The Weekend in No-Hit Bids and the Effect of the Sticky-Stuff Crackdown by Jay Jaffe July 26, 2021 For a brief period on Saturday night, it appeared possible that not only would the single-season record for no-hitters fall, but that two pitchers — the Angels’ Patrick Sandoval and the Astros’ Framber Valdéz — would spin no-hitters on the same day for just the third time in history. Neither was successful, but on Sunday, the Yankees’ Domingo Germán put in his own no-hit bid, one that not only fell short but turned into a debacle. While this season’s breakneck pace of no-hitters has slowed down drastically, with just one in June and none in July after six in April and May, the drop in the number of close calls hasn’t been quite as sharp, but even so, the concentration of such games from Saturday and Sunday was notable. Valdéz had the earlier of the two no-hit bids on Saturday night. The 27-year-old lefty has generally pitched well this season, but in his first four outings of June had struggled with his mechanics and compromised his command, walking 15 in 22.1 innings, and getting tagged for 27 hits and 15 runs (13 earned). Even against a Rangers team that entered having lost 10 straight games, his command woes — which had abated somewhat in his July 18 outing against the White Sox, when he walked just two hitters in 6.1 innings — returned, but this time he was effectively wild, walking six in six innings without allowing a hit or a run; he threw just 53 strikes out of 99 pitches. Despite sandwiching two first-inning walks around a wild pitch, and walking two more in the second, he escaped both jams and kept the Rangers off the board. Only twice did he retire the side in order, but each of the other two walks he issued came with two outs. Valdéz needed a game-high 23 pitches to get through the sixth, with the final two hitters of the frame — Nate Lowe, who walked, and Curtis Terry, who struck out looking — each battling through eight pitches. For manager Dusty Baker, it was a no-brainer to remove him even given that he hadn’t given up a hit. Via MLB.com’s Brian McTaggert, “If we’d left him out there to get the no-hitter, he’d be up to 140 pitches,” said Baker, who decades ago gained a reputation for pushing his young pitchers too far, one that’s no longer applicable. “You’ve got to think logically what’s best for him.” Thus, Baker pulled Valdéz, who became the season’s sixth pitcher to get the hook with a no-hitter in progress. Interestingly enough, five of those outings have happened since June 21, including one by the Astros: Pulled With No-Hitter in Progress, 2021 Pitcher Date Tm Opp IP H BB SO José Berríos 4/3/21 Twins Brewers 6 0 0 12 Jake Odorizzi 6/21/21 Astros Orioles 5 0 1 9 Zach Davies* 6/24/21 Cubs Dodgers 6 0 5 4 Nick Pivetta 6/24/21 Red Sox Rays 6.2 0 2 8 Max Kranick 6/27/21 Pirates Cardinals 5 0 0 3 Framber Valdéz 7/24/21 Astros Rangers 6 0 6 4 SOURCE: Baseball-Reference * = combined no-hitter As I’ve noted previously, pulling a pitcher with a no-hitter in progress has become much more prevalent in recent years than it used to be. Of the five highest totals since 1901, four have occurred in the past four seasons, and that’s with an abbreviated 2020 campaign and an incomplete 2021 one; the only other season that can crack the top five is 1991, which had six. Anyway, after Baker pulled Valdéz, Bryan Abreu pitched a hitless seventh inning, working around an error by Carlos Correa, who bobbled a 101.2 mph hot smash by Andy Ibáñez that could have been called a hit under different circumstances; its xBA was .410. Ryne Stanek followed Abreu, and the no-hit bid ended when Isiah Kiner-Falefa looped his second pitch into right center, where both center fielder Myles Straw and right fielder Kyle Tucker dove and nearly collided, with the latter trapping it: Though the Rangers wound up losing their 11th straight game, the hit helped them avoid becoming the first team ever to have three nine-inning no-hitters thrown against them in one season. Cleveland has been on the short end of two nine-inning no-hitters this year (April 14 by the White Sox’s Carlos Rodón and May 7 by the Reds’ Wade Miley) plus an unofficial seven-inning one by five Rays’ pitchers on July 7 (Collin McHugh’s two-inning start is