Ranking the Recent No-Hitters by Difficulty

When the Yankees’ CC Sabathia lost his no-hit bid against the Rays this past Saturday, I jokingly tweeted that it would have been a cheap no-hitter anyway. Some people seemed a bit confused by this, so I had to explain that I was being sarcastic. In fact, it was a very impressive performance given the high regard that I have for the current Rays lineup.

While no-hitters are fun to watch (unless your team is the victim, of course) and always involve a great pitching performance, their relative greatness tends to be exaggerated. For one, non-home run hits are greatly influenced by luck and the ability (or lack thereof) of the fielders behind the pitcher. For another, there isn’t really that much of a difference between a no-hitter and a one-hitter, especially given the luck/defense factors just mentioned.

Nonetheless, no-hitters have a rightful place in baseball lore. None of them are exactly “cheap.” Still, I thought it might be fun to “rank” the no-hitters from the last three seasons by difficulty, given the offenses against which the pitcher was going. A more precise way to do this would be to take the precise lineups into account, adjust for park, and maybe even do a post-facto Marcel to see what the true talent of the hitters in the game really was. I’m not going to go that “all out” for a blog post. I’m simply going to rank them (going in reverse order of “difficulty”) by the wOBA of the opposing team for the season in which they occured. I’m ranking the seven no-hitters thrown from 2007-2009. I’m not saying this the the “best” way to do such a trivial exercise, but it’s a start. Let the arguments begin!

7. Jonathan Sanchez, San Francisco Giants vs. San Diego Padres, July 10, 2009, 8-0
Padres 2009 wOBA: .310
Comment: Only one baserunner during this game due to a Juan Uribe error. The Padres’ wOBA is, of course, deflated due to their home park, but Sanchez did get to face the pitcher during this game.

6. Jon Lester, Red Sox vs. Royals, May 19, 2008, 7-0
Royals 2008 wOBA: .314
Comment: Um, I guess it was at Fenway, but other than that…

5. Carlos Zambrano vs. Houston Astros, September 14, 2008, 5-0,
Astros 2008 wOBA: .321
Comment: This was the first no-hitter ever thrown at a “neutral” Miller Park due to Hurricane Ike. Yeah, right, “neutral.” Probably deserves to be downgraded for that.

4. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox vs. Orioles, September 1, 2007, 10-0
Orioles 2007 wOBA: .328
Comment: Only Buchholz’s second start of his career. The Orioles’ offense has come a long way since then.

3. Mark Buehrle White Sox versus Texas Rangers, April 18, 2007, 6-0
Rangers 2007 team wOBA: .329
Comment: Less impressive than one might think give the how weak the Rangers offense was that season (once one takes their home park into account), but still very good. The Rangers were so weak that season they took a flier on Zombie Sammy Sosa, who got was their only baserunner of the game and got picked off.

2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers versus Milwaukee Brewers, June 12, 2007, 4-0
Brewers 2006 wOBA: .337
Comment: Very impressive, given the Brewers’ above-average offense. Moreover, it was in an AL park, so Verlander didn’t get to face the pitcher.

1. Mark Buehrle vs. Tampa Bay Rays, July 23, 2009, 5-0
Rays 2009 wOBA: .346
Comment: The easy winner, as the Rays offense was one of the best in baseball in 2009. Oh, and it was a perfect game.

Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

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12 years ago

One could argue that Anibal Sanchez’s no hitter is up there with Clay Buchholz as well due to the fact he was a rookie. Then again some would argue it shouldn’t have been a no hitter b/c Eric Byrnes beat the throw on the last ground out in the game.

Really enjoyed this article.

12 years ago
Reply to  Matt Klaassen

Good fun stuff! I wonder, sort of along JD’s query, what the ranking would be if you (rather, one) also took into account the pitcher who threw them in addition to the offense.