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The Year of the No-Hitter       Share

29 June 2010

Edwin Jackson’s no-hitter on Friday was the fourth one (plus the should-have-been perfect game) in the majors this year.  Four by the end of June is pretty impressive, but not unheard of.  The league is on pace for eight this year, which would be a modern era record.  There were eight in 1884 and seven in both 1990 and 1991.

This no-hitter, by Edwin Jackson of the Arizona Diamondbacks, was pretty unique because he walked eight batters.  Usually by the time a guy walks his eighth batter his manager (head coach is called the manager in baseball) is on the way to the mound to pull him from the game.  In this case, he was almost pulled from the game in the third inning.  Instead, he continued to sneak through trouble spots and threw the 267th no-hitter in the history of baseball.  (There is a some discussion about no-hitters in our Sports Questions section.) 

In general pitching stats have been better this year.  Many around baseball are giving credit to this resurgence of pitching to the cleansing of steroids (and other performance enhancing drugs) from the game.  Performance-enhancing drugs have largely been credited with inflated hitting stats over the past 10-15 years.  Many hitting records have been obliterated recently and most of those involved in the obliterations have tested positive or been named in steroids investigations.

No-Hitters however, are pretty rare feats and the uptick likely isn’t related to weaker hitters.  I like stats and I could put together a strong argument that this many no-hitters isn’t “statistically significant” given the past trends.  More interesting though, is the argument that a no-hitter like this one was thrown.  This performance was less than overpowering.  If you’ve watched many “near no-hitters” in the past, you’ve seen weak ground balls and other fluke hits break up the dominant performance.  No hitters, in my mind, have more to do with streaks of random occurrences than they do with the overall strength of hitters in the league.    
I’m reminded of a quote from the movie Bull Durham, usually included in lists of the top 10 sports movies of all time.  Crash Davis, an old minor-leaguer, is explaining the difference between hitting .250 and .300 (generally accepted as the threshold of a very good hitter).  He explains that one more “ground ball with eyes” or “dying quail” a week and you’re playing in Yankee Stadium instead of the minor leagues. 

One liner: "The Steroids era is officially over… but that doesn’t have much to do with all these no-hitters."

 Send comments to: Mike@notasportsguy.com

The Basics

Baseball Regular Season:
Major League Baseball (MLB) is divided into two leagues, the American League (AL) and the National League (NL).  Each league is further divided into three divisions, west, central, and east.  The regular season lasts from early April through early October.  While NL teams mostly play other NL teams and vice versa with the AL, there are occasional times in the regular season that NL teams will play AL teams.  During the regular season, each team plays 162 games.   These games determine who will go to the playoffs—each division winner and one “wild card” team from each league.   
Baseball is a statistics crazy game—true fans will quote batting averages, fielding percentages, slugging percentages, and just about any stat that you could think of for their favorite teams or players.  We’ll explain the ones that you need to know throughout the season. 

Terminology:

Win (for a pitcher):  A pitcher must complete five innings of pitching and his team must be leading when he exits for him to get a win.  A pitcher with 15 wins in a season is doing well; 20 wins is the recognized plateau of excellence.

ERA:  Earned Run Average.  A statistic which measures how many runs a pitcher averages surrendering to opposing teams based on pitching nine innings.  For instance, a pitcher with an ERA of 2.00 would on average give up 2 runs over the course of 9 innings.  ERA’s are always measured to the hundredths.  An ERA of under 3.00 is considered good.  An ERA under 2.00 is excellent and only a handful of pitchers are able to sustain an ERA under 2.00 for an entire season.

Pinch Hit:  when a player that did not start the game comes in to bat for a player that did start the game. 

Batting Average:   How often a player gets a hit.  Batting average is calculated by dividing the number of hits by total chances to hit.   If a player walks or is hit by a pitch, such actions are not counted as a chance to hit in calculating the batting average.  A .300 batting average (getting a hit 30% of the time) is considered to be above average for a MLB player.

Mendoza Line:  A euphemism for a .200 batting average.  The term came from a reference to Mario Mendoza, a light hitting infielder in the 1970s that usually batted around .200.  A player that is hitting around the Mendoza Line is lucky to still have a job in the Major Leagues.