The 2018 Marlins have had precious little about which to cheer so far, and the forecast calls for more of the same. The performance of 25-year-old lefty Jarlin Garcia has been an exception, however. In the first two starts of his big-league career, Jarlin the Marlin* threw a hidden no-hitter — no hits allowed over a span of 27 outs, stretched across multiple games — via six hitless innings against the Mets on April 11 followed by 4.1 hitless innings against the Yankees on Tuesday night. Garcia was hardly perfect, scattering eight walks across those two starts, but joining Bartolo Colon and Shohei Ohtani in an exclusive club — the other pitchers to throw hidden no-hitters so far in 2018 — is close to perfection itself.
*His name is actually pronounced HAR-leen, which puts him behind teammate Starlin Castro in that pecking order.
Prior to his seven no-hit innings against the Astros on Sunday, Colon had gone the last 2.2 innings of his three-inning relief stint on April 10 without allowing a hit. Ohtani’s last 4.2 innings of his April 1 outing against the A’s were hitless, as were his first 6.1 in the rematch a week later. He and Garcia thus share the season high of 33 outs without a hit recorded.
Like any reputable speakeasy, you won’t find the Hidden No-Hitter Club on Google Maps, but the club itself isn’t that exclusive (a point which I’ll address momentarily). But first, consider Garcia. Unlike Colon and Ohtani, with whom you can’t help but be familiar if you’re reading this, he’s hardly a household name. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Dominican-born southpaw isn’t a rookie, having spent all but the first couple weeks of last season in the Marlins’ bullpen, from which he made 68 appearances to the tune of a 4.73 ERA and 4.23 FIP. He jumped to the majors from Double-A Jacksonville, where over the course of 2016 and early -17 he totaled all of 80.1 innings, mostly as a starter; he missed 10 weeks in mid-2016 due to a triceps strain, and entered last season with mixed reviews as to whether he was even one of the top 10 prospects in one of the game’s worst farm systems.
As a reliever, Garcia held his own through the end of August (2.91 ERA, 3.74 FIP), then allowed nine runs while retiring just three hitters in his first two September appearances. In all, he struck out a modest 18.7% of hitters while relying upon a combination of a four-seam fastball that averaged 94.7 mph, a slider that produced a 14.5% whiff rate and a .194 AVG/.242 SLG when put in play, and a changeup that produced a 21.7% whiff rate and .129 AVG/.258 SLG when put in play (data via Brooks Baseball).
With nothing to lose but another 100 or so games, the Marlins decided to return Garcia to the rotation for 2018, and while the results have been superficially encouraging, neither his .096 BABIP nor his 2.6-point K-BB% mark (16.9% K, 14.3% BB) are sustainable. But until he’s just another guy getting knocked around in a Marlins’ uniform, his performance is at least worth celebrating. In terms of predecessors, I’ve struggled to find a parallel for his hitless first start, which ended after 77 pitches because manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Juan Nieves saw signs he was laboring.
Those circumstances call to mind the April 8, 2016 start of the Dodgers’ Ross Stripling, who threw 7.1 no-hit innings in his big-league debut before getting the hook from Dave Roberts just after his 100th pitch and fourth walk of the night. Again, though, that was a debut. On August 11, 1991, the White Sox’s Wilson Alvarez, who had failed to retire a hitter in his only previous big-league outing, a relief appearance more than two years prior, threw a full no-hitter in his first major-league start. Not quite the same, either…
As for the general concept of hidden no-hitters, they tend to stay hidden because it requires comparatively close attention or at least somebody who knows what to do with a database to find them. While the Baseball-Reference Play Index can help clue one into those pieced together by relievers using a streak of hitless games as its basis, those by a starter aren’t likely to show up in such a search. Fortunately, Sean Dolinar was able to crunch the data for me to present here. (Thanks, Sean!)
Roughly speaking, hidden no-hitters have become a once-a-week occurrence, at least over the past 12 seasons. I drew the line at the start of 2007 because of the proliferation of no-hitters after just two were thrown from 2004 to -06. There were 273 from 2007 to -17, an average of 24.8 per year for a 26-week season, compared to 40 actual no-hitters, 3.6 per year not including this one. Their frequency fluctuates nearly in direct proportion to the totals of actual no-hitters:
In terms of those that were exclusively preformed by starters — a total that would include Ohtani but not Colon or even Garcia, whose streak of 33 outs without allowing a hit began with the final two outs of his April 5 relief appearance — the counts prior to 2018 were 149 hidden and 38 actual no-hitters. Including those with at least one start, the tally for the former from 2007 to -17 rises to 161.
