s winning the World Series this year!!!

(Actually the White Sox got no-hit twice in the same series! And they happened against the St. Louis Browns, a team that went 57-97 to the White Sox 100-54. Baseball is weird…)