Angels ace Jered Weaver threw the 274th no-hitter in major league history Wednesday night. It was the second no-hit game of this young season, and the 11th since the start of the 2010 season (12th if you include Armando Galarraga's 28-out perfect game). Here are five thoughts on the accomplishment.
Given that Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander and Weaver all have no-hitters to their name, Weaver's no-hitter leads one to wonder who is the best pitcher in the game without one. Certainly the first to leap to mind are a trio of former Cy Young winners: Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez. One pitcher who looks poised for a no-no but might not be the most likely suspect is Matt Cain. Looking at the period from Opening Day 2010 to the present, among pitchers with 250 or more innings pitched, those who have the lowest batting averages against have been:
1. Justin Verlander, .207
2. Clayton Kershaw, .209
3. Jonathan Sanchez, .211
4. Matt Cain, .214
5. Jered Weaver, .214
Three of those guys -- Sanchez, plus the aforementioned Weaver and Verlander -- have thrown no-hitters. Cain, the Giants' star righthander, already has a one-hitter and another nine innings of two-hit ball to his name this season. He faced just 28 batters in shutting out the Pirates (one of the teams listed below as being particularly likely to be no-hit) on April 13, but rather than an error or a walk, the only baserunner he allowed came on a single (on a weak groundball by the opposing pitcher, James McDonald, no less). In his next start, Cain faced just 29 men while holding the Phillies scoreless for nine innings, allowing just two singles and a walk, the last of which was erased by a double play. He came out for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth, while Lee, his opponent that night, pitched 10 scoreless innings.
Cain has thrown two other one-hitters in his career and one other two-hitter and has consistently held his opponents to a low batting average on balls in play (BABIP). From the start of the 2009 season through the present, Cain's opponents have just a .257 BABIP, the lowest mark against any pitcher with 300 or more innings pitched over that span. Weaver ranks fourth on that list at .267. Sanchez is fifth at .268. The other two men are veterans Ted Lilly (.258) and Bronson Arroyo (.265).
When the White Sox's Philip Humber tossed a perfect game against the Mariners a week and a half ago, I wrote that the Mariners shared credit for the accomplishment given the fact that their offense is dreadful and has been for some time (as demonstrated by the fact they hadn't posted a team on-base percentage above .300 since 2009). One can make a similar observation about the Twins, though one has to dig a bit deeper to see it. The Twins are actually sixth in the American League in batting average, and three of the first four hitters Weaver faced on Wednesday -- Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham -- are batting over .300 this season. However, Wednesday night's game was played in Anaheim, and the Twins, even before being no-hit, were hitting just .221 on the road this season, while Span (2-for-19) and Willingham (3-for-14) have weak career numbers against Weaver.
With so many weak-hitting teams around the league right now, don't be surprised to see more no-hit games this season, or even another perfect game. The A's are hitting .214 as a team. The Padres .216. The Pirates have a team on-base percentage of .283. The A's are at .282. There are 12 teams with collective on base percentages at or below .305, seven of them below .300, and six teams are hitting below .230. No-hitters are still random enough to be completely unpredictable, but the conditions are certainly favorable for them right now.
Weaver allowed just two men to reach base on Wednesday night, one on a dropped third strike by catcher Chris Iannetta (a passed ball and thus effectively, though not officially, an error) and one on a seventh-inning walk to Willingham. In total, Weaver faced 29 batters and, one could argue, retired 28 of them. That put him in the class of near-perfect no-hitters from the last four seasons, a group which includes two 27-out no-nos and two others in which the pitcher was perfect for 28 outs, just not officially.
That Weaver's two baserunners put him toward the bottom of that group seems like hair-splitting, particularly compared to the recent no-hitters by Francisco Liriarno, Ubaldo Jimenez and Edwin Jackson, which saw a combined 22 men reach base as well as a balk and a wild pitch.
Here's a quick look at how the 13 no-hit games since 2009 (plus Galarraga's) stack up:
If there was anyone who had yet to acknowledge Jered Weaver's standing as one of the best pitchers in baseball, Wednesday night should have convinced them. Since the start of the 2010 season, Weaver has posted a 2.60 ERA (149 ERA+), 1.02 WHIP and struck out 476 men (8.5 K/9) with a 4.07 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He made the All-Star game and finished in the top five in the Cy Young voting in each of the last two seasons -- finishing second behind Justin Verlander for the award last year -- and is on track to do so for a third straight year.
He is one of just six men to have thrown more than 500 innings since the beginning of the 2010 season, and among pitchers with at least 400 innings pitched over that span, he ranks third in ERA (behind Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw, the last two NL Cy Young winners), second in WHIP (behind Cliff Lee) and ERA+ (behind Halladay), fourth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (behind Lee, Halladay and teammate Dan Haren), sixth in walks per nine innings (2.1) and 10th in strikeouts per nine innings. Based on those lists, the only pitcher who has been clearly better than him over the last two-plus seasons has been Halladay, who gave up eight runs to the Braves on the same night that Weaver was making history.
As if the numbers in the last paragraph weren't impressive enough, opposing hitters have hit just .198/.242/.283 against Weaver at Angel Stadium since the start of the 2010 season. Given that and the Twins' struggles on the road, the atmosphere was just right for a no-hitter in Anaheim Wednesday night.
Finally, some have wondered if Weaver's no-hitter will mark a turning point in the season for the scuffling Angels, who even after Wednesday night's win are five games below .500 and seven games out of first place at the bottom of the AL West.
Weaver was already having a terrific season (3-0, 2.02 ERA before the no-hitter), so it's not as if a star that had been laying dormant suddenly went supernova on them. The nine runs they scored in support of Weaver would seem to be a more encouraging sign given that only the Twins and A's have scored fewer runs per game than the Angels in the AL this year, but Twins starter Liam Hendriks, off whom they scored six runs in 2 1/3 innings, gave up seven runs in his last start and has an ERA of exactly 9.00 on the season.
A big game from Albert Pujols, Erick Aybar (who combined to go 2-for-10 with a pair of singles), Mike Trout or Ervin Santana (neither of whom played) would have been far more significant. Even a strong outing from one of their middle relievers (who, obviously, also weren't used) would have meant more in terms of the team's outlook. Weaver was never part of the problem, so a big game from him doesn't really change anything in Anaheim.