Ranking the Recent No-Hitters by Difficulty

When the Yankees’ CC Sabathia lost his no-hit bid against the Rays this past Saturday, I jokingly tweeted that it would have been a cheap no-hitter anyway. Some people seemed a bit confused by this, so I had to explain that I was being sarcastic. In fact, it was a very impressive performance given the high regard that I have for the current Rays lineup.

While no-hitters are fun to watch (unless your team is the victim, of course) and always involve a great pitching performance, their relative greatness tends to be exaggerated. For one, non-home run hits are greatly influenced by luck and the ability (or lack thereof) of the fielders behind the pitcher. For another, there isn’t really that much of a difference between a no-hitter and a one-hitter, especially given the luck/defense factors just mentioned.

Nonetheless, no-hitters have a rightful place in baseball lore. None of them are exactly “cheap.” Still, I thought it might be fun to “rank” the no-hitters from the last three seasons by difficulty, given the offenses against which the pitcher was going. A more precise way to do this would be to take the precise lineups into account, adjust for park, and maybe even do a post-facto Marcel to see what the true talent of the hitters in the game really was. I’m not going to go that “all out” for a blog post. I’m simply going to rank them (going in reverse order of “difficulty”) by the wOBA of the opposing team for the season in which they occured. I’m ranking the seven no-hitters thrown from 2007-2009. I’m not saying this the the “best” way to do such a trivial exercise, but it’s a start. Let the arguments begin!

7. Jonathan Sanchez, San Francisco Giants vs. San Diego Padres, July 10, 2009, 8-0
Padres 2009 wOBA: .310
Comment: Only one baserunner during this game due to a Juan Uribe error. The Padres’ wOBA is, of course, deflated due to their home park, but Sanchez did get to face the pitcher during this game.

6. Jon Lester, Red Sox vs. Royals, May 19, 2008, 7-0
Royals 2008 wOBA: .314
Comment: Um, I guess it was at Fenway, but other than that…

5. Carlos Zambrano vs. Houston Astros, September 14, 2008, 5-0,
Astros 2008 wOBA: .321
Comment: This was the first no-hitter ever thrown at a “neutral” Miller Park due to Hurricane Ike. Yeah, right, “neutral.” Probably deserves to be downgraded for that.

4. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox vs. Orioles, September 1, 2007, 10-0
Orioles 2007 wOBA: .328
Comment: Only Buchholz’s second start of his career. The Orioles’ offense has come a long way since then.

3. Mark Buehrle White Sox versus Texas Rangers, April 18, 2007, 6-0
Rangers 2007 team wOBA: .329
Comment: Less impressive than one might think give the how weak the Rangers offense was that season (once one takes their home park into account), but still very good. The Rangers were so weak that season they took a flier on Zombie Sammy Sosa, who got was their only baserunner of the game and got picked off.

2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers versus Milwaukee Brewers, June 12, 2007, 4-0
Brewers 2006 wOBA: .337
Comment: Very impressive, given the Brewers’ above-average offense. Moreover, it was in an AL park, so Verlander didn’t get to face the pitcher.

1. Mark Buehrle vs. Tampa Bay Rays, July 23, 2009, 5-0
Rays 2009 wOBA: .346
Comment: The easy winner, as the Rays offense was one of the best in baseball in 2009. Oh, and it was a perfect game.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

29 Responses to “Ranking the Recent No-Hitters by Difficulty”

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  1. JD says:

    One could argue that Anibal Sanchez’s no hitter is up there with Clay Buchholz as well due to the fact he was a rookie. Then again some would argue it shouldn’t have been a no hitter b/c Eric Byrnes beat the throw on the last ground out in the game.

    Really enjoyed this article.

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  2. Patrick says:


    Why rank them by wOBA? It’s a no hitter – wOBA is of course a wonderful measure of total offensice effectiveness, but we just need plain old team BA.

    That’s really the only appropriate way to calculate BA.

    A team full of Mark McGuire’s would be ungodly effective at scoring runs, but they wouldn’t be – relatively speaking – all that hard to no hit. Sure, you might walk the bases loaded and THEN walk in a run, but they aren’t that hard to no hit.

    Vs a team full of Juan Pierre’s (insert your favorite high BA low OPS “grinder” here :)), would be MUCH harder to no hit.

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    • Temo says:

      Point taken, but you can’t just use batting average. Say Juan Pierre is a .300/.350 hitter, and McGwire is a .250/.400 hitter. McGwire would get hits in 25% of his ABs, but walk in 15% of all his PAs, which result in MORE ABs, for more chances to get hits.

      Now, this would still mean that a team of McGwires would average about 7.8 hits per game and a team of Pierres would average 8.5 (assuming a 27 out game with no DPs); but the point is still made that you can’t just use BA.

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      • Joe says:

        You’re mixing AB’s and plate appearances… .250 is 25% per official AB and excludes at bats resulting in BB, so the # of times he walks is irrelevant if you are looking at batting average.

        In fact more walks might work against McGwire as it could result in more frequent GIDP’s and fewer official AB’s (this would be a very marginal effect)

        You need to rework you’re calculations….

