Are No-Hitters On the Rise? No. Just the % of CGs.

Last night, Jered Weaver threw the 274th no-hitter in baseball history — or so the stories say. There have been two no-hitters so far this year, and ten so far in this young decade. Half of them came in 2010, the year whose no-hit frequency led some to dub it “The Year of the Pitcher.”

And, indeed, the five regular-season no-hitters thrown in 2010 (along with a sixth, by Roy Halladay, in the playoffs) mark it as one of the no-hittiest years in history. The five regular season no-nos tie it for third place, with 1962, 1968, 1973, and 1991, and the six overall tie it for second place with 1969. (Of course, many will remember that there almost was — and should have been — a seventh.) But the most of all were thrown in 1990: eight overall. The frequency of no-hitters per year hasn’t increased, except with respect to the historically anomalous 2000’s.

Data here and throughout compiled from baseball-reference play index and’s no-hitter registry.
If anything, the graph of no-hitters by year looks something like a letter M, with modes in the early 1900’s and the late 1960s, which is what you’d expect: the deadball era, and the neo-deadball era. The picture looks about the same when you include one-hitters and the postseason. (Box score data is spotty until 1918, so that’s when these data begin.) So the list of no-hitters and one-hitters, including the postseason, looks sort of like a normal curve centered around the late ’60s.

How many have there been overall? Depends on where you look. Most of the Weaver stories placed it at 274. According to ESPN’s no-hit registry, there have been 267 no-hitters, 258 of which have been complete games thrown by the starting pitcher. (’s no-hit registry noted a couple that ESPN missed — perfect games by Monte Ward and Lee Richmond in 1880, but appears to miss many others, so I opted to combine ESPN with baseball-reference.)

The number of no-hitters hasn’t increased. It’s more or less remained around the historical norm. But the number of complete games, of course, has drastically decreased. (The increase in the 1960s is largely a product of the expansion of the schedule from 154 to 162 games.)

It certainly seems like throwing a no-hitter increases a pitcher’s chances of staying in the game. This was particularly apparent in the postgame comments after Edwin Jackson’s 149-pitch no-hitter in 2010. “We talked every inning after about the sixth because I was checking on him,” said then-Diamondbacks manager AJ Hinch. “It’s such a complicated situation with the game in the balance and him chasing a no-hitter.” In just the last two decades, the proportion of all complete games that were no-hitters has zoomed upwards from its historical rate, which was under one percent for most of the previous century.

This year has been insane, of course. There have been just 15 complete games, two of which have been no-hitters. The ten no-hitters this decade mean that the 2010’s are almost certain to pass the meager tally of the previous decade; there were just 15 no-nos is the 2000’s, and just 15 in the 1980’s. As a matter of fact, we’re on pace for 46 no-hitters this decade, which would be the most ever. The current high-water mark is the 34 no-hitters pitched during the 1960’s, including four by Sandy Koufax, of course. (There were 30 in the 1990’s, partly aided by the four expansion teams added in 1993 and 1998.)

Jered Weaver’s a terrific pitcher, and he’s the first Weaver to enter his name into the no-hitter history books, let alone the first Jered. (His big brother Jeff pitched a complete game one-hitter in 2002, as his Tigers beat the Indians 2-0. Jeff needed 125 pitches to do that; Jered took just 121 pitches last night.) The 29-year old Weaver was the Cy Young runnerup last year, and he’s currently leading the league in ERA and strikeouts, and tied for second in wins. If he brings home the pitching triple crown, it will be hard to deny him the Cy. But modern baseball has also made it increasingly hard for pitchers to finish their own games, because of the emphasis on pitch counts. The next time he wants to throw a complete game shutout, he may want to make sure not to allow any hits.

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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.

27 Responses to “Are No-Hitters On the Rise? No. Just the % of CGs.”

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  1. Drakos says:

    The graph of no-hitters looks more like an inverted W to me.

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    • Sean O'Neill says:

      This line isn’t getting nearly enough love. Kudos, sir.

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    • Mark Prior says:


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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      I was about to post this exact comment. So instead I’ll reference a comment from a different article. Looks more like an upper case sigma turned 90 degrees clockwise.

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  2. Joe says:

    It feels like the title wasn’t fully addressed (or is just ambiguous). So the percentage of CGs overall is not on the rise? Just the percentage of CGs that are no hitters is rising, correct.

    The percentage of CGs does seem to be marginally trending upward in the past 5 years or so in that graph, but this may not be significant.

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    • Beginning around 1988 (the offensive hangover after the explosion in 1987), and then especially the 1990-91 spike, the proportion of all CGs that are no-hitters has really increased. One reason is that the modern closer, invented by Tony La Russa right around that time, has helped decrease CGs.

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    • evo34 says:

      The title is terrible. It should have read, “…No. Just as a % of all CGs”. Instead, it strongly implies that CG rates are rising.

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      • Jon L. says:

        Yes. I might have gone with “misleading” rather than “terrible,” but it was confusing.

