The Pirates were thisclose to being on the receiving end of a no-hitter last week, when Colorado’s German Marquez held Pittsburgh hitless until a Kai-ai Tom single led off the ninth inning.
Kai-ai Tom breaks up German Marquez's no hitter in the 9th. pic.twitter.com/AqPYHGuxKY
— Justin Groc (@jgroc) June 30, 2021
That would have been the EIGHTH no-hitter in Major League Baseball this season … and we haven’t even reached the All-Star Break. What’s different? Does Pittsburgh have a history with no-hitters? And who will be the next Pirate to throw a no-no?
Let’s dig in …
2021: Year of the No-Hitter
Former Pirate Joe Musgrove threw the first no-hitter of 2021 with his gem against the Rangers on April 9. Since then, we have seen no-hitters from Carlos Rodón, John Means, Wade Miley, Spencer Turnbull and Corey Kluber — none of whom would have been your first choice if you were placing a bet before the season. (Side note: The first 6 no-hitters were thrown in AL parks with the designated hitter, surprisingly.) Then, on June 24, Zach Davies, Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and Craig Kimbrel combined to throw a no-no in the Cubs’ win over the Dodgers.
In addition, on April 25, Madison Bumgarner tossed a 7-inning complete game and gave up no hits, and just this past Wednesday, five Tampa Bay Rays pitchers combined on a 7-inning, no-hit win as part of a double-header. But neither are technically listed as no-hitters.
This is the year of the pitcher. At 7.95 hits per game per team, 2021 has seen the third least in history, behind only 1908 (7.75) and 1968 (7.91). Its 8.88 strikeouts per game per team is an all-time high.
Why are things different? First, the baseballs are different. Before the season began, MLB informed teams that “in an effort to center the ball within the specification range, Rawlings produced balls that loosened the tension of the first wool winding.” That has resulted in a ball that weighs 2.8 grams less and has reduced springiness.
We also know all about the sticky stuff and its effect on pitch spin rates and effectiveness.
On top of that, thanks to data-driven baseball player development and state-of-the-art motion capture assessments, pitchers are throwing harder than ever and with more movement.
That results in pitches like this:
Kevin Gausman, 97mph Fastball and 86mph Splitter, Individual Pitches + Overlay/tails pic.twitter.com/XpFvJu0Z9e
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 31, 2021
And this craziness:
Tyler Rogers, Rising Slider. 😯 pic.twitter.com/G4vzu7wnY7
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 27, 2021
MLB Historical No-Hitters
There have been 325 official no-hitters in Major League Baseball history. Of those, 23 have been perfect games.
The definition of a no-hitter changed in 1991, making it necessary for a game to complete all nine innings to be put in the record book. That erased 31 “no-hitters” and kept Bumgarner’s and the Rays’ 7-inning gems this season from being counted.
No-hitters occur at a rate of 3 per season (with September being the most common month). Before the rule change, the most no-hitters in a single season was 12 in 1884, followed by 9 in 1990 and 8 in 1991. The new definition puts 1884 on top with 8 official no-hitters.
That means 2021 is just one no-hitter away from the season record.
(It’s worth noting that there is a movement to add the 32 Negro League no-hitters to the official record.)
King of the Hill
You get one guess as to which pitcher has thrown the most no-hitters in MLB history.
If you guessed Nolan Ryan, you win more of this article. With 7 no-hitters — including a final one at age 44 in 1991 — Ryan is 3 ahead of Sandy Koufax, who had 4.
Other pitchers with multiple no-hitters include Larry Corcoran (3), Cy Young (3), Bob Feller (3), Justin Verlander (3), and 29 others with 2 each.
The Pirates and its predecessor, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, have a modest history with no-hitters.
The franchise has thrown 6 no-hitters, starting with Nick Maddox in 1907 and followed by Cliff Chambers, Bob Moose, Dock Ellis, John Candelaria and the one that many of you may remember best, a combined 10-inning no-hitter by Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon in 1997.
One of the most notable pitching performances in Pittsburgh history was the near-perfect game by Harvey Haddix on May 26, 1959. Haddix was perfect through 12 innings against the Milwaukee Braves until a throwing error by third baseman Don Hoak allowed a runner to reach base. Haddix lost the no-hitter (and the game) later that inning when Joe Adock hit what appeared to be a walk-off three-run homer. (Adcock’s baserunning mistake turned it into a one-run double.)
With 26 no-hitters, the Dodgers boast the most in baseball history, followed by the White Sox, with 20. The Pirates rank 19th in no-hitters among all franchises. (Interestingly, despite being the home of the Pirates from 1909 to 1970, Forbes Field never hosted a no-hitter by the home or away team.)
There are 11 no-hitters thrown by defunct franchises, including the Pittsburgh Rebels, which played in the short-lived Federal League in 1914 and 1915. (Fun fact: The team was originally called the Pittsburgh Stogies, which would have made Art Rooney Sr. proud.) On April 24, 2015, Frank Allen threw the team’s one and only no-hitter in a 2-0 win against the St. Louis Terriers.