too short to make the cut for the table). The 1906 Brooklyn Superbas were no-hit over nine innings once and over seven innings twice; as I noted earlier this year, back then, teams could shorten doubleheader games to seven innings ahead of time by mutual agreement, a rule that remained on the books at least as late as 1957. About 10 minutes before Stanek surrendered his hit to Kiner-Falefa, Sandoval surrendered his first hit of the night to the Twins’ Brent Rooker while just two outs away from finishing the job. Before that, the possibility of the pair joining the ranks of Fernando Valenzuela and Dave Stewart, who each threw no-hitters on June 29, 1990, and Teddy Breitenstein and Jim Hughes, who did so on April 22, 1898, was tantalizing. Had either Sandoval or Valdéz pulled it off, the total of eight would have matched that from 1884, and had both done so, the record would have fallen. Sandoval, a 24-year-old lefty, is in the midst of a breakout in his third season in the majors thanks to a filthy changeup that has generated a 31.3% swinging strike rate. He did even better than that on Saturday, getting 13 whiffs on just 29 changeups (44.8%), and striking out a career-high 13. Sandoval wasn’t close to perfect. Through the first eight innings, he allowed four baserunners, having issued a leadoff walk to Josh Donaldson to start the second, and hit two batters with pitches (Max Kepler in the fourth, Trevor Larnach in the eighth), with Miguel Sanó reaching on a throwing error by shortstop José Iglesias in the fifth. Still, he was efficient, using 11 pitches or fewer in five of his first eight innings, including 11 in the seventh and 10 in the eighth; his count was at an even 100 entering the ninth. After striking out Jorge Polanco swinging at a slider at the bottom of the zone, he hung a first-pitch slider to Rooker, who to that point in the season was jut 3-for-36. Rooker sliced it down the right field line for a double, because baseball: Sandoval stuck around to retire Kepler on a fly ball, then got the hook from manager Joe Maddon; Rooker wound up scoring when Raisel Iglesias served up a first-pitch RBI double to Donaldson, but the Angels hung on to win, 2-1. Had he completed it, Sandoval would have become the first Angel to throw a complete-game no-hitter since Jered Weaver on May 2, 2012 (they had a combined no-hitter in 2019); it would have been the first time the Twins were no-hit since then as well. As it was, Sandoval’s effort was just the second no-hit bid of the year broken up in the ninth inning. The Rockies’ Germán Márquez took a no-hitter into the ninth against the Pirates on June 29, but gave up a leadoff single to Ka’ai Tom. Sandoval’s bid was the closest any pitcher has come to a no-hitter without getting one since the Astros’ Zack Greinke fell two outs short on September 25, 2019 against the Mariners. A day after the efforts of Valdéz and Sandoval, Germán put in his own bid. It seemed unlikely from the outset, given not only how unspectacularly he had pitched this year (4.71 ERA and 4.71 FIP entering Sunday), but the fact that he wasn’t stretched out. He had thrown no more than 72 pitches in any of his last seven appearances, none longer than four innings, and hadn’t pitched into the fifth inning in a start since June 13. Germán dominated the Red Sox nonetheless, with a third-inning leadoff walk of Hunter Renfroe his only baserunner through the first six innings. Meanwhile, he struck out 10, including four in the seventh, with Xander Bogaerts reaching on a passed ball for just the second Boston baserunner of the game. That inning ran his pitch count to 91, his highest since May 27. There was no realistic possibility that Germán could complete the job without heading into uncharted territory, as he’d thrown 100 or more pitches in a game just three times, the last on May 5, 2019. Manager Aaron Boone admitted after the game that he hand’t planned for Germán to go too far past 80 pitches, yet he nonetheless sent him back out for the eighth. It was a questionable decision, to say the least, and it backfired in spectacular fashion. On Germán’s second pitch of the inning, Alex Verdugo hit a high drive to the warning track, and Yankees’ right fielder Greg Allen got turned around en route, so