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Are No-Hitters Really a Dying Feat?

Baseball bursting into flame as it travels

On May 7, SP Mike Fiers of the Oakland Athletics threw the 300th no-hitter in major-league history, becoming the 35th pitcher in MLB history to throw at least two no-nos. His feat was unusual given that he had not been effective to start the season (entering the game 0-2 with a 9.41 ERA) and he was given a long leash to accomplish it, as he needed 131 pitches to finish the game.

Of course, whenever we see a wild feat accomplished in MLB, it will be accompanied by an even wilder hot take.

In today’s game, starting pitchers are generally pulled after throwing around 100-110 pitches, so it is rare to see them go for as long as Fiers needed to finish Tuesday’s no-hitter. Managers are also more likely to pull starters before they can face opponents for a third trip through the batting order, so it is true that complete games are much less likely than in previous eras. However, this does not mean that complete games will die out. Baseball managers are more concerned with pitching efficiency than in previous eras, so a pitcher who is very effective and is on track to finish a game in under 100 pitches is more likely to be allowed to continue pitching than a pitcher on track to finish in 130 pitches. In fact, two “Maddux” (under 100 pitches) complete game shutouts have been thrown in May, one by Kyle Hendricks of the Chicago Cubs and another by Hyun-jin Ryu of the Los Angeles Dodgers (also on May 7). If facing the order for a third time was that much of a concern, they would not have been allowed to continue. A pitcher who is efficient and effective will be allowed to keep going, while a pitcher who is effective but not efficient will not. Moreover, as long as the traditional roles of starter and reliever exist, we will continue to see pitchers attempt to throw entire games. When we see MLB clubs fully abandon starting pitchers in favor of a Johnny Wholestaff approach for all games, that is when we can expect to never see another complete game or no-hitter again.

In addition, hot streaks play a major role in the ability to throw multiple no-hitters. Many of the pitchers who have spun more than one no-no achieved this feat within less than one year’s time. This was the case for former Cubs SP and 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, who threw no hitters on August 30, 2015 and April 21, 2016, during an especially dominant stretch of his career which lasted from the second half of the 2015 season through early in the 2016 season.

11 of the 35 pitchers with multiple no-hitters have achieved this feat within one year’s time:

  • Nolan Ryan (7 career no-hitters): May 15, 1973 and July 15, 1973; September 28, 1974 and June 1, 1975; June 11, 1990 and May 1, 1991
  • Sandy Koufax (4 career no-hitters): June 30, 1962 and May 11, 1963
  • Jake Arrieta (2 career no-hitters): August 30, 2015 and April 21, 2016
  • Max Scherzer (2 career no-hitters): June 20, 2015 and October 3, 2015
  • Tim Lincecum (2 career no-hitters): July 13, 2013 and June 25, 2014
  • Homer Bailey (2 career no-hitters): September 28, 2012 and July 2, 2013
  • Roy Halladay (2 career no-hitters): May 29, 2010 (perfect game) and October 6, 2010
  • Warren Spahn (2 career no-hitters): September 16, 1060 and April 28, 1961
  • Virgil Trucks (2 career no-hitters): May 15, 1952 and August 25, 1952
  • Allie Reynolds (2 career no-hitters): July 12, 1951 and September 28, 1951
  • Johnny Vander Meer (2 career no-hitters): June 11, 1938 and June 15, 1938

Therefore, I believe that if a pitcher who is pitching at the top of the league throws a no-hitter, it is not unreasonable to expect that pitcher could follow up with a second no-hitter within a one-year period.

Other MLB pitchers have also enjoyed similar streaks of dominance. 2018 National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets tied an MLB record of 26 straight quality starts in April 2019. These starts took place over the course of around one calendar year. I believe deGrom would also be a multiple no-hitter pitcher if he had a quality defense behind him like Arrieta enjoyed with the Cubs.

Who will be the next pitcher to throw a no-hitter in MLB, and who will be the next to throw multiple no-hitters? Please feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comment section below.