On the flip side, Pittsburgh has been the victim of a no-hitter on 13 different occasions (tied for 8th in MLB history) — the last of which was on August 25 of last year, when the White Sox’ Lucas Giolito blanked the Pirates in Chicago.
Who will throw the next Pirates’ no-hitter?
We can cut to the chase a bit here and predict with some confidence that no Pirate pitcher on the 25-man roster is likely to throw a no-hitter this year … or ever. But for the sake of entertainment, let’s pick one hurler who may have a better chance than others.
Below are the hits per 9 innings (H/9) for each Pirate pitcher who has started a game this year, along with their lowest H/9 of any career game in which they completed at least 6 innings. We’ll throw Steven Brault, Shelby Miller and Steven Wright in there (with H/9 from their last meaningful season), just for kicks, even though they haven’t started a MLB game for the Pirates this year.
|Starter||H/9||Best MLB Game|
|Max Kranick||4.5||(No 6+ IP starts)|
|Miguel Yajure||4.8||(No 6+ IP starts)|
|Steven Brault||6.1||9 IP, 2 H (September 17, 2020)|
|Steven Wright||6.9||7 IP, 2 H (June 5, 2018)|
|Chad Kuhl||7.4||7 IP, 1 H (May 6, 2018)|
|JT Brubaker||8.3||6.2 IP, 3 H (June 20, 2021)|
|Tyler Anderson||8.4||8 IP, 2 H (July 4, 2018)|
|Wil Crowe||10.1||6 IP, 4 H (May 8, 2021)|
|Trevor Cahill||10.2||7 IP, 1 H (August 18, 2018)|
|Chase De Jong||10.2||6 IP, 4 H (September 28, 2018)|
|Mitch Keller||10.6||6 IP, 0 H (September 19, 2020)|
|Shelby Miller||11.9||9 IP, 1 H (May 10, 2013)|
|Cody Ponce||19.6||(No 6+ IP starts)|
Some things pop out:
- Kranick sits at the top of this H/9 list because of his 5-inning, 0-hit performance in his major league debut on June 27. Last night’s start still left him at the top of the list, with only eight total innings.
- Another young hurler, Yajure, sits a good bit above the rest of the pack.
- Keller is the only Pirate to register a 0-hit quality start in his MLB career. In fact, he followed up that 6-inning effort with a 5-inning, no-hit game in his subsequent start.
- Miller, recently signed to a minor-league contract, has the best 9-inning start of the lot, with a 1-hitter back in 2013. Brault is close behind, with a 2-hit complete game last September.
So we have a few possible choices, but there is clearly no Gerrit Cole to bet on in Pittsburgh.
Let’s look at the team’s top pitching prospects (including Yajure), which you can find in the indispensable Prospect Guide (10th anniversary edition). Below are minor-league H/9 and best game data. For the latter, because prospect innings are usually limited, we’ll set the bar at 5 innings. (Fair warning: Small sample sizes apply here.)
|Prospect||H/9||Level||Best MiLB Game|
|Michael Burrows||4.4||A+||5.1 IP, 1 H (July 7, 2021, A+)|
|Roansy Contreras||6.1||AA||6 IP, 0 H (May 11, 2021, AA)|
|Carmen Mlodzinski||6.3||A+||5 IP, 0 H (May 30, 2021, A+)|
|Miguel Yajure||6.4||AAA||5 IP, 0 H (June 14, 2018, A)|
|Braxton Ashcraft||6.6||A+||5 IP, 2 H (May 20, 2021, A+)|
|Tahnaj Thomas||6.8||A+||5 IP, 2 H (May 19, 2021, A+)|
|Eddy Yean||7.0||A||6 IP, 1 H (June 25, 2021, A)|
|Cody Bolton||8.3||AA (2019)||6 IP, 1 H (July 18, 2019, AA)|
|Quinn Priester||8.6||A+||5 IP, 2 H (July 6, 2021, A+)|
|Brennan Malone||9.8||A||(No 5+ IP starts)|
- Burrows has limited opponents to just 4.4 hits per 9 innings this year, which is stellar.
- Contreras sits second and has a no-hit start in AA this year.
- Mlodzinski and Yajure both have no-hit stints on their resumes, albeit at lower levels.
So which Pirates pitcher will throw the next no-hitter for the franchise?
There is no obvious answer. You could make an argument for Yajure, given his H/9 in the majors this year and no-hit start in 2018. Priester is the team’s top pitching prospect, Thomas has some of the best potential, Burrows is doing the best job of limiting hits and Contreras has a hitless start in AA under his belt, so any of those are viable choices. On the 25-man roster, you could rationalize a long-shot selection of Keller, Brault, Kranick or Kuhl. You could go off the board and say Jack Leiter, if you think the Pirates will surprise analysts and pick him No. 1 overall in this year’s draft. Or you can say none of the above, which may be the most likely scenario.
For posterity, put your selection and reasoning in the comments so that we can tout your scouting and prognostication abilities when the next Pirates pitcher throws a MLB no-hitter. (It has to happen someday, right?)
For what it’s worth, the pick here is Altoona’s Noe Toribio. Ignore the 9.4 H/9. It would be headline heaven to call it a “Noe-Hitter” and that’s enough for us.