Are No-Hitters No Longer Special?

Are No-Hitters No Longer Special?

Written by: John Storey
Follow him on Twitter:@JohnStorey_
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter:@ProspectsWorldW

We need to talk about no-hitters. A lot is going on in baseball in 2021 and, as usual, we have begun attaching all sorts of connotations to events and fads. But, I don’t want to discuss whether or not no-hitters are good for baseball. Instead, I want to investigate the how and why of the sudden spike (or cluster) and see if there’s anything noteworthy going on here.

The obvious starting point is league-wide offence. As has been prolifically reported, Major League Baseball in aggregate is struggling to match its typical offensive outputs. And often, these no-hitters have been cited as evidence for hitters’ dismal performance this year. But it feels pretentious to use a typically rare and triumphant event as an indicator of league performance.

So, regardless of why we’ve seen these no-hitters, just how unique is this season’s sudden cluster? Truthfully, not very unique at all. In fact, nearly half of the no-hitters between 2006 and 2021 occurred roughly 25 or fewer days apart. And that includes no-hitters in different seasons – which make up any bin past 180 days.

Click on the image to explore the data interactively:
Days Since Last No Hitter

When it comes to no-hitters in 2021, the ‘who’ has been as interesting as the ‘how often’. Few haven’t noticed the roster of arms who’ve accomplished the feat this year. They’re all are excellent pitchers, however, they don’t quite carry the same prominence that even some of their own rotation-mates do (less John Means). That might lead one to speculate whether this year’s no-hitters have been any less impressive than past years’. Is the bar set any lower? The short answer is no.

This is far from a comprehensive summary (even ignoring the hitters who were no-hit). But, the number of strikeouts pitchers have collected whilst no-hitting a lineup has been generally consistent. There’s a ton of variance, but not nearly enough conviction in the plot to suggest that pitchers are any more or less dominant in recent no-hitters than in those of the past.

Click on the image to explore the data interactively:
Start Quality Metrics

Average leverage index isn’t the greatest option here as it introduces some noise by way of run support. However, it sheds some light on whether pitchers are allowing traffic outside of hits. It too has a great deal of variance, however not enough obvious direction to suggest any tangible differences in this year’s no-hitters.

The trend in win probability added isn’t all that different, and it features perhaps the most variance yet. However, that variance exists every year. So there’s not a ton here to indicate that no-hitters have evolved much. Carlos Rodon’s no-hitter this year did have the lowest WPA in the dataset, however not by much, and any weight it offers to a trend is offset by Corey Kluber and Wade Miley’s high WPA no-hitters.

Things get a bit more interesting with run expectancy. Here, there’s a pretty dramatic bimodal trend. The legitimacy of the trend is exaggerated slightly by the trendline, however, there seems to be some genuine evolution in terms of how many runs pitchers have suppressed during a no-hitter. It would appear that recent no-hitters are looking more like they did 15 years ago than they did five years ago. However, that’s not the case.

While it would seem as though recent no-hitters are even more impressive as they’ve suppressed more runs, those are runs pitchers have exposed themselves to – that’s the nature of RE24. More importantly, it would be easy to falsely label recent no-hitters as divergent from those in the years immediately preceding them (the trough of the data). Similarly, the data at either end appears somewhat comparable – and yet it’s not.

What’s really happening here is nothing. While league batting average has plummeted, the number of runs scored has blossomed (fueled by a surge in home runs). Thus, run expectancy has risen in all games and situations, including no-hitters. The similarity between the trend of RE42 in no-hitters and the trend of runs scored in MLB throughout recent years suggests that relative to run environment, no-hitters haven’t changed all that much. If these variables were baked into the RE24 plot, it would look much flatter.

Click on the image to explore the data interactively:
League Metrics

Digging into the individual starts a little further reveals that there’s a lot of consistency on the micro-level, too. Pitchers haven’t required a dramatically different number of pitches to complete no-hitters, nor have they thrown more strikes, either looking for swinging. Moreover, the results that those pitches are gathering haven’t changed. Groundballs and flyballs haven’t become any more or less common in no-hitters.

Click on the images to explore the data interactively:
More Start Quality
Batted Ball

So far, that’s a lot of meaningless observation. Or, at the very least, unexciting observation. Here’s something that may change that: There’s an interesting attribute to no-hitters that’s been fairly consistent across all instances and may help to explain why we’re seeing no-hitters this season. Since 2016, 40% of no-hitters have come before the end of May. In other words, 60% of no-hitters are thrown in the first 12 games of a pitcher’s season.

Click on the images to explore the data interactively:
Month Trend

It’s not difficult to imagine why pitchers throw more no-hitters early in a season. I’m not going to try to pin down a specific reason, however, it can’t hurt to come off a few months of reduced workload and pitch in favourable weather conditions. There is plenty of reason to buy into these results. And it would explain the no-hitters we’ve already seen this season. Being months removed from an uncertainty-infused and shortened season reduces workloads and surely magnifies these factors.

With no-hitters frequently occurring weeks apart and the majority of no-hitters taking place early in the season, it’s difficult to marvel at this year’s knot of no-nos. Does that make the superstitious antics and celebratory mobs any less thrilling? For me, I can’t say that it does.

A few other less significant notes and fast facts that didn’t exactly warrant a graph:

  • The average number of days rest for a starter who threw a no-hitter was 4.55 – nothing irregular about that.
  • Only four times since 2006 did a pitcher complete a Maddux no-hitter:
    • Phillip Humber (96 pitches vs. Seattle, April 21st, 2012)
    • Edinson Volquez (98 pitches vs. Arizona, June 3rd, 2017)
    • Henderson Alvarez (99 pitches vs. Detroit, September 29th, 2013)
    • James Paxton (99 pitches vs. Toronto, May 8th, 2018)
  • The average ERA and FIP of pitcher seasons since 2006 that included a no-hitter were 3.37 and 3.62, respectively.
  • The average career ERA and FIP of pitchers who threw no-hitters since 2006 were 4.04 and 3.9, respectively.
    • Perhaps this implies that a no-hitter is more reliant on pitchers having good seasons than pitchers having good careers.
    • More likely, the larger sample of a pitcher’s career is introducing regression to their ERA and FIP.

All data sourced from and

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