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No-hitter analysis: a study in contrasts

Jun 14, 2012, 5:09 PM EDT

Matt Cain AP

On the one hand you have Keith Olbermann.

Olbermann notes that there have been a lot of no-hitters and perfect games thrown in recent years. About which he says “something is wrong with this picture,” which he characterizes as “historical anomalies”  that represent a “severe skewing of the sport,” for which he credits “bizarre statistical thunderstorms” and, maybe, some mildly sinister steroid/no steroids hoodoo.  He ultimately claims that, as a result of all of this strangeness, we shouldn’t get too excited about Matt Cain‘s accomplishments.

On the other hand you have Jay Jaffe.

Jaffe looks at the same seeming explosion in no-hitters and, rather than consider them anomalous and unnatural, looks at four factors which explain why they are happening more often than they used to, noting that the number of games played a year have almost doubled, how batting average is down, strikeouts are up and defense is better. Jaffe doesn’t presume to tell us what to think about the no-hitters, but he gives us actual tools to consider them intelligently.

In any event, this is a decent life lesson. When trying to understand a given phenomenon, listen more closely to the people who actually think about it and listen less closely to the people who just want to throw up their hands and squawk about it as if the problem is more scary than interesting.

  1. Old Gator - Jun 14, 2012 at 5:12 PM

    Olbermann’s comments remind me of some Tom Waits song or other….

    • Old Gator - Jun 14, 2012 at 5:13 PM

      PS – which is definitely not to imply that anything else about Olbermann reminds me about anything else about Tom Waits.

      • stex52 - Jun 14, 2012 at 5:22 PM

        Tom Waits no doubt appreciates that. It’s not a comparison that comes to my mind immediately, either.

      • Gamera the Brave - Jun 15, 2012 at 12:36 AM

        Perhaps Olbermann was just lookin’ for the heart of no-hitters.
        I get occasional sightings of Waits around town from time to time (I sh*t you not, last time was at a Sports Authority), wish I had the stones to just walk up and tell him how unique and weird and brilliant his work is…

    • 18thstreet - Jun 14, 2012 at 5:16 PM

      When trying to understand a given phenomenon, listen less closely Keith Olbermann.

    • 18thstreet - Jun 14, 2012 at 5:16 PM

      When trying to understand a given phenomenon, listen less closely to Keith Olbermann.

    • jwbiii - Jun 14, 2012 at 5:17 PM

      “The Piano has Been Drinking (Not Me)”?

    • skids003 - Jun 15, 2012 at 10:30 AM

      Craig, please don’t put anything Olbermann says into your blogs. He has nothing to say that is worth even reading or listening to. He is a complete idiot.

      Tim Kurkjian had some good insight as to why this is happening. Quote him.

  2. aceshigh11 - Jun 14, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    Who cares what Obamalbermann says? That man is a goddamned librul!! They took our jeorbs!!

  3. timmytwotoes - Jun 14, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    Defense is better AND smarter. I would be that 10 years ago Gregor Blanco is not within 50 feet of making that catch. That was 90% Superhuman effort on his part but also 10% great defensive positioning. That ball was practically in straightaway center and the RF caught it…

  4. randygnyc - Jun 14, 2012 at 5:47 PM

    I consider olbermann the ultimate douchebag. He’s a blowhard scumbag who speaks to hear himself. He’s become such a divisive partisan, that his opinion, even if proven factual, will be dismissed just because it came out of his pie hole. I wish him nothing but tragedy and heartache.

    • Chip Caray's Eyebrows - Jun 14, 2012 at 7:17 PM

      Tragedy and heartbreak? That’s a clown comment, bro.

  5. ppdoc13 - Jun 14, 2012 at 6:04 PM

    At randy- very well said. Olbermann is a tool

    • Lukehart80 - Jun 14, 2012 at 6:38 PM

      Wishing someone “nothing but tragedy and heartache” is what counts as well said now?

