Posted by: mdegeorge | July 27, 2010

Garza’s no-no part of a dream year for pitchers

For years, we’ve heard stories about how Major League Baseball’s expansion has thinned the pitching talent pool almost to a critical level. Glorified Triple-A pitchers, combined with rampant use of steroids, made the 1990s and the early part of this decade a virtual paradise for hitters.

But this season is deviating quite sharply from that paradigm. The obvious manifestation of that is the uncharacteristically high number of no-hitters and perfect games.

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Matt Garza’s no-no against the Tigers tonight was the fifth of the season and we’re not even two-thirds of the way through yet. In the modern era (since 1900), there have been 225 no-hitters, an average of just a shade over two per year. The five no-hitters are the most since most in a single season since seven were thrown in 1991.

Two of no-nos—from Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay—were perfect games, two of only 20 in Major League history. The last time two perfect games were turned in in the same season: that would be 1880 when Lee Richmond of the Worcester Ruby Legs set down 27 straight Cleveland Blues (in an hour and 26 minutes, to boot) just five days before Providence Grays’ pitcher John Montgomery Ward shut down the Buffalo Bisons.

In addition to those that have come to fruition, it seems like a litany of others have been on the precipice. Phil Hughes, Scott Olsen, and CC Sabathia all carried no-no bids into the eighth inning. Cincinnati’s Travis Wood retired the first 24 hitters he saw in just his third Major League start, plus I think there was a controversy about a Detroit pitcher being close to a no-no.

Is it just an aberration of probability-defying fortune (as FanGraphs illustrates for Braden), or do these numbers bear out into the overall offensive trends this season?Through an average of 98 team games, offensive numbers are projecting lower than normal while pitching metrics are improved.

The lowest averaged team ERA over the last six seasons was 4.28 in 2005, and it peaked at 4.52 in 2006. This year, however, it’s down to 4.14. The averaged batting average in the majors is .260, also the lowest over the last six years.

Pitchers are issuing a comparable numbers of walks (they’re on pace for 539 this season; totals have fluctuated from 507 to 554 over the last half decade). But strikeouts have shown a steady rise over the last six years while runs scored have trended downward over the last five seasons. Major Leaguers are also on pace for a six-season low home run total of 153 per team, down from 168 last season and 180 in 2006.

So what does all of this tell us?

To me, it indicates an increase in all-or-nothing performers. Obviously there’s a large amount of luck involved in each of the no-hitters that doesn’t come through in the stats. No-nos and perfectos are the ultimate display of luck for a pitcher, where every hard-hit ball happens to find a fielder’s glove and every decision goes their way. That luck or inspiration or whatever it may be balances out with plenty of sub-par performances for pitchers that on the whole are mediocre. It’s the same overall level, but this year, the peaks and valleys (especially the peaks) are much more pronounced.



  1. i think when you look at the nineties and early 2000s, and you look at the draft picks from that era, there was a huge emphasis on drafting quality pitching. that came from seeing the huge numbers the hitters were putting up. teams felt that they needed to draft solid young pitching to counteract all the power and run production. now, all of that talent is in the majors and showing off their skills.

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