If you're sabermetrically inclined, it's possible you feel some disdain toward the concept of no-hitters. They're not pitcher wins or RBIs, but just looking at hits can miss some of the story. For whatever reason, there's a word for a complete game with eight walks and no hits, but not one with three hits and no walks. As a result, you'll sometimes see comments like this that try to play down no-hitters a little, and rightfully so:
Four walks while someone else has a perfecto :) https://t.co/4QgTiEOp7m— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) June 14, 2015
Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter on Saturday night. Some tried to play it down:
Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 25, 2015
Others found it very important indeed:
No. 7,921: Cole Hamels has no-hit the Cubs. The Streak dies.— Cubs No-Hit Streak (@CubsNoHitStreak) July 25, 2015
Those 7,920 games were the longest streak of games with at least one hit in baseball history (or at least since 1914). For most, this didn't quite verge into life-or-death territory. But even if you hold no-hitters in low regard, Hamels's performance is worth celebrating. His final line: 9 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 2 BB, and 13 K. He not only no-hit the Cubs, he dominated them.
In instances like this, game score is a very useful tool. Developed by Bill James, it gives a pitcher credit for good events (innings, strikeouts) and debits for bad events (walks, hits, runs). Hamels earned a 98. That's really good! There have only been 19 games with a score of 98 or more since 2000, and this was the fourth such game of 2015. Chris Heston's no-hitter qualified, but he "only" struck out 11 and hit 3, and if you turn those HBPs into BBs, he falls to a 95. The other two are Max Scherzer's 16 K, 1 BB, 1 H complete-game shutout against the Brewers, and Corey Kluber's 18 K, 0 BB, 1 H performance against the Cardinals. Game score is a rough tool, but that gives you a sense of the sort of excellent, excellent company this start was in. This wasn't Francisco Liriano in 2011, no hitting the White Sox with 6 walks and only 2 strikeouts. This was a superb performance.
Since 1914, there have been only 20 other no-hitters with a game score of 98 or higher. If you count HBP as BB for game score purposes, that number falls to 18. No-hitters are certainly easier when you strike everyone out; the fewer balls in play, the fewer chances for your defense to screw things up. Of those other exemplary no-hitters, six have come in the age of defensive statistics. FanGraphs has team Def for each one, and unsurprisingly, it helps to have a good defense behind you. Cole Hamels was not so lucky:
* Pro-rated to 162 games.
Surprise, another thing the 2015 Phillies are not great at! And it's not as if you only notice this if you look up the numbers. I mean, this was the last out of the game:
That's how you finish a no-hitter. https://t.co/qP9baUkJtr— Erik Malinowski (@erikmal) July 25, 2015
Hamels had no choice but to strike a ton of batters out! As BtBS Contributor Spencer Bingol pointed out two months ago, the 2015 Cubs aren't a bad choice for that, with lots of young batters and all-or-nothing tendencies. Hamels had to be on, and he was.
His stuff was nasty all day long. Per Brooks Baseball, he threw 83 strikes and 44 balls, or almost a 2-1 ratio. He had 27 swings and misses, or an astounding 21% of his pitches. Hamels had all of his sinker, fourseam, changeup, curve, and cutter working. He got whiffs on over 40% of his changeups, and seven of his nine cutters. His velocity ranged from 97 to 78, and barely declined as the game went on -- even after 8 innings and 110 pitches, he reared back and hit 97 again in the 9th. He was dealing, and anyone who watched the game will agree: Hamels deserves every accolade he gets for this game.
Inertia is a very powerful force in the game of baseball. The status quo dominates, and so whenever anything special happens, it's worth appreciating. So many things were conspiring against this specific, amazing event! Hamels could've been traded last week, or last month, or in December. Kris Bryant could've justified the hype. The Phillies could've Phillies'd this up. Even more than most no-hitters, this involved a substantial helping of luck. That's why it's important to remember that the no-hitter label on Hamels's outing is probably the least important part of it. He owned the Cubs, and if Odubel Herrera fell on his ass with two outs in the eighth, that wouldn't be any less true. Appreciate it, label or not.
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Henry Druschel is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @henrydruschel.