      • mgflolox - Jun 14, 2012 at 7:13 PM

        For a tea-bagging birther like randygnyc, I’m afraid that does count as well said. Pretty sad, isn’t it?

  6. proudlycanadian - Jun 14, 2012 at 6:25 PM

    So there are more no hitters being pitched because there are a lot more games being played! Who would have thunk it?

  7. dodger88 - Jun 14, 2012 at 6:29 PM

    I have to say the idea of there being more games due to a greater number of teams (30 vs 16) never even crossed my mind. Great point by Jaffe.

  8. braddavery - Jun 14, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    No-hitters don’t have much luster anyways. Any pitcher can simply choose to walk or hit a guy instead of giving up a meatball for a hit. Now, a Perfect Game, that’s a whole other story. That means something.

    • Chip Caray's Eyebrows - Jun 14, 2012 at 7:19 PM

      I think you are grossly misrepresenting the difficulty of throwing a no-hitter.

      • braddavery - Jun 14, 2012 at 8:11 PM

        Explain how. I have seen No-Hitters with 5+ walks. Is that a feat, or was it just the pitcher walking those batters instead of pitching to them witch would have allowed for better chances at hits.

      • seeingwhatsticks - Jun 15, 2012 at 5:41 AM

        braddavery,

        I get what you’re saying and I kind of agree in a sense, but issuing 5+ walks and even being around to finish a no-hitter is kind of an accomplishment, no? I mean that’s a lot of extra pitches even if you aren’t giving up any hits.

  9. APBA Guy - Jun 14, 2012 at 7:05 PM

    What was left out is that with pitch fx and fielding fx, we can also statistically study certain assertions, like defensive position, vs a standard set (say all OF’s play straight-away).

    That’s the real breakthrough these days, the way teams use that data to craft a pitching and defensive plan.

    For hitters to bring the pendulum back, they’ll probably have to start being more realistic about their abilities (ie, make more contact, not less) and start thinking more of hitting as a craft, the way Ted Williams did and Joey Votto does now.

  10. seeingwhatsticks - Jun 15, 2012 at 5:40 AM

    Olbermann is incapable of admitting he is wrong. I actually agree with a lot of his politics (not trying to start a debate here) and think he is a smart guy and brilliant broadcaster, but look at the way his talents and abilities have been completely overshadowed by his inability to stay in one place more than 4-5 years at most. He’s probably one of the most stubborn people on the planet and in a way it’s almost kind of sad, at least to those of us who fondly remember he and Dan Patrick hosting “the big show” back when SportsCenter was actually groundbreaking and fresh (there’s like a whole generation of sports fans that have no idea what I’m talking about). Olbermann simply can’t “play the game” ever, and it’s not about sticking to his principles it’s just about him being selfish and stubborn.

    What does that have to do with his analysis of Cain’s perfecto? Back in 2010 he went all in with the “Giants got lucky, their pitching peaked at the right time, they don’t really have any good players, and even the pitching is actually overrated” meme. Whenever a Giants player does something good he has to dismiss it because if he were to admit the quality of the accomplishment then he’d have to admit that it’s possible he was wrong about the 2010 team. Last year Vogelsong was a fluke even though he’s doing it again. Cain is an overrated pitcher even though he’s been arguably the best pitcher in baseball this year. (Saw a crazy stat today: Matt Cain’s overall career record is 77-76, but in games where he’s gotten 3+ runs of support he’s 64-9. What’s crazier, that winning percentage with just 3+ runs of support, or the fact that he’s won 13 games with less than 3 runs of support in 6+ years?)

    I’m the last person to argue that the Giants do everything right. In fact I could spend a lot of words explaining what they do wrong and what they could have won over the last 20 years with a few more bucks and better player development, but it’s hard to argue with the consistency with which they have at least competed for a playoff spot during the Brian Sabean era. With the exception of 2 or 3 years they’ve at least been in it to the last couple weeks of the season and other than the Braves, Yankees, and Red Sox, how many teams can say that? And how much money do 2 of those 3 teams spend to stay at that level?

