No-hitters: Still notable but not as special as they once were
The Phillies notched a combined no-hitter on Monday, but the increasingly frequent no-no isn't what it once was.
On Monday, Cole Hamels and three Phillies relievers collaborated to pitch what was by most counts the 286th no-hitter in major-league history. There's also this: 14 of those no-hitters -- or roughly 5 percent -- have come since 2012.
Indeed, it's a growth economy for the no-hitter. If you're a regular in these parts, then a "no-hitter watch" probably seems like at least a weekly occurrence. That's because it pretty much is. No-hitters in development are still compelling things to behold, and there's no doubt that the teams and most especially pitchers involved take them seriously and relish the culmination of one. However, recent trends have conspired to make the no-hitter, if not a pedestrian happening, then something much less consequential than it used to be.
Consider that this season big-league pitchers are allowing a hits-per-nine mark of 8.6. That's the lowest such figure since way back yonder in 1972. In a very much related matter, the league batting average of .251 is the lowest since ... 1972. The difference between now and then, of course, is that hitters these days strike out much more than their peers of 1972 did. Hitters now swing for power, not low-grade contact, and starters generally have at least three pitches capable of getting swings and misses. As such, fewer balls in play mean fewer opportunities for hits. That's reflected in the numbers you see above. In terms of run-scoring levels, though, there's much about the current decade that calls to mind those 1970s.
As for the topic at hand, the low-hit decade of 70s yielded a healthy total of 31 no-hitters. However, we're not halfway through the 2010s, and we've already seen 23 no-hitters (or more than four per season). Twenty-three. That's ... a lot, at least relative to the standards of the past. By comparson, only 33 times over that same span -- i.e., since 2010 -- has a team managed to go an entire game without striking out. That those two figures are in reasonable proximity to one another says much about contemporary baseball.
The balance between offense and defense is an ever-shifting, mutable thing, so the time will come in which the hitters hold sway and the no-hitter will become, again, an actual rarity (in the hard-hitting 2000s, for instance, we had 15 no-hitters). For now, though, the hitless game can be characterized as "not especially special."
Still, if you remain an undying loyalist to the no-hitter, then take solace in the knowledge that another one is likely headed your way very soon. Like maybe next week.
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