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  3. bill says:

    Any thought to the idea that no-hitters might rise due to increasing value placed on the walk? For example, a no hitter with 9 walks and 10 K’s is probably not as good of a game as a 1 hitter with 0 walks and 10 K’s, and hitters are more willing to take pitches because of that?

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      what about a greater emphasis on defense? theres a lot less jermaine dye and bobby abreu types patrolling major league outfields nowadays.

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  4. Synovia says:

    “But modern baseball has also made it increasingly hard for pitchers to finish their own games, because of the emphasis on pitch counts”

    I think this is only partially true (pitch counts part). Its as much a factor of players being willing to take a walk, and work pitch counts.

    Guys put the ball in play drastically more in the past. It was a different style game.

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    • True. But it isn’t just the willingness to work a walk. Contact rates have decreased. Hitters swing a lot harder now and strike out a lot more now; they also homer a lot more now. Strikeouts are not as stigmatized as much as they used to be.

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  5. If only the younger Weaver had thrown 124 pitches

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  6. steven says:

    This is purely observational, but it seems to me that the pitchers who are throwing no-hitters today (since bullpen specialization) are on average of lesser caliber than those of days past. This could be because in the pitch count era, soft tossers can just go out there and throw strikes, and hey, maybe get lucky for 27-29 batters. But the better hurlers, who emphasize getting batters to miss, might see their pitch counts rising and start pitching to contact more in later innings. Whereas the Nolan Ryan’s of the world could be at 120 pitches through 7 innings and know that they weren’t getting taken out.

    Of course, this observation appears to go out with the bathwater when you note that pitchers rarely, if ever, get pulled while they have a no-no going. But perhaps the more pitches they throw, the more susceptible they are to allowing a hit?

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    • RichW says:

      I’d suggest that in the past there was a larger gap between elite pitchers and the rest. In today’s game it seems there is a much larger population of v.good pitchers but fewer elite pitchers. So there is a larger population of pitchers capable of throwing a no-hitter in today’s game but they lack the consistent domination of elite pitchers several decades ago.

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  7. glenstein says:

    Another thing: I remember from last year, constantly seeing Pitcher X has a no-hitter through 6 innings alerts from MLB Network, so I kind of kept that in mind. And it certainly seems to me from subjective experience that no-hitters through 6 innings, this year and last are on the rise.

    I think that’s a related phenomenon and would like to see more about that.

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  8. jessef says:

    Seems intuitive to me that no-hitter frequency is almost certainly increasing.

    The likelihood of batted balls becoming hits has probably increased somewhat over the past 100 years (due to HR) but only slightly, since defence is likely better. Strikeouts are obviously increasing. Since no-hitters should be directly related to strikeouts, it seems like no-hitters should be increasing.

    Did you actually run correlation analyses for the data above? Seems to me like there is a significant correlation — particularly if you look at the modern era only

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  9. Paul says:

    This year K/BB is up again, .39 or 20% greater than in 1998. That’s significant. This has been a pretty steady trend, but it really accelerated a few years ago with the new Pitch F/X system the umpires use. I suggest truer strike zone calling is the main culprit. Teasing out that relationship seems like the perfect next article idea for an enterprising young student writer who will have absolutely nothing else to do here in a couple weeks!

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  10. Philip Christy says:

    No-hitters per game are actually on the decrease, no? At least, from a per-game point of view. From 1901 until the expansion era, there were 16 teams x 154 games a year / 2 teams per game = 1232 games a year in the big leagues. Ever since the most recent expansion in 1998, 30 teams x 162 games a year / 2 teams per game = 2430 games a year nowadays – almost double. So if the rate of no-hitters per year has stayed about the same, then no-hitters per game have been just about halved.

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    • TKay says:

      That’s exactly the point I was going to make. I’d like to see that graph, because you’re clearly correct. More games, same amount of no-hitters, means no-hitter percentage is decreasing.

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  11. Baseball Bob says:

    A no-hitter is purely a function of opponent’s batting average (as long as you disregard the silly rule that to be a no-hitter it has to be a win). Thus the no-hitters by decade correlate very will with the batting average per decade. And even better with the team batting average of the team being no-hit.

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    • Alex says:

      Home teams can lose no-hitters.

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    • Ian R. says:

      What Alex said. It’s even possible for a road team to lose an official no-hitter if the game goes to extra innings; the rule just says that a pitcher (or pitchers) must hold the opposing team hitless for at least 9 innings.

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  12. Psst says:

    I would argue that rather than just because of the 154-162 expansion the league expansion had a huge part to play in that 1960-70 spike. imagine how many AAAA hitters were added to the rosters when they added 8 teams in 8 years.

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  13. monkey business says:

    I like this article. One request, I really like axis labels they doubly help when you embiggen.

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  14. Larry Smith Jr. says:

    I remember Jeff Weaver’s one-hitter in 2002. It’s the primary reason that I will never forget the name Chris Magruder, whose hit in the eighth inning broke up that no-hitter.

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  15. tony says:

    leta play conect the dots

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