No Hitters: Too Easy to Achieve?

by Justin Dunbar, Staff Writer

It’s a normal day for a typical baseball fan as they work to complete their daily activities. An alert on their phone from MLB.com interrupts their day, notifying them that a certain pitcher has a no-hitter through five innings. The fan is intrigued, but continues with their daily life until they get another alert that this pitcher now has a no-hitter through six innings. The fan becomes very excited, and ditches their current activity to watch the pitcher fight for a no-hitter, being only nine outs away from achieving history. Or is it really history? As of May 9th, 2018, there have been 28 no-hitters through 5 innings, 20 no-hitters through 6 innings and 9 no-hitters through 7 innings in this season alone. 5.3% of Major League Baseball (MLB) games this season have seen a pitcher throw at least 5 no hit innings, which is the highest rate since the 1960s. At this point, no-hitters are becoming too common and are too easy to achieve. Therefore, we, the fans, need to come out with new guidelines to separate a legitimate no-hitter from a “fake” no-hitter.

What has changed? To begin, the game of baseball and the hitters’ approaches have shifted dramatically over the last decade. Hitters are now more focused on hitting the ball out of the park, which most likely has a direct correlation to the fact that there are more no-hitter pursuits than ever. In fact, the batting average across the MLB has dropped from .270 in 2000 to .255 last year, while the home run record was broken last year. This means that while more homeruns are being hit, a significant amount of hits have decreased due to a change in approach. The second reason has to do with pitchers’ increased strikeout and walk rates. Pitchers are now expected to have a fastball at a very high velocity, with two above average breaking balls in hopes of striking out a high percentage of hitters faced. The walk rate has decreased from 3.75 a game in 2000 to 3.26 a game last year. Due to its inverse relationship with the walk rate, the strikeout rate has increased from 6.45 a game in 2000 to 8.25 a game last year. The change in hitter and pitcher approaches has a direct tie to the increased number of no-hitter pursuits, as batters are given less of an opportunity to get pitches to hit, and are squandering their opportunities when they get them.

A major issue with no-hitters is that they are still considered great feats, even when the pitcher allows several base runners a game. A walk usually has the same outcome as a hit in every case the batter is able to get on base. Therefore, if a pitcher gives up a lot of baserunners, does it really matter how it happens? Either way, it results in the same result. I would rather have a pitcher give up one to two hits and walk no one than throw a no-hitter and walk four batters. The former would be my choice because less baserunners are given up in this performance, giving the opposing offense a smaller chance to score runs and win the game. “My goal is to throw strikes and let my defense do their job,” says Bryan Lee, a Mills Junior Varsity pitcher who nearly threw a no-hitter this season, an incredible feat from this young athlete. If you are walking multiple batters, what does that say about your faith in your defense? Baseball is a team sport, but when you are walking five to six batters, the emphasis of a team effort disappears.

So far, there have been three completed no-hitters this year. However, in my opinion, none have actually been legitimate because multiple base runners were given up in each of these three outings. Oakland Athletics pitcher Sean Manaea threw a no-hitter versus the Boston Red Sox on April 22nd, 2018, but he walked two batters. Although considered a dominant performance, consider this: one of those two hitters could have easily gotten a hit if given the chance. However, Manaea did not even give them an opportunity, making his performance a lot less impressive. The next no-hitter was the Los Angeles Dodgers’ combined no-hitter on May 4th, 2018 versus the San Diego Padres. While the Dodgers had to use four pitchers to achieve this no-hitter — a problem in itself — let’s focus on the five walks. Giving up five base runners is way too many as the Padres had a legitimate chance to score a run in more than half the innings played. Part of a striking pitching performance is to make the opposing offense feel depleted; It is safe to say that the Padres offense was not depleted however. Thus, this performance was not a dominant one. The last no-hitter involved Seattle’s James Paxton on May 8th, 2018 versus the Toronto Blue Jays, where he walked three batters. Similar to Manaea, Paxton’s performance was impressive, but not as spectacular as it may seem since the Blue Jays had a runner on base in one-third of the innings played.

In my opinion, pitchers should only be able to give up one baserunner maximum for a no-hitter to be considered a great achievement. This keeps no-hitters alive and part of history (giving up no base runners results in a perfect game) while making sure that the performance actually deserves to be a part of MLB history. So next time you get that alert from MLB.com, make sure to check how many baserunners the pitcher has given up. If it is two or more, ignore the notification as it is likely to happen again in a couple days.

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