You know what I love? No-hitters. They’re awesome in all their forms. A dominating performance or the odd patch of good luck, I don’t care – I love them all. I almost always feel a little let down when I see the first hit of any given ballgame, no matter which teams are involved. It’s one of the little things unique to baseball – every game starts as a no-hitter, so few finish that way.
After a run on no-hitters in 2010, this past week saw two pitchers perform the rare treat. Justin Verlander completed his second career no-hitter versus the Blue Jays on Saturday, a dominating performance with just a single walk. Franky Liriano’s no-no wasn’t quite as pretty but they all count the same.
It got me thinking about what kind of pitcher accomplishes this single game brilliance – is there a specific type of pitcher most commonly associated with the various bastardized versions of perfection?
I had something of a hunch before I began digging through Baseball Reference – fly ball pitchers with decent control stand the best chance of pitching no-hitters, more so perfect games. The right environmental conditions keep them in the ballpark and boom – famous! Recent memories of Dallas Braden and Mark Buehrle helped fuel this assumption.
Well what do you know, I was sort of right. I grabbed the 21 most recent no-hitters, excluding the Astros team effort from 2003 (21 to include Burnett, as his was extra awesome). I measured the pitchers by the walk rates and ground ball rates posted in the season they threw their gem.
The average rates you see posted are actually from 2010, though the ground ball rate holds pretty steady from year to year. I used Carson Cistulli’s GB% estimator for Bud Smith and A.J. Burnett’s rates as the exact batted ball data was not tracked in 2001. The larger circles are perfect games, the remainder are good, old-fashioned no-hitters. Click to enlarge, and on we go!
So it is settled. Want to throw a no-hitter? Try to be a fly ball pitcher with decent control. Left-handed if you can manage it.
Were I to classify the pitchers listed here as broadly as possible, it would look like this:
- Soft-tossing control guys with fly ball tendencies (Buehrle, Braden, Smith, Millwood, Sanchez, Garza, Buchholzish)
- Real live arms with questionable makeup who managed to get their s–t together for 27 outs once in the damn lives. (Burnett, Sanchez, Liriano, Jackson)
- Good to excellent starting pitchers who had it all working that day (Lester, Zambrano, Verlander)
- Generational talents with control over both their fastballs and the Earth, Sun, and Cosmos (Halladay, RJ)
- Notorious douchebags with off-the-charts ground ball tendencies, basically men who prove the universe is an unjust place. (Derek Lowe.)
Based on science and the almighty power of assumption, I am going to say that if you don’t fall under one of those categories, you are plum out of luck. Based on even more science and the powers of deduction, I am going to make a prediction. Using the averages of the 7 pitchers in the lower left quadrant, I hereby predict the next pitcher to throw a no-hitter will be one of…Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer.
You heard it here first. Science, I tells ya.