    Today on Twitter Olbermann flat out dismissed huge sections of the Giants history despite those years being filled with a bevy of stars and current or future Hall of Famers like Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Marichal, Perry, Clark, Bonds, and Kent. I’m sorry, but you can’t claim to be a fan of baseball or a historian of the game or even be allowed to write a blog on MLB.com if you’re going to just offhandedly dismiss something of the greatest players in the game’s history as irrelevant.

    (Apologies for the length of this comment)

    • umrguy42 - Jun 15, 2012 at 9:15 AM

      …So, Cain is 64-9 with 3+ runs of support, and 13-57(if my math is right) otherwise? That’s… I’m not sure what that statistic says, other than that when he’s pitching, you better hope he gets run support. Not sure how that compares with say, league average, but still. Doesn’t look very impressive for how he does with minimal run support (mind you, the other half covers a way bigger swath of possibilities, from being up by only 2 runs to being in the hole…)

      • gogigantos - Jun 15, 2012 at 9:53 AM

        He is trying to illustrate Cain’s brilliance in the face of an epic lack of run support.
        Cain has consistently outperformed his xFIP(?) projections and confounded stat heads. Is it Rags, the ballpark or just Cain? The biggest constant with this guy is that he just keeps getting better. The legend and love grows!

      • umrguy42 - Jun 15, 2012 at 10:05 AM

        “an epic lack of run support”

        He has 73 decisions with 3+ runs of support, and 80 (should’ve been a 13-67, not 57, record) with less. Is that really “epic”? That’s one thing I’m asking – how’s it compare? And only 13 career wins with, I’m assuming only 1 or 2 runs of support is nice, but, not necessarily spectacular. If he was 64-9 in games with LESS than 3 runs of support, I’d agree; however, that’s not the case.

      • gogigantos - Jun 15, 2012 at 11:14 AM

        Check randygnyc below, least run support since 2006.
        gotta love me some baseballrefernce.com, and wonder what I am doing up late on the wrong side of the Pacific,,
        just by my chicken scratch count of loses and no decisions over 5 innings and usually more of work in either case allowing 3 or less, earned or not,,
        Cain debuted in 2005 by establishing a career trend with 1 loss and 4 n.d. in stellar outings.
        The career is a painful record of Giant failure and torture for sure, 27 loses when allowing 3 or less, earned or not and 42 n.d.
        ,,forgot to include 2012,, you can do it
        2007 was particularly glorious for the Giants and their failure to win, 8 loses and 9 no decisions for Matt Cain in efforts of 5 complete and usually well beyond with 3 or less allowed, earned or not, damn that was a poor year. I was never fond of a Molina batting cleanup.
        What the love is all about is a guy that just goes out and battles for the team and really only ever speaks about the team. The team doesn’t ‘get him the win’, just a stat that poorly measures his worth and all,,, the win is a team stat for sure and his career record reflects a team that hasn’t often gotten it done for him.
        Winning in 2010 was a team accomplishment. This accomplishment is a moment that he speaks about in terms of his teammates and fans, for sure that, and the moment, reflects gloriously on him, well deserved.
        The love grows.

    • gogigantos - Jun 15, 2012 at 11:56 AM

      Again, just chicken scratching a baseball reference. I count the record up to date when allowing 3 or less in 5 or more at 22W, 29L, and 43ND. Only 22 times has his team gotten him the win when he has been good. 29 times his team has not won for him, and 43 times when he has been good has he simply kept them in the game. 55 of his wins have come when the Giants have managed to score more than 3. 26% of his career losses have come when he allowed three or less.

      losses dammit,, grammar, spell check, proof read, punctuation, beer, more please trolling Cain stats is more better with beer for sure

  11. randygnyc - Jun 15, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    Cain has the least amount of run support for any starting pitcher since 2006

  12. bluburt - Jun 15, 2012 at 12:55 PM

    Clearly, Cain’s perfecto is the greatest pitching performance in the history of baseball…

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