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      • Temo says:

        Yea, I made a logical error there. Ignore my post.

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  3. Patrick says:

    Err, not “appropriate way to calculate BA”. Wow. I meant “appropriate way to rank no hitters”

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  4. max says:

    “…no-hitters are fun to watch (unless your team is the victim, of course)…”

    I know that this is not the point of the article, but I am going to disagree with you here. I may be a Seattle Mariners fan, but I am also a Baseball Fan. If I go to a game at Safeco Field and some kid named Jeff Niemann takes a no-hitter into the 7th, then I am going to root for him to finish it. Witnessing such a performance would be a treat, even if it was the Mariners who were getting mowed down.

    Of course, it would be different if the game was being played in October…

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    • Joseph says:

      Can’t disagree enough. I despite it when my team is getting no-hit, I don’t care if the pitcher is a rookie war-veteran cancer survivor and the score is 15-0, I pray for him to give up a hit. Maybe I’m a terrible person but that’s my visceral reaction.

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      • AnotherFan says:

        Joseph, you’re a terrible person.

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      • Steve says:

        I’m with Joseph. It’s embarrassing to get no hit. Along those same lines, I never understood why it was against the “unwritten rules” to bunt during a no-hitter.

        The team is TRYING to not get no hit. Bunting is a legitimate strategy to try to get a hit.

        The one I am thinking of involved Schilling and the Padres a few years back. Schilling was super chapped that the Padres bunted to break up his no hitter. But the kicker was that it was only a 1 or 2 run lead, which made bunting even more defensible. I don’t know, JMO.

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      • Before I’d ever been to a no-hitter I would’ve agreed with Max, because I’d never seen one start-to-finish (except in a minor league game in Lansing once about five years ago). But I was at Verlander’s no-hitter. Having now seen one, I NEVER EVER EVER want to see the Tigers no hit, at any point in my life. I can now only appreciate no hitters in neutral games and thrown by the Tigers.

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    • Perkins says:

      I’d hope not to see my team get no-hit, but then I’m a Cubs fan and I like that they have the longest running streak without having been no-hit.

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  5. brett says:

    Quick, meaningless comment on the Verlander no hitter: Ryan Braun was not in the lineup for Milwaukee that day (although i can’t remember if he made a pinch-hit appearance). This would probably knock the team wOBA down a few points.

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  6. Pat says:

    I always root for no hitters. I’m a Pirates fan and I remember a few years back Chris Young of the Padres needed two outs to get it (can’t recall exactly), and Joe Randa came off the bench and hit a HR. Needless to say, the Pirates still lost and some crappy benchwarmer who went on to retire the next season pretty much crushed his dreams.

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    • Keith says:

      My earliest baseball memory is listening to Jim Bunning’s no-no on the radio in 1958. And then I watched Verlander’s on line a couple of years ago. But the most exciting for me was when I was in stands in Baltimore to see Mussina come within two outs of pitching a perfect game against the Indians. The O’s were never my team but I was pulling so hard for Moose that I nearly collapsed when Sandy Alomar got a single with one out in the 9th. IIRC, Mussina then struck out the last two batters. I hope that one hit doesn’t keep him out of the HOF. He was a class act.

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      • delv says:

        Don’t forget when he took a perfect game into the 9th, with two outs against the Red Sox, in Fenway, only to have it broken up by PH Carl Everett on a fastball at the eyes.

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      • Steve says:

        Mussina would have had a better chance at getting Everett if it happened a few years later in his late 30’s, a time when he’d be considered a dinosaur by baseball standards. Everett wouldn’t be able to see him.

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  7. Jeremy says:

    I guess it depends on the score. If my team is losing, by, say, more than four, I would root for the pitcher. Otherwise, I think that my team could come back, and thus…Go Twins!

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  8. ineedanap says:

    There’s been some really great almost no-hitters in recent years too.

    CC recently

    Lackey v. his new team at Fenway

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  9. B says:

    Dirty’s was the best, I don’t care what you say!

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  10. Jake says:

    Good read, except for the fact that Buehrle’s no-hitter was in Chicago, not in Arlington.

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  11. Doogolas says:

    No offense, but you know Zambrano’s ‘neutral park’ no-no shouldn’t be ANY more penalized than any other pitcher who threw their No-No at home. Because, y’know, it’s the same damn thing.

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  12. Matt A. says:

    I feel like Buehrle’s perfecto had so many different levels of difficulty that day that its insane. Start off with the fact that he is a contact pitcher, with a horrific defense playing behind him, against, as noted, a very good hitting team in the rays. Then add in the catch by Wise, coming in for the ninth cold as a defensive replacement, and it was a remarkable effort to say the least.

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  13. Neil A says:

    I hate to say it, but wOBA just isn’t the stat to use when comparing the relative difficulty of getting no-hitters. XBH-hitting teams and singles-hitting teams can have very different wOBAs, but an XBH is the same as a single when you’re trying to throw a no-no. The best stat to use would be team BA.

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