Flurry of no-hitters and perfect games reflect changes in baseball
Is the no-hitter becoming so common that it's losing its luster? Over the past three seasons, no-hitters are about as common as your cable bill: they come almost once a month. The perfect game by Matt Cain Wednesday in San Francisco was the 14th no-hitter in the past 2 1/3 seasons.
Back at the start of May, when Jered Weaver threw the second no-hitter of this season,
This seems crazy, but it's actually nothing we haven't seen before. You just have to go all the way back to the late 1960s, when hitting was so bad they had to make two huge rules changes: they lowered the mound (1969) and added the designated hitter (1973). It is tougher to get a hit in the major leagues this season (.253) than any season since 1972 (.244), the last year without a DH.
How much more common have no-hitters become in the past three years? This quick look at the rate of no-hitters in the Modern Era will give you an idea:
1901-2009: 1 every 794 games
2010-2012: 1 every 414 games
So the rate of no-hitters has increased
2010-2012: 1 every 414 games
1967-1969: 1 every 345 games
We've essentially brought the game back to pre-DH levels. This has been an undeniable trend over a decade, but especially in the past four years. The major league batting average has declined for
Chew on this for a minute: There have been more no-hitters in one-third of a season this year (five) than in the last
The biggest play in Cain's perfect game was made by a player who would have had no place in The Steroid Era -- Gregor Blanco, a small, speedy corner outfielder with six career home runs -- and was positioned in a place that would have seemed unlikely more than a decade ago -- shaded toward right-centerfield against a lefthanded hitter. The Gregor Blancos of the world have been welcomed back into major league baseball because the game has returned to an emphasis on pitching and defense.
The last time the game truly belonged to pitchers, back in the late 1960s, the lowering of the mound and the addition of the DH were designed to make the game more attractive to fans. But this depressed run-scoring environment is occurring at a time when baseball is wildly popular. Attendance is up 7 percent this year, with 20 of the 30 clubs reporting an increase in ticket sales.
And you know that legend that owners let steroids go unchecked because they were raking in the dough from ticket sales? It's a myth. Per-game attendance went
Finally, there has been a lot of talk about how Cain just might have pitched the best game in baseball history, seeing as he tied the record of Sandy Koufax for most strikeouts in a perfect game (14). In other words, Cain took care of the majority of outs himself without letting anybody on base. That puts his game among the greatest ever, though for importance, there's no way it stands up to Don Larsen throwing a perfect game in the 1956 World Series against a Dodgers team that led the NL in on-base percentage, was second in runs scored and had four future Hall of Famers in the lineup.
But you also have to keep in mind that there are more strikeouts in today's game than ever before in history. When Koufax fanned 14 Cubs in his perfect game in 1965, NL batters struck out once every 5.74 at-bats. This year they are punching out once every 4.42 at-bats -- a 23 percent increase in the rate of strikeouts. The less often the ball is in play, the more likely a no-hitter becomes. And that's another reason why -- okay, I'll say it again -- we will see another three or four no-hitters before the year is out.
Moreover, that's why Ken Holtzman of the Chicago Cubs may have thrown one of the most impressive no-hitters ever, strikeouts be damned -- literally. Holtzman no-hit the Braves on Aug. 19, 1969 at Wrigley Field without striking out a single batter. The ball was put in play 27 times -- 15 times in the air and 12 times on the ground -- and 27 times an out was recorded. It was done once before, by Sam Jones in 1923, and never again. Let's see one of today's pitchers pull off that trick. Now