The hidden no-hitter totals includes the close-but-no-cigar starts of Doug Fister and Rich Hill on back-to-back nights last August 22 and 23. Pitching for the Red Sox, Fister served up a leadoff homer to Francisco Lindor, then held the Indians hitless for the rest of the night. The Dodgers’ Hill, whose streak began with the final two batters of his previous turn, no-hit the Pirates for nine full innings but got no run support and lost both the no-hitter and the game by serving up a walk-off homer to Josh Harrison to lead off the 10th.
Uncounted here any hidden no-hitters that may have wrapped around from one season to the next, or any that may have begun with a hit that produced an out on the bases to start the streak; particularly within this context, both figure to be comparatively rare occurrences. And while I could have asked Dolinar to exclude the incomplete innings at the start of these streaks (as is now the case when tallying consecutive scoreleess innings streaks), I chose to keep them in, as a parallel to the counts of consecutive batters retired that pop up in this context.
Within the timespan in question, here are the 10 longest streaks of outs without a hit that included at least one start:
|4||Mark Buehrle||White Sox||45||7/18/2009||7/28/2009||3|
|5T||Mark Buehrle||White Sox||39||4/11/2007||4/23/2007||3|
The streaks of Scherzer, Verlander, Buehrle (twice!), Bailey, and Fiers include actual no-hitters; Mad Max nearly got a second one in both senses of the term, as he threw a one-hit shutout against the Brewers on June 14, 2015, allowing only a single to lead off the seventh inning, then actually no-hit the Pirates on June 20 and took a no-hitter into the sixth against the Phillies on June 26. Petit is the only pitcher above whose streak includes any relief appearances. He set a major-league record by retiring 46 consecutive batters, from the final out of his July 22 start against the Phillies through six relief appearances and then the first eight batters of his August 28 start against the Rockies. In doing so, he surpassed Buehrle’s 45-batter streak in 2009.
Here are the 10 longest such streaks that were done exclusively in relief:
|1T||Bobby Jenks||White Sox||42||7/17/2007||8/12/2007||14|
|3||Brett Cecil||Blue Jays||41||5/28/2013||6/21/2013||10|
|8T||Sergio Santos||Blue Jays||38||8/18/2013||9/27/2013||17|
|Koji Uehara||Red Sox||37||8/17/2013||9/13/2013||12|
Jenks actually retired 41 batters in a row, setting the record that was broken by teammate Buehrle. Amid that streak, he completed one of his innings with the doubling off of an inherited runner on a line drive, hence the 42-out total above. Uehara was also perfect within his streak. Frieri’s streak began with his final appearance with the Padres and continued all the way into his 14th appearance with the Padres. It’s crazy how some of the above streaks lasted longer than a month. Arguably, they’re different beasts entirely from those produced by starters.
Back to the starters, though: a total of 27 of them have pulled off multiple no-hit stretches within this span, with Verlander the king, having gone at least 27 outs six times, the first of which included his June 12, 2007 no-hitter against the Brewers. The tallies of the pitchers with the next two highest totals of hidden no-hitters also include an actual no-hitter as well — namely Jon Lester (five) and Francisco Liriano (four). Eight pitchers in that span have had at least three such streaks, with those of Jake Arrieta, Matt Cain, Clayton Kershaw, Ervin Santana, and Scherzer incorporating true no-hitters; Gavin Floyd, Hill, and Roy Oswalt all missed out on actual no-nos. Reliever-wise, Kenley Jansen and Carlos Marmol are the only pitchers with three such streaks, and another 10 pitchers had two.
Particularly with teams decreasing the workloads of their starters in part to avoid the third-time-through-the-order penalty, it seems quite likely that the hook Garcia was given won’t be the last for a pitcher with a no-hit bid in progress. And whether or not we get an actual no-hitter this year, we’re certain to get a whole bunch more hidden no-hitters. Keep your eyes peeled!
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.