The ball sailed lazily through the temperate San Diego night and settled in Gregor Blanco's mitt. Tim Lincecum nonchalantly raised his right fist. He cracked a grin when Buster Posey grabbed him from behind and lifted him clean off the pitcher's mound. The present became the past and the act of forgetting began.
A no-hitter is a bit like the birth of a child. If you're personally connected to the event, it's world-changing. And, when you think about it, it's a remarkable, long-gestating feat. But it's hardly a unique occurrence — and growing ever less so.
Lincecum's masterpiece was the 281st no-hitter tossed by a Major League pitcher since 1875, back when Ulysses S. Grant sat in the Oval Office and the game was called "base ball." Considering the 200,000-odd games played since that time, this is still hardly a commonplace event. But claiming we're not in the midst of a no-hitter binge is a bit like denying the effects of global warming even as a polar bear ambles through your backyard. After going 33 years without a no-no, Giants hurlers have tossed three since 2010.
Obvious explanations have eluded number-crunching stat geeks and beer-can-crunching drunks alike. Yes, batters are striking out more now — meaning fewer balls are being put in play, where they could end up as hits. But they were striking out less in 1990-91, when pitchers tossed an inexplicable 14 no-hitters. And there are more teams now than in the Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle eras, playing more games. But sophisticated studies regarding no-hitters factor this in — and it turns out to be a nonfactor.
Those studies are jarringly detailed and labor-intensive to the point where one hopes their authors don't rue the investment of time and energy from their deathbeds. A 2011 paper led by New Jersey Institute of Technology professor Bruce Bukiet analyzed the yearly statistics of every starting pitcher — ever — between 1876 and 2009. It calculated individual pitchers' statistical likelihoods of not giving up a hit. This percentage, taken to the 27th power, provides a pitcher's odds of throwing a no-hitter. Bukiet then ran the data 2,000 times.
The average number of no-hitters that, statistically, ought to have been pitched came to within 4 percent of the actual number. In short, we've had about as many no-hitters as the numbers say we should have.
Or, maybe not.
Bukiet says that no one has conducted such an analysis using the data from after 2009; in the nearly four years since, 18 no-hitters have been tossed. "I wonder if we did the calculations now, if they'd be way off," he says. "There's been such a glut."