Posted by John Dewan on June 29, 2016
Nearing the halfway point of 2016, Jake Arrieta owns the lone no-hitter of the season, a feat he accomplished on April 21 against the Reds. In the mid-2000s, this scarcity of no-hitters would not have seemed strange, but following a total of 12 no-hitters thrown from 2014-15, it stands out. Offense is up in baseball compared to recent seasons, especially in terms of home runs, and that could be a culprit of the decline. Of course, it’s just as likely that the lack of no-no’s is a quirk; last season, the first no-hitter of the season was on June 6, and then six more no-hitters followed it over the final three and a half months.
Every year in The Bill James Handbook, we identify the pitchers most likely to throw a no-hitter over the rest of their careers. Given the dearth of no-no’s, we thought it would be an interesting time to make an in-season update to see if the leaders in no-hitter probability were on the decline as well. What we found surprised us.
Before we get to the leaderboard, a quick note on the calculation: the Handbook probabilities are based on the batting average allowed projections from the Bill James pitcher projections. Since pitchers have logged quite a few starts since the offseason, we updated those batting average allowed projections with our in-season Daily Fantasy projection system that also incorporates performance to date. Those in-season projections place more weight on pitchers' current-season performances than a perfect rest-of-career projection likely should, so the chances of no-hitters for the top performers may be a bit higher than they were in the Handbook.
|Most Likely No-Hitter|
|Player||Chance of No-Hitter|
|Clayton Kershaw, LAD||56%|
|Jose Fernandez, MIA||54%|
|Jake Arrieta, CHC||42%|
|Marco Estrada, TOR||32%|
|Danny Salazar, CLE||27%|
|Chris Sale, CWS||27%|
|Julio Teheran, ATL||26%|
|Max Scherzer, WAS||24%|
|Madison Bumgarner, SF||24%|
|Drew Pomeranz, SD||23%|
Before the season, Clayton Kershaw was already the consensus best pitcher in baseball, an opinion further supported by his league-leading 36 percent probability of throwing a no-hitter according to the 2016 Handbook. This season, he has taken it to another level, decreasing has batting average allowed from .209 for his career to .185 this season. Now, our projections show that Kershaw is more likely than not to throw another no-hitter—he threw one in 2014—before he calls it a career.
Jose Fernandez and Arrieta are next on the list. Arrieta already proved himself capable a few months ago. Meanwhile, Fernandez isn’t far behind Kershaw with a .195 batting average allowed, and his biggest asset is his youth. At 23 years old, Fernandez will hopefully have a decade or more to chase the feat.
The most interesting names on the list include Marco Estrada, Danny Salazar, and Drew Pomeranz. Estrada had always shown strikeout potential in his career, but he had previously struggled with hard-hit balls, especially home runs. This season, he leads all qualified starters with a .168 batting average allowed. The Indians already had a pair of aces in Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, but Salazar has arguably been their best starter this season. He leads their rotation in ERA (2.40) and strikeouts per nine (10.3). Finally, Pomeranz is enjoying a renaissance on the Padres with nearly two additional strikeouts per nine compared to last season.