More no-hitters, no less excitement
Frequency of feat in recent years has not diminished its significance
We have moved into an era of renewed pitching dominance. The scores are frequently low and very close, but still, this era beats the steroid era by a landslide.
Thus, the no-hitter has made a comeback. In 1998, there was one no-hitter -- a perfect game by David Wells. In 2000, there were no no-nos. In '02, there was one. In '04, there was one -- Randy Johnson's perfect game. In '05, the no-hitter total was again zero.
In recent seasons, it's a different story. It's a story with fewer hits. In 2012, there were seven no-hitters, including perfect games by Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain and Philip Humber. There were three no-hitters in '13 and five in '14. There have been six so far this season. But that doesn't mean that the no-hitter has lost its quality as a barometer of pitching greatness, even if this particular barometer measures nine innings at a time.
Jake Arrieta's no-hitter Sunday night for the Cubs against the Dodgers reminded us of how exciting the moment remains. Three days earlier, Justin Verlander of the Tigers was one inning away from the third no-hitter of his career, when a hit dropped on the left-field line. That reminded us how, in addition to greatness, luck can be helpful in pursuit of the no-no.
It is one thing to have "no-hit stuff," but it is another to actually pitch a no-hitter. As much as the no-hitter has returned to the Majors in recent seasons, you don't see anybody closing in on all-time no-hit leader Nolan Ryan, who had seven, or Sandy Koufax, second with four.
So among the current pitchers who have had the stuff to throw a no-hitter but have not yet done so, we find names including these accomplished hurlers in the American League: Chris Archer, David Price, R.A. Dickey, Chris Sale, CC Sabathia, Corey Kluber, Johnny Cueto, Phil Hughes, Garrett Richards, Sonny Gray, Yu Darvish and Yovani Gallardo.
In the National League, the pitchers without a no-hitter include these notables: Jose Fernandez, Cliff Lee, Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, John Lackey, Lance Lynn, Zack Greinke, Bronson Arroyo, James Shields, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy and Bartolo Colon, as well as his younger colleagues in the Mets' rotation, all of whom have no-hit potential.
Those lists are meant to be instructive, not exhaustive. Those names mentioned are prominent, those names are substantial, but here are some all-time greats who never threw a no-hitter: Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Steve Carlton, Lefty Grove and Roger Clemens.
The first five of those are in the Hall of Fame. Case closed. You can be one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game and still not have a no-hitter.
Periodically, someone will churn out a list of the "worst" pitchers to throw a no-hitter. That sort of activity completely misses the point. If a pitcher throws a no-hitter, he has earned his place in baseball history in a category that has nothing to do with "worst."
The no-hitter, even though it is now occurring with more frequency, has lost none of its ability to impress, to thrill, to dramatize a pitcher's ability to dominate a baseball game in a measurable, memorable way. The hits aren't there, but the magic still is.