No-hitters still exceptional, but they've tripled in last three years
Another month, another no-hitter. In the fresh spike marks of Philip Humber, Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim threw the second no-hitter of the season Wednesday night. It was the 10th no-hitter inside of two calendar years. Since Opening Day 2010, you are more likely to see a no-hitter (11 of them) than a cycle (seven) or a 130-pitch game (nine). And in these past three years no-hitters are occurring more than three times more often than they did in the previous decade.
What in the name of Bo Belinsky is going on? No-hitters often involve luck, and even with the 10 regular-season no-nos since 2010, you're only talking about 0.19 percent of all games, so they are exceptional by definition. But the relative flurry of no-nos does reflect the industry trend of a pitching-dominated era, now in its third year.
This rash of no-hitters is not just about how expansion and the 162-game schedule give us roughly twice as many games a year as the "Golden Age," when 16 teams played 154 games each. Yes, more games mean more opportunities. But what's important is the rate these games are occurring, not the sheer volume.
Here's a thumbnail look at the rate of no-hitters. It's a list of no-hitters and total regular season games by decade. The rate reflects the rate of games per no-hitter.
You can see how the rate of no-hitters has more than tripled in the past three seasons as compared to 2000-09. We have seen more no-nos in the past two calendar years than we did in the seven seasons from 2000-06 (eight).
And check this out: no-hitters have become almost as common today as they were in the late 1960s, when offense was so pathetic owners responded by lowering the mound and adding the DH. The nadir of offense in the live ball era occurred from 1967-69. Coincidentally, we have a sample of games (postseason included) from 2010-12 that is almost the exact size as the one from 1967-69. And this tale of the tape tell us no-hitters are almost as common now as they were in the lamest era of hitting in nearly a hundred years:
The reasons for more no-hitters are the same reasons why offense in general is down:
• the emphasis on movement over velocity for pitchers (hence the popularity of the two-seamer and cutter)
• more advanced defensive positioning based on analytics
• more sophisticated scouting reports
• less familiarity hitters have with pitchers (because specialized bullpens and injuries have created the need for more pitchers than ever before; the smaller the batter-pitcher history, the more the pitcher gets an edge)
• the acceptance of strikeouts in the culture of hitting
• a demand for pitching that has encouraged youth players to concentrate on pitching over a position
• the intense training of youth pitchers (many of whom become "pitcher-only" designates at an early age)
• a small wave of pitcher-friendly new ballparks
• a first generation of players who are tested for performance-enhancing drugs and amphetamines, which has seen a drop in power and durability (more days of rest and DL days).
I said it after Humber's perfect game and I'll say it after Weaver's no-hitter: get ready for more no-nos. At the rate we're going these past three years, you can expect three or four more no-hitters before the season is over.
There is no asterisk attached to Weaver's gem, though it did put an unflattering spotlight on the futility of the Minnesota Twins. The Twins Way is in shambles. The franchise, once a model of stability and fundamental play, is officially off the tracks.
No team has been outscored by more runs over the past two years than the Twins, who have been outscored by 235 runs over 186 games. Only Houston has a worse winning percentage than the Twins' .371 mark.
The pitching is so awful no team in baseball allowed more runs this year entering Thursday than the Twins. The staff is so lacking in pure stuff that no team has struck out fewer batters.
And the hitting? Dreadful. The Twins built their team around two left-handed sluggers making 37 percent of the payroll (Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, who is dealing with the aftereffects of wrist surgery) and then built a park that has been the toughest place in baseball for a lefthander to hit a home run since Target Field opened. The Twins still don't have a home run by a lefty against a lefty this year. Their entire infield is hitting .226/.282/.299 with three home runs. They have scored 38 runs in 13 road games. They have won two games all year by more than one run. They have been swept four times. Their 6-18 start is the worst in Minnesota history.
OK, you get the idea. Now you understand why manager Ron Gardenhire snapped after Weaver no-hit his team, saying his players played like a bunch of Little Leaguers. In three games against the Angels his team managed 11 hits in 91 at-bats (.121) and three runs. The Twins can't be this bad, of course. But they do have some serious problems that won't be resolved quickly.