MLB no-hitters: How historic no-no spree is putting baseball’s biggest problem on full display


Congratulations to Spencer Turnbull of the Tigers for throwing a no-hitter. It’s still an amazing individual accomplishment to throw a no-hitter at the big-league level the way he did Tuesday night in Seattle. In judging from the reactions of teammates on each and every no-hitter, it’s still a huge deal to the current players, too. 

Now please forgive me while I take a second to yawn. 

Hyperbole? In the present tense, yes, it is hyperbole, but we’re on this path. It is May 19 and we’ve already witnessed six five no-hitters. It’s such a special occasion that Major League Baseball has decided that seven-inning no-hitters don’t count, even though seven-inning games count in the standings and everywhere else. 

By the end of this season, it won’t be quite as special as it used to be. From Dayn Perry’s story on Turnbull’s no-no in the wee hours of Wednesday morning: 

The overall record for no-hitters in a season is eight in 1884. If we limit it to the modern era of baseball, then the record is seven, which has happened three different times (1990, 1991, 2012). Right now, we’re on pace for 19 no-hitters in 2021. This marks the first time since 1917 that a season has seen five no-hitters before June. 

This is, of course, excluding Madison Bumgarner’s faux-hitter when he completed a game as scheduled and didn’t allow a hit. It’s still beyond my comprehension how the league can schedule an official game for seven innings and then turn around and say a pitcher allowing no hits through the entire game it scheduled doesn’t count as an official no-hitter, but I’ll stop belaboring the point in this space. 

Instead, I’ll spin things forward here and discuss why we’re going to see a lot more no-hitters this season, watering down what has long been one of baseball’s most-hailed accomplishments on a single game level. Two teams have already been no-hit twice. 

The league batting average is .236 right now. In your head right now, go back, say, 25 years and think about hearing someone say something like “he’s a .250 hitter!” with laces of disdain. It was long an insult to even say “a .240 hitter!” That’s above average now. There are only seven teams hitting above .250 and 12 teams hitting at least .240. 

As things stand, this is the lowest league-wide batting average of all-time. In 1968, the league hit .237. Some readers here will recall that after 1968, MLB lowered the mound and tightened the strike zone. Pitchers had simply become too dominant. 

We’re right back in the same place. While it seems the masses would rather complain about the hitters, the simple reality is the pitchers as a whole are simply too good. 

Let’s take Turnbull as an example. 

He threw 49 four-seam fastballs at an average of 93.4 miles per hour Tuesday night. He threw 37 sliders that averaged 84.4 mph. He used his sinker 18 times at an average of 94.6 mph. There were six changeups at an average of 87.8 mph and six curves averaging 78.5 mph.

Now, we know from reading extensively that a starting pitcher sitting 93-95 in the early ’80s was considered a hard thrower. No one should even dispute how impressive it is for a pitcher to command five pitches in the zone, with movement, throughout the night the way Turnbull did. If we had a time machine and sent Turnbull back to something like 1975 with this kind of stuff, he’d have dominated the way he did Tuesday. He’d have been one of the best pitchers in baseball. 

In 2021? Turnbull’s velocity is slightly above average. By no means is he a bad pitcher, but even after padding his stats with a no-hitter here in mid-May, Turnbull still only ranks 31st in ERA among those with at least 30 innings pitched this year. His 22 percent strikeout rate is 74th. 

We could similarly look at Joe Musgrove, Carlos Rodon, John Means and Wade Miley — the four other pitchers with nine-inning no-nos so far in 2021. They all have the kind of stuff that would have made them elite pitchers several decades ago, but none of them had pre-2021 track records that suggested much more than good pitchers to varying degrees (though Means breaking through as a legit ace this season seems plausible). 

The point here, again, couldn’t be further from trying to denigrate the pitchers who have thrown no-hitters. It is to illustrate how the pitching in 2021 is better than it has ever been. 

This furthers the problem baseball has with the lack of in-game action that we’ve been discussing for a while. The “three true outcomes” (walks, home runs and strikeouts) have become far too much of the game. Heading into this season, the only thing baseball did to address this was to deaden the baseballs. As such, home runs are down, albeit slightly. Yet the league did absolutely nothing to carve into the strikeouts, save for sending out a memo about pine tar (no pitcher has been punished to this point). 

The strikeout rate is the highest it has ever been. Batting average is the lowest it has ever been. Defensive scouting is excellent. Defenders are faster than they’ve ever been with, generally, playing surfaces being smaller than they were in the distant past. 

Do the math here. We’re going to keep seeing no-hitters at the highest rate we’ve ever seen. 

Inevitably, this is where the herd mentality takes over and a large group of people start yelling about the hitters and their approach. Just hit it where they ain’t! Players now only swing for the fences! Bunt! 

Ignorance. That is just total ignorance. The stuff these hitters are dealing with these days is nothing like the stuff the likes of Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn ever saw. We don’t even need to discuss going back to the 1920s and 1930s. You want a player to “go the other way” with a 99-mph fastball on his hands? You think it’s possible to see a 90-mph slider and decide exactly where you want to hit it? Get outta here with that nonsense. 

Baseball realized in 1968 that the pitchers had gotten too good and an adjustment needed to be made. The mound was lowered and the strike zone was adjusted. Offense picked back up and everyone, somehow, by the grace of God, survived the change. What a miracle! 

It’s high time similar measures happen again before 2022. 

But before that is even discussed, we’re going to witness the record for no-hitters in a season explode. It’s not even gonna be close. 





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