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No-Hitters

by David Fleitz

July 27, 2010

It has always seemed to me that pitchers throw no-hitters more often in the earlier and later parts of a season, and less often in the middle of the season.

So many of the no-hitters that stand out in my mind - Sandy Koufax's perfect game in 1965, Jack Morris' gem that set the tone for the 1984 Tigers, Bob Feller's no-hitter on opening day 1940 - occurred either early or late in the year, rarely in the middle. So did Addie Joss' perfect game on October 2, 1908. So did Mike Witt's gem on the last day of the 1984 season, and Mike Scott's division-clincher for the Astros in 1986, and Allie Reynolds' pennant-clincher in 1951 ...

Does it just seem that way, or is it really so? Maybe these no-hitters stick in our minds because we pay more attention to the beginnings and the ends of the seasons, and pay less attention in the middle.

Anyway, I had some time on my hands, so I went to Wikipedia and found a list of all single-pitcher no-hitters since 1900 and counted them up by month. They listed 216 no-hitters, broken down as follows:

April     31
May       39
June      34
July      29
August    29
September 51
October    3

The three gems in October were pitched by Joss in 1908, Bill Stoneman in 1972, and Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series.

It is clear that there are significantly more no-hitters thrown in September, so at least part of the assumption I stated earlier is true. Also, the April number is misleading. Far fewer games are played in April, and for most of the century a season didn't begin until April 15 or thereabouts. Bob Feller's opening-day no-hitter in 1940 was pitched on April 16, for example. So April's total represents barely half a month.

I noticed something else in going down the list. Most of the May no-hitters came early in the month, and most of August's occur late in the month. In August, only eight of the 30 no-hitters came on or before August 15, and only six of May's 34 occurred after May 15.

So, let's divide the season into four parts instead of six:

April 1 to May 15            62 no-hitters
May 16 to June 30            42
July 1 to August 15          38
August 16 to September 30    71 (not counting the 3 in October)

So, no-hitters are clustered early and late in the season. But why?

A few suggestions:

The weather. April and September are cool months; June and July are hot ones. It's easier to hit when it's hot, partially because the ball is livelier in hot weather and partially because it's easier for batters to get their muscles loose when it's hot. I'm a Tiger fan, and I spent several years watching Cecil Fielder struggle in April and early May, waiting for the weather to warm up.

The batters. More players now come from warm-weather climates than ever before. Young players from California or the South, aiming to make the majors, have an advantage over players from Minnesota or Wisconsin, because they can play ball for more months of the year. However, put those warm-weather guys in New York or Cleveland on a cold April day and see how well they hit. I haven't even mentioned Latin-American players, who make up 25% of the majors right now.

The teams. In April, managers are still tinkering with lineups, trying different things, experimenting. A pitcher in his groove can no-hit a team that isn't settled yet. In September, managers of teams that have dropped out of the race are playing their minor-league call-ups, and unsettling their teams all over again. Also, some teams have thrown in the towel by September 1 or so, and they're just playing out the string.

The pitchers. I think that pitchers come out of spring training far ahead of the batters. I also think that batters tire out toward the end of the season. I can't prove it, but this no-hitter data certainly lends some credence to the argument.

In looking at the list, I noticed a few trends:

1. Almost all pitchers who throw no-hitters are much better than average pitchers. Look down the list of recent no-hitters; you'll see Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay, and Mark Buehrle. Go back a few years and you'll see Jack Morris, Fernando Valenzuela, Pedro Martinez, and others. Aside from the occasional Bobo Holloman, with a 3-7 lifetime mark, almost all no-hit pitchers are stars. Most of the pitchers in the Hall of Fame have thrown at least one.

2. Most no-hitters are thrown by power pitchers. Nolan Ryan threw seven no-hitters, Sandy Koufax four, Bob Feller and Cy Young three apiece. All of them were extreme power pitchers, especially the first three. On the other hand, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux have good, but not exceptional, fastballs. They don't blow anybody away, and it's no surprise that neither man has thrown a no-hitter yet. It is a surprise, though, that Roger Clemens hasn't thrown one.

3. Most pitchers throw their no-hitters at home. Nearly two-thirds of all no-hitters are pitched by the home team.

4. Many, but by no means all, no-hitters are thrown against bad teams. Casey Stengel's Mets, perhaps the worst team of the 20th century, suffered two devastating no-hitters. On June 30, 1962, Sandy Koufax struck out the side on nine pitches in the first inning on his way to a 5-0 no-hitter. Two years later, Jim Bunning blew the Mets away with a perfect game, the first one thrown in the National League in 84 years.

Not all no-hit victims are bad teams. The 1958 Yankees and 1969 Mets were no-hit (by Hoyt Wilhelm and Bob Moose) in the last two weeks of the season. The 1917 White Sox endured two no-hitters in two days! All three of these teams went on to win the World Series. However, it appears that most teams that suffer no-hitters are either bad, injury-riddled, or mired in a mass batting slump.

So, in conclusion, if a star power pitcher faces a struggling team, at home, especially in the earliest or latest part of the season, he might be in line to pitch a no-hitter. I've watched a few on television, but someday I hope to see one in person.