Who will pitch the next MLB no-hitter? These 8 pitchers correspond to the most probable description
It was the year of the no-hit – and it wasn’t until May.
Already six pitchers have gone all nine innings without allowing a hit. Add to that a seven innings, without a hitter from Madison Bumgarner, which the MLB does not recognize as an unofficial, and 2021 would have already equaled the record for most hitting strikes in a season. As of May 21, it almost certainly looks like the record seven will be broken this year.
But take a look at who so far owns these pieces of history: Joe Musgrove, Carlos Rodon, John Means, Wade Miley, Spencer Turnbull, and Corey Kluber. It’s not exactly Jacob DeGrom, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, and Yu Darvish.
So who could start the next no-hitter? It could be difficult to predict. The betting markets would likely place the odds on a DeGrom or Darvish type arm, but in the sample size of seven non-hitters – yes, Bumgarner gets the credit for his gem on the mound – these pitchers don’t look like those who teams hidden in the results column.
In an age when speed is at a premium, none of the pitchers who threw a non-hitter would be considered fireballs. Rodon is the only pitcher to average over 94 mph on a fastball, while he sits at 95 mph, according to Baseball Savant.
He, Means and Turnbull are also the only pitchers to use a fastball more than 35% of the time, and only Miley and Turnbull have less than three inches of horizontal movement on their radiators. Means is the only launcher that doesn’t throw a slider or cutter more than 20%.
Hurlers are also registering above average in both soft hit percentage and outside swing rates, with the exception of Bumgarner. Means and Bumgarner are also the only two pitchers who don’t generate at least a 40% ground ball rate.
So who are other throwers that might match this soft, contact-throwing arm profile? With the data available on the seven pitchers who have thrown no-no’s so far this season, we’ll attempt to determine who fits the profile of those arms the most. Here are the criteria we looked for when putting together this list (pitchers had to meet at least four of the five):
- At least three inches of horizontal break on the fastball
- A slider or cutter that is used at least 20 percent of the time
- A fast bullet slower than 94 mph and used no more than 37% of the time
- Soil balls in 40 percent of bats and soft contact at least 17 percent of the time (according to Fangraphs)
- A prosecution rate of at least 31%
Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians
Okay, so this list doesn’t exactly start with a real sleeper. Bieber, the defending AL Cy Young winner, has once again been one of the most dominant pitchers in the game this season. But he’s not like the other aces in the league who have hit triple digits.
Bieber’s fastball only averages 93 mph, but it has plenty of movement, showing 10 inches of horizontal break. This is his most used land, but at 35.6% use, it’s not a common weapon for him. It also shuffles a slider 26.6% of the time. Batters chase him out of the zone 32.3% of the time and make soft contact 16.9% of the time. Batters hit ball outs
Kenta Maeda, Minnesota twins
After presenting a compelling case to be considered for the Cy Young Prize last year, Maeda struggled in 2021 to the pace of an ERA of 5.26. But does he match the profile of the club’s other non-hitting pitchers of 2021? Based on our model, it actually appears to be one of the closest.
His heater is only used 22.6% of the time and he throws it through the area at an average of 91.1 mph with 7.5 inches of horizontal break. His main speech? It would be a slider that he throws at a rate of 40.8%. Batters hit the ball to the ground in 42.3% of batting events and 20.2% of the contact against it is soft. He also asks hitters to chase 30.7% of his pitches. The problem? Well, he’s hit hard 46% of the time.
Jordan Montgomery, New York Yankees
Another pitcher who has been inconsistent at this point in the season, Montgomery has what it takes, based on the 2021 pitching group, to spin a no-no.
Montgomery almost never uses a four-seam fastball, throwing his 92.6 mph throw just 12.1 percent of the time, but he has a seven inch horizontal break. Batters swing on pitches out of the zone 31.3% of the time against him and flip on grounders 43% of the time. His hit rate is also only 35.3%, so it’s possible that the owner of a 4.75 ERA has been a bit unlucky this season.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Toronto Blue Jays
It might be less surprising to see Hyun-Jin Ryu on this list than others. He’s launched an ERA of less than 3.00 every season since 2017 and has an ERA of 2.51 this year.
The 34-year-old southpaw was a perfect example of how speed isn’t always necessary to dominate lineups. Its heater registers at a constant speed of 89.5 mph, but it gets 10.8 inches of horizontal movement. He uses it 28.6% of the time, often turning to his cutter, which he throws 25.5% of the time. Batters hit balls on the ground at a rate of 48.5 percent and it elicits a soft touch 16.4 percent of the time. Perhaps the most impressive of his season so far, hitters are chasing at a 32.5% rate, which puts him in the 88th percentile, according to Baseball Savant.
Martin Perez, Boston Red Sox
It’s been a breakout season for Perez, who by this point has racked up an ERA of 3.40, the first time he’s pitched below 4.00 since 2013. Could a no-cutter be the one? next?
Perez doesn’t use a straight four seam very often – only 9.9% of the time, and he throws it at 93.3 mph. It gets 10.6 inches of horizontal break. But his favorite terrain gets a lot of movement, as he prefers to turn to a cutter that gets 22.6 inches of drop and throws 34 percent of the time. Hitters turn and hit grounders 41.7% of the time and make soft contact 20.7% of the time, the highest rate of his career. Batters don’t chase as often as other pitchers, however, swinging out of the zone 23.7 percent of the time.
Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants
It’s been a pretty surprising start to the season for the Giants, and much of it can thank their starting rotation to become one of the best in baseball. Certainly not the staff ace, Webb has been a valuable contributor – and he looks like someone who could make a non-hitter at some point.
He uses his fastball at 93.1 mph only 15.3% of the time, most often turning to his slider, which he uses at a rate of 22.6%. When he uses his fastball he gets an 8.7 inch break. Batters chase his pitches 31.5% of the time out of the zone and he has accumulated a ground ball rate of 58.7% and a soft contact rate of 22.3%.
Alex Wood, Giants of San Francisco
A team hasn’t had two separate starting pitchers that have pitched a smooth in the same season since 2014, when Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw each delivered one for the Dodgers. Could Wood and Webb both have non-nos in 2021?
The wood looks exactly like the soft left-handed profile that has already produced torque this year. It throws a lead 40 percent of the time that registers at 91.6 mph and it throws a cursor 34.2 percent of the time. This lead gets 16 inches of horizontal break. He’s posted a ridiculous 61.5% ground ball rate this year and hitters have made soft contact 20.4% of the time. Wood also saw hitters swinging on pitches out of the zone 35.5 percent of the time.
Ryan Yarbrough, Tampa Bay Rays
One of the biggest hurdles for Yarbrough may well be whether he can start – and end – the game. The Rays have him started five games this season and entered as a long-term reliever on reliever box days four times. In his five starts, he has yet to pitch more than six innings. Flirt with a non-hitter, however, and maybe he’ll finish what he started.
Another starter who doesn’t use a traditional four-seam fastball, Yarbrough throws an 11.4% lead and a cutter 44.4% of the time. Its lead gets 14.1 inches of horizontal break while the knife has a 33.5 inch drop. Batters chase 28.6% of his shots out of the zone. Yarbrough threw at 38.3% ground ball and 21.7% soft contact rate.