Corey Kluber made history Wednesday night in Texas.
But the Yankees right-hander may be part of even more history by the end of the season if MLB’s current trend continues.
Less than two months into the season, Kluber became the sixth pitcher to throw a no-hitter, joining the Padres’ Joe Musgrove, White Sox’s Carlos Rodon, Orioles’ John Means, Reds’ Wade Miley and Tigers’ Spencer Turnbull. The Diamondbacks’ Madison Bumgarner also threw an unofficial, seven-inning no-hitter.
Suddenly, the league is two no-hitters away from breaking the modern record for no-hitters in a season, which currently stands at seven – done in 1990, 1991, 2012 and 2015.
What’s the reason behind the recent surge in pitchers being unhittable?
“I think it’s a lot of things,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Wednesday night after Kluber had blanked the Rangers. “First and foremost, there’s a lot of great pitchers right now. Pitching is really good.”
Here’s a look at a few of those factors fueling the trend.
Pitchers’ tech advantage on hitters
Technology and analytics have advanced for pitchers quicker than they have for hitters, giving pitchers plenty of information in their back pocket when they take the mound. Devices like Rapsodo and Trackman can provide pitchers immediate feedback on their stuff – how their pitches are moving, spinning and coming out of the hand – which they can use to their advantage as weapons against bats.
“Pitchers, more than ever, based on information, know exactly what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are,” Boone said. “They’re outfitted with the absolute right repertoire for their skillset. So you don’t have a lot of guys going out there throwing pitches that they probably shouldn’t throw because you can analyze everything so much. You’re able to make little adjustments and learn things in real-time almost with how the ball spins and what you should be doing a little different. Then I think the game plans are a lot more spot on than ever probably.”
They’re a pitcher’s best friend and a hitter’s worst enemy. There’s a reason MLB is experimenting with limiting shifts in the minor leagues this season as it tries to get more offense and action back into the game. In the meantime, teams have become experts at aligning their infielders in the exact right position to take hits away from opponents.
The Launch Angle Era
As more emphasis has been placed on hitting homers, hitting in general has dropped off. The league-wide batting average in 2006 was .269; in 2011 and 2016 it was .255; in the shortened 2020 it was .245 and in the limited sample size this year, it’s .236.
While offense is down across the board so far this season – including home runs, which also may raise questions about the new deadened baseballs – homers can carry teams when they’re hitting them in bunches. When they’re not, it can become a struggle.
Coming into the season off the 60-game schedule in 2020, there was a concern about pitching injuries. Instead, there has been a rash of injuries to position players. That has forced teams to use players that may not be MLB hitters, which could contribute to the widespread lack of offense.
Three guilty parties
At least for now, the six no-hitters have been at the hands of just three teams, twice each: the Rangers, Mariners and Indians. Cleveland and Seattle are 29th and 30th in team batting average, while Texas is 14th. It’s possible they are the outliers — at least until the next no-hitter is thrown.