Yesterday, Hisashi Iwakuma did a thing. It was a great thing. A wonderful thing. And a fun thing. It was also an incredibly impressive/difficult thing. There have been lots of no-hitter related stats bouncing around the internet since last night (like this article that Peter put together!), but the main takeaway is that they are quite special. Retiring 27 batters before giving up a single hit is one mean feat. That being said, not all no-hitters are created equal. Some teams that get no-hit are filled with genuine offensive threats, while others have Justin Smoak hitting cleanup. So how does Kuma's no-no stack up against MLB's most recent no-hitters? Let's find out!
To figure out the degree of difficulty of a no-hitter, I considered two different variables: wRC+ and batting average. I determined the weighted average of each of these for the lineup that a pitcher was facing on the day of his no-no. For the raw data, I opted to use a player's career handedness splits against the type of pitcher they were facing (either a RHP or a LHP). Here's a snapshot from the spreadsheet that I was using for number crunchin'.
I freely and readily admit that this analysis is imperfect; career splits don't necessarily do the best job of capturing a players skill-level at any given moment in time. Unfortunately, I don't know that there's a perfect metric that we can use for this type of analysis. Also, there are other variables, in addition to the hitting prowess of the batters, that could potentially influence the degree of difficulty of a no-hitter (e.g., the park where the game is being played, the umpire behind home plate, the time of day, pinch-hitting penalties). Finally, remember that this is just for fun! Please don't take it too seriously. Regardless, I do think that what I've done probably gives results that are good enough for us to make some qualitative comparisons.
Below is a table showing the weighted wRC+ values and batting averages for the 13 most recent teams that were no-hit by a major league pitcher. (I did not include the combined no-hitter thrown by the Phillies last September.)
|08/12/15||Hisashi Iwakuma||Orioles||Safeco Field||101.2||0.262|
|07/25/15||Cole Hamels||Cubs||Wrigley Field||97.4||0.250|
|06/09/15||Chris Heston||Mets||Citi Field||91.3||0.242|
|09/28/14||Jordan Zimmermann||Marlins||Nationals Park||88.7||0.257|
|06/25/14||Tim Lincecum||Padres||AT&T Park||94.6||0.244|
|06/18/14||Clayton Kershaw||Rockies||Dodger Stadium||68.9||0.241|
|05/25/14||Josh Beckett||Phillies||Citizens Bank Park||90.5||0.259|
|09/29/13||Henderson Alvarez||Tigers||Marlins Park||80.5||0.248|
|07/13/13||Tim Lincecum||Padres||Petco Park||89.9||0.242|
|07/02/13||Homer Bailey||Giants||Great American Ball Park||102.0||0.262|
|09/28/12||Homer Bailey||Pirates||PNC Park||89.2||0.244|
|08/15/12||Felix Hernandez||Rays||Safeco Field||98.3||0.240|
On the one hand, it makes sense to simply consider batting average when trying to figure out which team/players might be harder to throw a no-hitter against. Afterall, a no-no is about a pitcher's ability to not give up a hit. However, batting average isn't park/league adjusted, so it's not exactly representative of a player's true offensive skill. For this reason, I also included wRC+, which is a much better indicator of a player's abilities.
The table above shows that there is a very large range, both in terms of wRC+ and batting average, for the offensive abilities of the teams that have been no-hit over the last three years. The weighted batting averages go from 0.240 (for Felix's no-no) all the way up to 0.262 (for Kuma's most recent gem), whereas the weighted wRC+ values range from 68.9 to 102.0.
Again, because this analysis is imperfect, I don't want to make too many overarching statements, but it seems not outrageous to say the least impressive no-hitter listed above was Kershaw vs. the Rockies. At a meager 68.9, the weighted wRC+ for Colorado's lineup in that matchup was the lowest by a wide margin. (For reference, Chone Figgins had a wRC+ of 69 during his time with the M's. Throwing a no-hitter against a team of Chones probably wouldn't be easy, but the accomplishment loses some of its luster when it's presented this way.) Alternatively, the most impressive no-hitter was probably either the one Bailey spun against the Giants in '13 or Kuma's performance yesterday against the Orioles. (In this case I'd probably give the nod to Bailey because pitching at Great American isn't quite as nice as pitching at Safeco.)
The fact that Kuma's no-hitter ranks as one of the top-two most impressive over the last three years might be somewhat surprising at first glance (Baltimore has a solid offensive team this season, but they're far from exceptional); however, it's important to remember that, with the exception of Felix's no-no, all of the other pitchers above had the good fortune of pitching in the
JV National League. Each of these gentleman squared off against a pitcher at least once during their hitless starts, which significantly weakens the offense of their opponents. Conversely, the worst player that Kuma faced yesterday was Ryan Flaherty who owns a career wRC+ of 78 against righties (not great, but certainly not a pitcher-level of incompetence).
In closing, Iwakuma's accomplishments yesterday were amazing. And hopefully this article can help you to appreciate them a teensy bit more. Go M's!