Monday, October 01, 2012

Increasing Frequency of No-Hitters Lessens Their Mystique

There was a time, in the not so distant past, when a no-hitter in baseball was so infrequent that you could remember the names of the pitchers who tossed such gems over the past several years.
The moments were recalled on the yellowed newspaper clippings of your memory.
The no-hitters dotted recent history, delicious in their stubborn and insistent rarity of occurrence.
You were sometimes lucky to see one a year. The no-hitter was Armageddon-type headline stuff for the newspapers.
Part of the beauty, too, was how the no-hitter often plucked mediocre pitchers from virtual anonymity and shoved them under baseball’s spotlight, all because for one game, that guy with the losing record and the ERA of 4.86 put it all together.
It’s part of my fascination with baseball—how the game has a wonderful way of occasionally making heroes out of the Walter Mittys who play it.
The list of men who have tossed no-hitters is hardly a Who’s Who of pitching.
The no-hitter was, until recent years, baseball’s version of being struck by lightning.
Emphasis on was.
It was around 1990 when the no-hitter increased in frequency. In the 1980s, there were 13 no-hitters thrown, total—13 for the entire decade. Three years in the decade (1982, 1985, and 1989) were devoid of no-hitters altogether. In contrast, the 1990s hit 13 no-hitters by 1991, and a new day had dawned.
But now it’s getting ridiculous.
Check the water in the cooler in the dugout. Better yet, have the pitching arms tested for uranium—or Nolan Ryan.
You ready for this?
Since April 17, 2010, 16 no-hitters have been thrown. They’re getting to be as common as complete games, almost.
Friday night, Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds tossed the latest gem, at the Pirates in Pittsburgh—the same Pirates team that was two outs away from being victimized by Justin Verlander in May, which would have been Verlander’s third no-hitter before the age of 30.
Bailey’s no-hitter is the seventh this season alone, a year that has seen three perfect games.
Bailey fits the bill as baseball’s latest no-hit artist. He has a career ERA of 4.59, so naturally he threw a no-hitter.
But seriously—seven no hitters, in one season? And three perfect games?
Call it the Dead Ball Era, Part II. Or the return of the Hitless Wonders, with apologies to the 1906 Chicago White Sox.
But more power to the pitchers, I say. It’s rather amazing that the spate of no-hitters have come at a time in the game where strike zones are squeezed more than Charmin. There are a lot of umpires in the game today who make the pitcher pour the baseball over an area the size of a postage stamp.
Yet we are seeing dominant performances almost every night. It’s not just starting pitching that has become filled with Ryans and Koufaxes and Johnsons. Every team, it seems, has a reliever or two whose ERA looks like the price of a newspaper.
Fernando Rodney, our old friend from his Tigers days and the closer for the Tampa Bay Rays, is having the year of his life.
Rodney, from 2007 thru 2011, never had an ERA of lower than 4.24. Tigers fans know all too well the trials and tribulations he had as the team’s closer.
This year, Rodney has converted 46 of 48 save opportunities and has an ERA of 0.62, or one-seventh of what he’s been churning out in recent years.
0.62 isn’t an ERA, it’s pocket change.
It’s a fascinating time to be watching baseball, because offenses are shrinking gradually, like that guy who loses weight but you don’t notice until you see photos of him from three years ago.
Number crunching time.
Every Major League Baseball season contains 2,430 games, or a few less if rainouts aren’t made up. Let’s take a look at total runs scored since 2006 (numbers from
2006: 23,599 (9.7 per game)
2007: 23,322 (9.6)
2008: 22,585 (9.3)
2009: 22,419 (9.2)
2010: 21,308 (8.8)
2011: 20,808 (8.6)
2012: 20,298 (thru earlier this week with a handful of games left per team)

Now, I’m no mathematician or sabermetrics guy, but that looks like a trend to me.
So why the degradation involving those guys swinging the bats?
Well, they’re growing pitchers bigger these days. You see the sizes of some of these hurlers? Put them in plaid and they’d pass for Paul Bunyan. Some of these guys are so tall it’s like being pitched to by a giraffe.
The pitchers are getting bigger and stronger, but the bats are the same size.
Another theory? Teams are promoting players earlier in their professional careers, as a rule. And the pitchers are ahead of the hitters in their development.
The stuff out there is nasty. Sliders dropping off tables like cue balls. Curves bending like bamboo. Fastballs exploding and being applied to the strike zone with a paint brush. Change ups twisting hitters into the dirt like a corkscrew.
The poor hitters just can’t keep up, as the above numbers indicate.
So is the no-hitter being ruined? Is it being rendered meaningless? Are we on the verge of greeting the news of the latest no-no with yawns?
Sixteen no-hitters since April 2010. That’s nearly one a month, on average. And there are a whole lot more that are flirted with—getting as far as the seventh or eighth inning in many instances.
Poor Homer Bailey. He threw his no-hitter and it’s like you want to react by saying, “Put it over there, with the others.”
What can you say? The guy was born 20 years too late to thrill us.


Post a Comment

<< Home