The No-Hitter's Almanac: When And Why They Are Happening In Bunches This Season

A study of all of 2010's no-hitters finds that things like batter/pitcher match-ups didn’t indicate much. What did? Moon phases, Powerball winnings, and proximity to the interstate.

The importance we place on the no-hitter is, in part, a relic of an outmoded approach to baseball statistics. If I were a manager whose sole objective is to win a baseball game, and I could choose between my starting pitcher throwing a no-hitter or a nine-inning shutout, I would choose the latter, because it necessarily guarantees that the opposing team would not score a run. A no-hitter does not, as the late, great Darryl Kile would have you know.

I say it's a relic because it's reflective of how fans appreciated baseball stats 40-plus years ago. The back of a 1970 Topps baseball card, to take one example, lists hits and batting average, but not walks or on-base percentage. While OBP is a more valuable metric, walks simply aren't as fun, or worse, they're acts of lawyer-ball. A pitcher can achieve a no-hitter regardless of how many walks he issues. And while Topps now includes OPS (a statistic that takes walks into account) on baseball cards, the no-hitter is no less important to us than it ever was.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. After all, we still love the statistical curiosity of a baseball player hitting for the cycle (which, by the way, is historically just barely more common than the no-hitter). Baseball fans love statistics, yes, and we also love contorting them into weird, eccentric sculptures.

In lieu of deconstructing the reasons why we love no-hitters, though, let's simply accept that we do love them and focus instead on the terrifying omen that has visited baseball this season.  We have seen five no-hitters over the first two thirds of this season -- six if we choose to count Armando Galarraga's non-perfect game perfect game. (And I do choose to count it; please see footnote.)

It is rare, although not unheard of, to see six no-hitters in a single season; we saw seven of them in 1991. However, it is astronomically unlikely to see three perfect games (again, see footnote) within a month of one another. This serves as irrefutable proof that supernatural forces are influencing the game of baseball. Why? How? To answer one-word questions, we must first answer questions that are full sentences. What sort of pattern is at work here?

Restate my assumptions: One, Mathematics is the language of nature. Two, Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers. Three: If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge. Therefore, there are patterns everywhere in nature. Evidence: The cycling of disease epidemics;the wax and wane of caribou populations; sun spot cycles; the rise and fall of the Nile. [Also, baseball.]

- Maximillian Cohen, Pi

Below, I've examined a set of potential trends connecting these six no-hitters and arranged them from least indicative to most indicative. Some variables we would normally regard as irrelevant will emerge as relevant, and vice versa. You have been warned.

 

NOT INDICATIVE

Pitchers' history vs. batters

For each of the six no-hitters, I looked up the pitchers' career records against each of the hitters they faced, then subtracted the at-bats that took place within the no-hit games.

Vs. Ubaldo Jimenez: 17-for-56 = .304 batting average against
Vs. Dallas Braden: 27-for-96 = .281
Vs. Roy Halladay: 29-for-106 = ..274
Vs. Armando Galarraga: 15-for-60 = .250
Vs. Edwin Jackson: 8-for-28 = .286
Vs. Matt Garza: 7-for-32 = .219

There isn't much to take away from these numbers. Apart from Matt Garza, whose sample size here is pretty low, the batting averages against aren't really anything out of the ordinary. Combined, the batters these pitchers threw to hit 103-for-378 (.272) against them. This is actually higher than the average, um, batting average (.259) throughout all of Major League Baseball this year.

By and large, the pitchers didn't seem to benefit from any specific pitcher vs. batter match-ups. For instance, Dan Uggla, who has a history of murdering Roy Halladay (6-for-13 with a triple and two homers, not counting the perfect game), was completely shut down on May 29th.

Match-ups in terms of handedness

About 28.7% of batters on major league rosters are left-handed. Of the 51 hitters faced during these games by these six fellows, 39.2% were lefties. As a general rule, of course, right-handed pitchers are more effective against right-handed batters. Five of the six pitchers in question are right-handed, so if anything, this put them at a disadvantage.

Whether the pitcher appeared as a guest star in The Adventures Of Pete & Pete

This show had no shortage of guest stars, from Patty Hearst to Steve Buscemi to Iggy Pop. Unfortunately, none of the pitchers in question appeared on the show. As such, this is completely irrelevant. That really was a great show, though. Absolutely ahead of its time. My favorite episode is probably the one with the telephone that has been ringing for 27 consecutive years. The entire show is Dadaism on training wheels, really. Ah, man. What a show.

 

SLIGHTLY INDICATIVE

Whether the pitcher is the only baseball player ever to have a last name that isn't unusual

Braden, Halladay, Garza. These are not terribly uncommon last names, but of the thousands upon thousands of baseball player names in the Baseball-Reference database, none of them have the same last name. This isn't a completely relevant counter-point, but Hell, there have been six baseball players nicknamed Dad. Next time you watch a ballgame, take note of the pitcher's name. If it isn't terribly unique-sounding look it up. If it's one of a kind, know that the baseball gods just may be smiling upon him.

