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Appreciating Francisco Liriano’s No-Hitter

You have probably heard that Francisco Liriano threw a no-hitter last night. You may have also heard that he posted the lowest Game Score of any no-hitter in history, or that his xFIP for the game was 5.96 (yes, seriously). Essentially, as soon as the game ended, the “Liriano Throws a No-Hitter” headlines were replaced by “Reasons Why Liriano’s No-Hitter Wasn’t Very Impressive.” The guy’s 15 minutes of fame didn’t even last 15 seconds before his accomplishment was overcome by a wave of explanations on why it was more of an historic fluke than a spectacular pitching performance.

While I understand the sentiments of my fellow writers, and agree that it’s worth pointing out that Liriano’s no-hitter was, err, unconventional, I also think we shouldn’t overlook the obvious — Francisco Liriano threw a no-hitter.

This has happened just 268 times in Major League history. Ninety-nine percent of pitchers who have appeared in the big leagues retired without ever throwing one. There’s a reason that everyone rushes the mound when it happens — it is still a pretty special moment for the pitcher, his teammates, and everyone in attendance.

Around here, we talk about the predictive usefulness of statistics a lot. We like numbers that let us know what is likely to happen in the future, and for many of us part of the fun of following the sport is trying to figure out the future. We eschew things like ERA because it doesn’t measure what people think it does, and we look for better metrics than batting average to help draw more reasonable conclusions about a hitter’s skills. As we’ve seen, this type of analysis can prove more accurate and lead to better conclusions.

That said, there’s still plenty of room at the table for things that are not predictive. Baseball is full of interesting, fun events that have no bearing on the future outcomes of a player or a team. Jason Marquis just outdueled Tim Lincecum the other night — that won’t happen often, but it doesn’t make it any less notable that it did. Do we scoff at inside-the-park home runs? Almost all of them involve an outfielder falling down or a ball taking a weird bounce, but they’re tremendously fun to watch, even if no one thinks there’s any real skill being exhibited there.

Liriano walked six guys and only struck out two. That’s not impressive, and if I were a Twins fan I’d still be pretty concerned about what’s wrong with my team’s best pitcher. If you were asking me to evaluate whether Liriano was going to throw another no-hitter in his next start, his BB and K numbers would certainly be relevant. But, for one night, Liriano got 27 outs and didn’t allow an official base hit.

It’s okay that it was a fluke; all no hitters are a fluke. No one has a true talent .000 BABIP. Sure, this one might have been marginally more flukey than others, but we shouldn’t fight for the right to be the first to discredit his performance. He did something that few other pitchers in the sport’s history have ever done, and he’ll remember this for the rest of his life. So will we, most likely.

That’s good enough for me. Congratulations, Francisco Liriano — you threw a no-hitter, and that’s a special accomplishment, even if it has no predictive ability whatsoever.