To be clear: a pitcher throwing a no-hitter or perfect game is special. It should be commemorated, as it’s historic and entails clamping down an MLB lineup. That being said, the feat is beginning to lose its luster as modern-day hitting tendencies continue to polarize the sport.
There have been six no-hitters thrown in the 2021 MLB season (Joe Musgrove, Carlos Rodon, Wade Miley, John Means, Spencer Turnbull and Corey Kluber). Meanwhile, Arizona Diamondbacks’ southpaw Madison Bumgarner tossed a seven-inning no-hitter. Yes, it’s still May, meaning there has essentially been an average of one no-hitter a week.
Uptick in no-hitters is due to modern-day MLB hitting
How eventful have these no-hitters felt? Have they felt more historic or impressive? Sometimes a little too much of something takes the pizzazz out of it. What’s doing that in this case? That would be the approach teams and hitters are taking in the batter’s box.
It’s no secret that teams and their department heads see value in an uppercut swing. The motion revolves around the idea of getting under and launching the ball. This has led to teams heavily weighing slugging percentage over batting average, as the intention is more so on compiling extra-base hits instead of merely getting on base by means of soft contact and walks.
What do these offensive inclinations lead to? Strikeouts and more strikeouts. Players swinging for the fences rather than pure contact leads to an abundance of whiffs and weak contact. Now the sport is reaching a breaking point. Being 10th in MLB in batting average seems good, right? Well, does a .240 team batting average seem good? The Colorado Rockies and star-studded San Diego Padres entered Wednesday tied for 10th in the sport in batting average at .240.
The Houston Astros entered Wednesday first in batting average at .269, whereas the Seattle Mariners were last at .201. For perspective, the Rockies and Astros were tied for ninth in batting average in 2011 at .258 while the Texas Rangers were first at .283 and the Mariners were last at .233. In other words, the worst team batting average in 2011 would be good for 19th in 2021.
There’s less slap contact/single hitting in baseball. Given the new technology and resources teams have at their disposal the easy thing to do is follow what the numbers say, eliminating feel. The player who hits .220 with a .803 OPS is considered more valuable than the player who hits .295 with a .750 OPS. It’s all about the long ball and making resounding contact.
Modern-day baseball gives pitchers the edge
What do all of these trends have to do with pitchers pulling off no-hitters? If players — primarily ones with limited big-league experience — are being instructed to swing for power rather than traditional line-drive hitting, they’re inevitably going to strike out more and make boom-or-bust contact. That works squarely in the pitcher’s favor. Off-speed pitches from the best of the best will make most hitters look silly.
Think about how individuals like Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer and other top-line aces utterly disembowel hitters: of course, their pitching arsenals are the primary catalyst for their performance, but do you think the 2021 game also doesn’t play some role in their success?
Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Corbin Burnes is a perfect example of a pitcher benefiting from the current version of the sport. Burnes got off to a stupendous start this season, headlined by surrendering zero walks over his first five starts. He was being crowned one of the new lead pitchers in the sport, and understandably so. But also consider that players take less pitches, therefore walking less and getting on base less. That worked in favor of Burnes’ statistical anomaly.
When a MLB starting pitcher is in a groove it’s demoralizing and horrifying for the opposing lineup in any generation of baseball. It has never been more difficult to overcome that than in the present. Again, there have been six (arguably seven) no-hitters thrown, and it’s not even Memorial Day.
MLB’s evolution is dulling no-hitters
The marveling nature of a no-hitter won’t and should not be wiped out. It should be a day that the person who threw it cherishes for eternity. The issue has become the frequency these instances are taking place in correlation to the way the sport has gone from an offensive standpoint.
The reality is a no-hitter isn’t anywhere near as eventful for the viewing fan as it was even five years ago. Every night there are pitchers mowing down lineups with ease, and no one is surprised. Ironically, this comes as the pitching portion of the game has become bullpen-heavy. At the same time, the overwhelming ace is the exception for most teams.
People will tune into the final few innings or outs of a game when history is on the line, but it’s not the thrilling experience it once was for those heavily invested in the sport. Frankly, it sucks that this is the case. No-hitters are supposed to be rare and discussed forever. Now we talk about one every two weeks.
We’re in this position because sports evolve, and baseball has evolved into an extreme version of itself which has resulted in a bizarro product. The question now becomes what’s the next aspect of MLB to become obsolete?