Whether winning Powerball numbers were announced on the day in question

This is only a slight coincidence, since winning Powerball numbers have been announced every three or four days since April, but half the no-hitters have taken place on the same day that a pretty big Powerball prize was won. If you witness a no-hitter, buy a Powerball ticket. Your odds of winning will roughly double. Also, make sure to use the uniform numbers (22, 34, 36, 38, 51, 58) of the six no-hitter-ers when filling out your Powerball card thingy. Can you pick the numbers yourself? Is that how it works? Anyway, don't play Powerball, but if you do happen to play Powerball, don't play Powerball.

 

REASONABLY INDICATIVE

Whether the Rays are involved

In 2010, the Tampa Bay Rays have thrown one no-hitter (Matt Garza) and been no-hit twice (Dallas Braden, Edwin Jackson). If this trend continues, the Rays may very well own as many no-hitters as guys named Ray (Ray Caldwell, Ray Washburn).

Whether a Joyce is involved

The general idea here: the more Joyces, the better. You're surely already familiar with the acts of umpire Jim Joyce during Armando Galarraga's perfect game, when he foolishly believed that he could say things that were not so and by his utterance make them so (footnote!). But Joyce also umpired during Dallas Braden's perfect game, in which the Rays' Matt Joyce was also involved.

To boot, Matt Joyce was present during Edwin Jackson's no-hitter. And while teammate Matt Garza was no-hitting the Tigers, Matt Joyce did his duty to break up the no-hitter of opposing starter Max Scherzer with two outs in the sixth inning. In doing so, Joyce prevented the paradox of the double no-hitter, thereby preventing the unbinding of molecular structures, general collapse of the universe, and the second canceled World Series within a 20-year span.

Whether the pitcher is sporting a goatee

Three of the six pitchers in question -- Dallas Braden, Edwin Jackson, and Matt Garza -- sported goatees during their no-hitters. Very specific goatees -- no soul patch, just a patch of hair on the chin. Basically, the style popularized by Linkin Park microphone-steward Mike Shinoda, or, more accurately, similar in appearance to a Woolly Willy with magnetic shavings sitting idly at the bottom, having sat in disuse for years ever since young Joey grew up and went to college. Or, you know, 20-year-old me.

This choice of facial hair isn't rare in baseball, but if a goateed pitcher takes a no-hitter into the fifth or sixth inniing, watch out.

 

INDISPENSABLY INDICATIVE

The proximity of the game to Interstate 75

I-75 begins in Detroit, where Armando Galarraga's game took place. It runs south, through Atlanta, Georgia, where Ubaldo Jimenez pitched his no-hitter, then passes through Tampa, Florida, where Edwin Jackson and Matt Garza threw their no-hitters. It then angles east, as if by supernatural mandate, to Miami, where Roy Halladay threw his perfect game.

Yes. Five of the six no-hitters happened along I-75, a highway that provides access to only five of our thirty Major League Baseball stadiums. Watch out, Cincinnati.

Whether the game is being played under a full moon

Of the games in question, three were played under full moons:

Matt Garza, July 26th
Edwin Jackson, June 25th
Roy Halladay, May 29th

Not mostly-full moons. One-hundred percent full moons. The sort that only arrives once every 29 days. The odds of at least three of six given games falling on full moons stand at about 0.05%.

The horrifying implication here is that full moons influence reality in manners we don't quite understand. The comforting implication is that Roy Halladay is not a werewolf. His facial hair is just weird, that's all.

 

WHAT WE ARE NOW TO UNDERSTAND

Using what we have learned here as a guide, it appears certain that a no-hitter will be thrown by Joyce Hernandez (a Joyce), a 17-year-old in the Cincinnati Reds' (along I-75) system, on August 22, 2013 (a night lit by a full moon). Please treat this information responsibly. I am giving it away because I am fearful, and I want no part of it.

 * * *

A footnote regarding Armando Galarraga's non-perfect game perfect game

Major League Baseball will tell you that on June 2, 2010, Armando Galarraga threw a one-hit shutout. Using a certain line of thinking, this is true. If the result of the game is, by definition, determined by the umpiring crew, that is objectively how it stands, and independent of the rule book, the umpires are the record-keepers who decides what is or is not so.

However, you may elect, as I have, to consider things on the merits of what actually happened. We know for a fact that the throw beat Jason Donald to the bag. Usually, idealists such as ourselves aren't allowed to indulge in such luxuries. For example, we must accept the Jeffrey Maier Incident for what the umpires said it was, because there was only one reality that followed. Here, though, the story would have ended. There was no need to project an alternate future, because that was the end of the story.

That is why I choose to count this game as a perfect game, independent of what the record books say about it.

Anyway, please do not use the information I have shared with you here to set into motion a spacetime paradox, which would reduce the universe to ashes. I just bought this shirt.

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