Are certain kinds of teams more susceptible to no-hitters?

Not pictured: The Cardinals, walking off as quietly as possible. (US Presswire)

Shortly after Johan Santana’s no-hitter last Friday, I saw a tweet from Fangraphs writer Jesse Wolfersberger that piqued my interest. He wrote, “Props to Johan. The Cardinals have a 123 wRC+ against lefties this year, best in the majors.” Santana, of course, is a left-handed pitcher, which makes his no-hitter against the Cardinals all the more impressive.

That got me thinking. No-hitters should come against poor offenses more often than not, right? Well, do they? Do bad offenses get no-hit more often than good teams, or is that effect dwarfed by the randomness in baseball? And as an extension to that idea, are there certain characteristics or traits that these teams have in common?

To find out, I took every no-hitter in the past 20 years—from 1992 to 2011 (41 games in all)—and compared each unlucky team’s season statistics to that year’s league averages. I found a few interesting observations.

Batting average means next to nothing with respect to getting no-hit.

Over the 41 no-hitters I looked at, opposing teams averaged 0.84 percent below league average in batting average. That’s absolutely tiny, and it’s statistically meaningless. In other words, batting average doesn’t seem to have any say in a team getting no-hit.

In fact, offensive performance as a whole doesn’t seem to mean much.

Instead of looking at batting average, I repeated the same analysis with wOBA, which is a stat that measures offensive performance altogether. Oddly enough, no-hit teams were actually a little over three percent better than the league average offense.

Teams on the wrong side of a no-hitter seem to have high walk rates and low strike out rates.

Teams who got no-hit walked eight percent more than the league average, and they also struck out seven percent less.

They see a large amount of pitches inside the strike zone.

On average, no-hitter opponents saw eight percent more pitches inside the strike zone than the league. Good hitters tend to see fewer pitches inside the zone, as pitchers are more afraid to challenge a world-class batter. Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, and Matt Holliday are all in the top 10 this year in fewest pitches seen in the zone.

Not only do they see fewer pitches out of the strike zone, but they swing less at the ones they do see. And on those swings, they make even less contact.

No-hit teams swing at pitches out of the zone a full 15 percent less than the average. They make contact on balls 10 percent less than average, even though they’re already 15 percent more selective.

So among the 30 teams in baseball, who has the highest odds of getting no-hit this season? That team will have some combination of walking a lot without striking out much. They’ll also see a relatively small amount of pitches outside of the strike zone, while swinging and making contact on them at a below average rate.

So sorry, Cleveland.

References & Resources

  • Cleveland may have the strongest combination of those traits out of any team right now, but Minnesota and Oakland aren’t far behind.
  • Other stats that didn’t show much of a correlation with no-hitters: OBP, SLG, ISO, GB/FB, and first pitch strike percentage.

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11 years ago

How about umpires? Any correlation that certain umpires are more “helpful” with the strikezone to the starting pitchers?

Ralph C.
11 years ago

In the end, the randomness of a no-hitter can be summed up with one name:

Mike Warren.