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October 2009

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Predicting the Unpredictable No-Hitter

Written by , Posted in General

A few years ago, Bill James designed a system to predict the likelihood of a particular pitcher throwing a no-hitter at some point, taking into account his career strikeout and double-play rates. In The Bill James Handbook 2009, we listed the ten pitchers most likely to achieve this rare feat during their career, led by Giants ace Tim Lincecum. Coming in at #8 on the list with a 12% chance at a no-no: Lincecum’s teammate, Jonathan Sanchez.

By late June, Sanchez had lost his spot in a strong Giants rotation. When Randy Johnson went down with an injury just a few days later, Sanchez was given another shot. On July 10, Sanchez took the mound with Sigfredo “Freddy” Sanchez in the stands, the first time the father had seen his son start a Major League game. Nine innings and 11 strikeouts later, Sanchez completed the no-hitter, allowing only Chase Headley to reach on an error in the eighth inning.

Of course, we can’t claim to predict every no-hitter, but we can give you a pretty good idea who might be next. From the “Career Targets” section of The Bill James Handbook 2010, due out November 1:

Most Likely No-Hitter
% chance to reach milestone
Tim Lincecum, Giants 25%
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 23%
Rich Harden, Free Agent 21%
Justin Verlander, Tigers 20%
Yovani Gallardo, Brewers 19%
Jon Lester, Red Sox 18%
Zack Greinke, Royals 17%
Jonathan Sanchez, Giants 15%
Jorge de la Rosa, Rockies 15%
Javier Vazquez, Braves 15%

Of course, Verlander, Lester and Sanchez have already etched their names in history, but our system doesn’t know that. The system gives strikeout-machine Lincecum a one-in-four shot at throwing a no-hitter before his career is over. Lincecum, Greinke and Harden may not be surprises on this list, but how about Yovani Gallardo and Jorge de la Rosa? You might laugh, but a year ago you probably had the same reaction when you saw Jonathan Sanchez’s name on the list.

Also in the Career Targets section of The Bill James Handbook 2010, you will find the most-updated odds that Alex Rodriguez breaks Barry Bonds’ career homerun record, Albert Pujols reaches 3,000 hits, and that Dustin Pedroia breaks Tris Speaker’s doubles record.

To pre-order The Bill James Handbook 2010, visit www.actasports.com.

“Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.

  • cubbiedude

    Since nobody’s commented about this one, I’ll add a quote.

    Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. AARON LEVENSTEIN (taken from “If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People?” by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson.)

  • Doc Raker

    Rich Harden? Does Bill James think a baseball game is 5 innings long?
    To cubbiedude’s point- this stat hides the fact that Harden is a 5 inning pitcher with no real chance of throwing a no hitter over 9 innings.