After waiting out a 98-minute technical delay and firing an outrageous 131 pitches on Tuesday night, Mike Fiers of the Oakland Athletics was at a loss to explain his efforts in throwing the first no-hitter of the 2019 season.
“Amazing. That’s really all I can really say,” Fiers told reporters at Oakland Coliseum after beating the Cincinnati Reds, 2-0. “Things like this just happen.”
They just happen, apparently, to Fiers. A journeyman right-hander with a 4.11 career earned run average, he threw the second no-hitter of his career and the 300th in major league history. Not bad for a guy who has allowed an average of 8.7 hits per nine innings pitched over nine seasons.
How unlikely was Fiers’s feat? When working on “The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers” with Rob Neyer, the statistician Bill James developed a formula for predicting the likelihood that a pitcher would throw a no-hitter in his career. By James’s method — which takes into account career innings, career hits allowed and career starts — Fiers could reasonably have expected to have thrown 0.11 no-hitters by now. While he beat the odds (again), several others found themselves on the other side of no-hitter fate. Pitchers like Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Don Sutton never accomplished the feat despite being among the hardest to hit in history.
With the no-hitter tally reaching 300, here is a look back at some facts and figures around one of the most celebrated (and quirky) feats in sports.
George Bradley, holding the baseball, was a star pitcher in the 1870s for the St. Louis Brown Stockings, an early incarnation of the Cardinals. In 1876, he threw baseball’s first no-hitter.CreditSporting News, via Getty Images
The First No-Hitter
The first official no-hitter came on July 15, 1876, when George Bradley of the St. Louis Brown Stockings beat the Hartford Dark Blues, 2-0. Bradley was an excellent candidate for a no-hitter that season, as he led the National League in E.R.A. and shutouts and had the fewest hits allowed per nine innings. He was 45-19, completing 63 of his 64 starts.
In his next start, Bradley was perfect through seven innings and held his opponents hitless into the ninth, but ended up allowing two hits and a run in the victory, ending a then-record streak of 39 scoreless innings.
The Ryan Express
No one is more synonymous with no-hitters than Nolan Ryan, who hurled seven of them in an outrageous 28-year career. He threw his first on May 15, 1973, and his seventh on May 1, 1991, coming up just two weeks short of 18 years between them. Ryan also holds the major league records for one-hitters (12), two-hitters (17) and three-hitters (28).
Considering his longevity and his major league records for strikeouts (5,714) and for fewest hits allowed per nine innings (6.6), it should come as no surprise that by the James method of predicting no-hitters Ryan comes out on top with an expected 2.715 for his career. That he never threw a perfect game is also not surprising, as he is the career leader in walks, with 2,795.
King Ryan’s Court
Beyond Ryan and Fiers, there are 24 pitchers with two or more no-hitters. Sandy Koufax had four, Bob Feller had three and the list of players with two includes both obvious candidates, like Justin Verlander, Warren Spahn and Randy Johnson, as well as less likely ones, such as Homer Bailey, Steve Busby and Bill Stoneman. Even Ryan can’t match the feat of Johnny Vander Meer, though, as the Cincinnati Reds star fired no-hitters in back-to-back starts in 1938.
The Best No-Hitter …
According to game score, a statistic that attempts to show a pitcher’s dominance by rewarding outs and strikeouts and punishing runs, hits and walks, the most dominant no-hitter belongs to Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals. He struck out 17 batters in a no-hitter against the Mets on Oct. 3, 2015, taking advantage of a team in the second game of a doubleheader on the season’s second-to-last day. The only Met to reach base was Kevin Plawecki, who got there via throwing error in the sixth inning.
Scherzer’s game score of 104 topped the 102 put up by Clayton Kershaw in a 2014 no-hitter and the 101 that was recorded in four no-hitters, including Matt Cain’s perfect game in 2012. In a quirk of the statistic, the most dominant pitching effort ever was not in a no-hitter: Kerry Wood received a score of 105 for his 20-strikeout one-hitter in 1998.
… and the Worst No-Hitter
Using the same method, the least dominant no-hitter came courtesy of Ed Lafitte of the Brooklyn Tip-Tops. In a 6-2 win over the Kansas City Packers in the old Federal League, Lafitte walked seven batters, struck out just one and allowed two unearned runs to score for a game score of 77. Francisco Liriano of the Minnesota Twins came close to matching Lafitte’s weak-but-hitless outing in 2011 when he walked six and struck out just two while no-hitting the Chicago White Sox, which received a game score of 83.
A.J. Burnett of the Florida Marlins walked nine batters, hit one and threw a wild pitch in a fantastically wild no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in 2001, but his game score was a relatively robust 85 thanks to his seven strikeouts.
The Curious Case of the Missing No-Hitters
In 1991, Major League Baseball changed the definition of a no-hitter, requiring that pitchers finish at least nine innings of work in a complete game, thus wiping out 31 games that had previously been deemed worthy, according to Baseball Reference.
It was a devastating blow to the Perez family, with both Pascual and Melido having rain-shortened no-hitters expunged from the record books, but it helped take away some ignominy from Andy Hawkins of the Yankees, who managed to allow no hits in a loss on July 1, 1990, but did so as a visiting pitcher over eight innings. With his no-hitter erased, and two eight-inning no-hitters after 1991 not counting, the only official no-hitter that ended in a loss belongs to Ken Johnson of the Houston Colt .45s, who had a pair of errors behind him lead to a run in the top of the ninth inning of a 1-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds in 1964.