the ball went over his head for a double: Boone gave Germán the hook, and brought in Jonathan Loaisiga, who’s been the Yankees’ most effective reliever this year, but who had just returned from a two-week absence after testing positive for COVID-19, that despite being vaccinated (thankfully, he was asymptomatic). He couldn’t command his slider or get his sinker to move; in a span of 10 pitches, he served up four straight hits, three of them hard-hit balls, two of them doubles. The lead had been trimmed to 4-3 when Boone finally pulled him, and while Zack Britton retired the next three batters, Kevin Plawecki’s grounder scored Franchy Cordero from third base to tie the game, and then Bogaerts’ sacrifice fly scored Enrique Hernández with what proved to be the deciding run. It was an unbelievable sequence of events, but par for the course for Boone and the Yankees’ bullpen lately. Comparatively speaking, it was also a rarity. Of this year’s 25 previous no-hit bids that were broken up in the seventh or eighth inning, the teams pursuing the no-hitter have won 21, with one of the losses coming in the April 3 Twins-Brewers game where both José Berríos and Corbin Burnes carried no-hitters through six. What’s more, the Red Sox were previously the only team to lose this year after taking a no-hitter into the eighth; in the aforementioned Pivetta outing from the table above, the Red Sox’s Darwinzon Hernandez gave up the first hit in the eighth inning, and then the Rays scored the game’s only run in the ninth. Updating a table I built for the Berríos-Burnes game to which Sara Sanchez then added back in May: No-Hit Bids as a Percentage of Games Since 2015 Year Games NH Broken 7 Broken 8 Broken 9 Broken 10 Broken 7+ % Near NH % Near + NH 2015 4858 7 20 12 5 0 37 0.76% 0.91% 2016 4856 1 23 9 4 0 36 0.74% 0.76% 2017 4860 1 14 4 5 1 24 0.49% 0.51% 2018 4862 3 29 10 3 0 42 0.86% 0.93% 2019 4858 4 19 5 4 0 28 0.58% 0.66% 2020 1684 2 6 1 1 0 8 0.48% 0.59% 2021 2892 7 15 10 2 0 27 0.93% 1.18% Total 28870 25 126 51 24 1 202 0.70% 0.79% SOURCE: Baseball-Reference & NoNoHitters.com Through games of July 25. Totals for 2020 and ’21 exclude seven-inning doubleheader games. The rate of no-hit bids of at least six innings is double what it was a year ago, and about 27% ahead of where it was in 2018, the year with the highest rate of such games. As to whether the impact of MLB’s crackdown on foreign substances has reduced the frequency of such games, the answer is yes, though it’s not as drastic as the drop in no-hitters, of which there’s been just one (the Cubs’ Davies and friends). Using the June 3 cutoff date that Devan Fink and others have used, coinciding with USA Today’s report of MLB’s plans to enforce its existing rules and start handing out suspensions: No-Hit Bids as a Percentage of Games, Pre- and Post-Crackdown Year Games NH Broken 7 Broken 8 Broken 9 Broken 7+ % Near NH % Near + NH Thru 6/2/2021 1598 6 10 6 0 16 1.00% 1.38% Since 6/3/2021 1294 1 5 4 2 11 0.85% 0.93% SOURCE: Baseball-Reference & NoNoHitters.com Through games of July 25. Totals for 2020 and ’21 exclude seven-inning doubleheader games. That’s a 32.6% drop in the frequency of no-hit bids pre- and post-crackdown. It coincides with a 10-point rise in batting average (from .236/.312/.395 through June 2 to .246/320/.417 after, for those interested in the full slash lines) and a 6.5% rise in runs per nine, from 4.48 per team per game to 4.76. Between MLB’s enforcement — and merely its threat, since we’re going back to June 3 — and the general effect that warmer weather has on offense, that outcome shouldn’t be particularly surprising. Where the conditions before were pitcher-friendly enough to produce six no-hitters through June 2, the increased chances of each batter getting a hit means that instead of some teams going a nine full innings without a hit, they’re getting that first one in the eighth, seventh, six, etc. Still, the coincidence of three such games under the more difficult conditions within a 24-hour period boosted the post-crackdown percentage of no-hit bids from 0.73% — just about half of the pre-crackdown rate — to 0.93% in short order, making what we saw from Valdéz, Sandoval, and Germán on Saturday and Sunday something of a rarity.