When the Mariners’ James Paxton completed his no-hitter against the Blue Jays on May 8, it was the majors’ second in a five-day span. The Dodgers’ Walker Buehler and three relievers had performed the same feat versus the Padres on May 4. It was also the third in 18 days, if we include the A’s Sean Manaea performance against the Red Sox on April 21. We haven’t seen one since, though we’ve certainly seen no shortage of credible bids, including three that made it into the ninth inning, the most recent of which was this past Saturday (care of the Royals’ Jorge Lopez against the Twins). On Wednesday night, the Twins’ own Jake Odorizzi was the latest to give it a go, holding the Yankees hitless for 7.1 innings before yielding an RBI double to Greg Bird.
— Yankees Live (@yankees_stream) September 13, 2018
The hit came on Odorizzi’s 120th pitch, matching a career high set on June 3, 2016, which suggests that he likely wouldn’t have finished the job even if he’d retired Bird. That said, it sounds as though manager Paul Molitor had given him the green light. Via The Athletic’s Dan Hayes:
“I told him, ‘This is one of those rare nights when you get in this type of area,’ in terms of doing something that was magical,” Molitor said. “You just try to do the best you can and trust that he was going to make a good decision for himself and not get too caught up. Sometimes you have to do that for him, but I thought he was in a good place.”
Odorizzi had begun running up his pitch count in the first inning, when he threw 23 pitches via three-ball counts against both Andrew McCutchen and Miguel Andujar sandwiched around an Aaron Hicks plate appearances that featured five straight foul balls. He walked three batters in all. Only in the seventh inning, when he needed just seven pitches to retire Andujar, Giancarlo Stanton and Didi Gregorius, did he throw fewer than 14 pitches.
Putting aside Molitor’s stated willingness to let Odorizzi continue, it would not have been all that surprising — in baseball circa 2018 — if the right-hander had been pulled after six innings and 102 pitches. A record 11 pitchers have been pulled with no-hitters in progress this season, as many as in the next two highest season totals combined (six in 1991, and five apiece in 2015, 2016, and 2018). Nine of the pitchers with no-hit bids in progress this year were pulled before reaching 100 pitches. A 10th, Odorizzi’s teammate Kyle Gibson, threw exactly 102 himself on March 31 against the Orioles before getting the hook. That was in the season’s third game, however, a game where the first pitch temperature was just 55 degrees, and Gibson walked five in six innings while throwing just 56 strikes. Odorizzi’s outing was a bit cleaner; via Brooks Baseball, he had thrown 59 strikes to that point, and wound up with 69 strikes on the night.
That quick seventh inning left Odorizzi at 109 pitches, still fewer than the season’s longest incomplete attempt, the 116 thrown by the Cardinals’ Daniel Poncedeleon on July 23 against the Reds. It also pushed him past his previous longest bid for a no-hitter. On May 29, 2016, while pitching for the Rays at Tropicana Field, Odorizzi threw 6.1 hitless innings against a Yankees lineup that had only Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks in common with Wednesday night; the bid ended with a two-run homer by Starlin Castro that ultimately sent the Rays to defeat.
Via the meticulous accounting of Dirk Lammers, keeper of the No No-Hitters site — which was initially created to track the failure of Mets pitchers to produce a single no-no until the franchise’s 51st season, when Johan Santana finally did so — we have a publicly available log of every no-hit bid of at least six innings over the past four seasons. That’s not a huge swath of history — it’s as long as the Statcast era — but it’s enough to help us track the recent trends. Here’s the tally for 2018 which I’ve broken down by how many outs each bid lasted:
|Outs||Ended||Continued||At Least||% Starts|
I have not separated out games in which a starter was pulled with a no-hitter in progress; these are the team efforts, whether by one pitcher or several. Via Lammers, nine pitchers got through six innings before giving up their first hit, starting with the Giants’ Johnny Cueto on March 30 against the Dodgers, and most recently by the Blue Jays’ Thomas Pannone on August 22 against the Orioles. Thirty-three pitchers got further than that, so a total of 42 team-games went at least as far as six no-hit inning. Twelve such starts got off the bus at 19 outs, or 6.1 innings., while 33 continued through, and so on. Odorizzi was the third pitcher/team this year to last 22 outs (or 7.1 innings) before giving up that first hit; the Padres’ Jordan Lyles, on May 15 against the Rockies, and the Cardinals, with Jordan Hicks in relief of Poncedeleon, were the others. Only nine bids got further than that.
As it happens, the 42 games going at least six innings without a hit is the second-highest total of this brief period, behind the 44 of 2015, a year in which seven no-hitters were thrown. Since we’re not yet done with the 2018 season, it’s more appropriate to compare percentages; here the difference is 0.96% for this year, and 0.91% for 2015. By comparison, last year there were just 25 such efforts, 0.51%. At the 7.1-inning mark, where Odorizzi gave up the ghost, 0.27% have gotten that far this year, compared to a local high of 0.35% in 2015. Here’s an out-by-out breakdown for each of the four seasons:
And here’s the four-season tally of the number of starts that lasted exactly as many outs:
Interestingly enough, there were more bids that got that 27th out than fell shy at 26 or 25. Note that the count for 27 outs includes the August 23, 2017 effort of the Dodgers’ Rich Hill, who no-hit the Pirates for nine innings (he was perfect through eight) but gave up a solo homer to Josh Harrison to lead off the 10th inning. The game stretched into extras because the Dodgers hadn’t scored a run, either. Officially, it’s not a no-hitter, just a tough break for Dick Mountain.
Anyway, many baseball fans and media have become hardened to the possibility of no-hitters due to the swell of them that we’ve experienced over the past several years — 36 since the start of the 2010 season, an average of four per year. The drop in MLB-wide batting averages, to .257 or lower in each of the past nine seasons — including .248 this year, the lowest since 1969 — has created that, and we’ve been over the underlying issues such as rising strikeout rates, changing approaches by batters, the endless parade of relievers, etc., many times. Nonetheless, I still find no-hitters and no-hit bids cool. Via Craig Edwards’ “When Should You Start Paying Attention to a No-Hitter” piece from earlier this year, I tend to perk up after that all-important 18th out. Furthermore, I think that an effort such as Odorizzi’s, which lasted longer than 99.73% of all no-hit bids this year, has some value on its own. And if that’s insufficient for some, it’s worth nothing that the same game also produced this footage:
The absolute unit that could. pic.twitter.com/r2a5uj9E7o
— MLB (@MLB) September 13, 2018
That’s Twins rookie catcher/utilityman/cult hero Willians Astudillo — who was making just his fifth start behind the plate in the majors, turning on the jets to score from first base on Max Kepler’s seventh-inning double, shortly before Bird’s hit in the top of the next frame. The internet being what it is, the GIF will ultimately outlive memories of Odorizzi’s effort, and objectively, I think we can all admit that if the no-hit bid in question was in the top 0.27% of all starts as far as hits allowed go, that sequence is in the top 0.00027% of all baseball sequences this year.
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.