Who Will Throw the Next No-Hitter?

June 11, 2015

Two nights ago, Chris Heston threw the first no-hitter of the 2015 season. It was an impressive game, with Heston striking out 11 Mets hitters and getting 13 more to ground out, one for a double play. There were only two flyball outs. According to Baseball Info Solutions’ (BIS) Range and Positioning System, there were only two balls put into play that had a higher than 50 percent chance of being a base hit: a groundball hit by Ruben Tejada in the seventh inning and a groundball hit by Wilmer Flores in the eighth. However, both were easily turned into outs because Brandon Belt was well positioned, playing deep into the hole between first and second base. In fact, every play the Giants made on defense was easy. The video scouts at BIS rate the difficulty of every ball in play on a 1-5 scale, with 1 being routine and 5 being impossible, and there was not a single play given a higher rating than a 2 during that game.

So now that the first no-hitter of 2015 is out of the way, who is going to throw the next one? Every year in the Bill James Handbook, we publish a list of the most likely pitchers to throw a no-hitter during the upcoming season in the Career Targets section of the book. The system for determining the likelihood of throwing a no-hitter is based on a pitcher’s projected games started, innings pitched, strikeouts, hits allowed, and double plays induced.

Here are the most likely no-hitter candidates from the 2015 Bill James Handbook:

Most Likely No-Hitter, 2015
Player Chance of No-hitter
Clayton Kershaw, LAN 25%
Chris Sale, CHA 23%
Stephen Strasburg, WAS 21%
Corey Kluber, CLE 20%
Max Scherzer, WAS 20%
Yu Darvish, TEX 18%
Felix Hernandez, SEA 18%
David Price, DET 16%
Madison Bumgarner, SF 15%
Zack Wheeler, NYN 15%


This list obviously includes the best and biggest arms in baseball. While pitchers like Chris Heston can sneak up on us with a no-hitter, the household names are still the guys that are most likely to achieve the feat.

Clayton Kershaw threw his first career no-hitter in 2014, and he is the favorite to throw another one this year. However, while he is still pitching well this season, compared to his career results he has been struggling a bit.

When we look at the second name on the list, though, we see a guy that may be building toward something special. Over his last six starts, Chris Sale has thrown at least 7.0 innings every time, and he has thrown 8.0 innings in four of those six starts; he has double-digit strikeouts in five of those six starts, including each of his last four games; and he has only allowed one run to score in his last three starts combined. Three starts ago, he shut out Baltimore over 7.2 innings while allowing only four hits, and two starts ago he shut out Texas over 7.0 innings while allowing only three hits. If I had to pick anyone to be the next to throw a no-hitter, Sale currently looks like the most likely guy.


COMMENTS (10 Comments, most recent shown first)

I could see Archer no-hitting the Astros.
7:26 AM Jun 27th
John, look how far off you were! You gave Scherzer just a 20% chance!

j/k -- Nice job. :-)

And hey, Bruce guessed it too......
2:00 AM Jun 21st
Yup. Sale's been striking people out at a prodigious rate, but he's got the White Sox behind him. Curious that John doesn't seem to have taken team defense into account here.
11:50 PM Jun 20th
8:07 PM Jun 20th
Zack Wheeler? That jumps out. He was 11-11 in 2014 with an ERA a hair above league average. That's not a factor here, I suppose, but 13 starters had a lower H/9, and eight of those had more innings and nine had over 30 GS (Wheeler had 32). Wheeler does have a very nice K/9.

He won't get his no-no this year, of course, but hopefully we see him next year TJified.

4:36 PM Jun 12th
Thanks for the pointer. That 8% more like what I expected. Either way - your methodology and his could be checked by comparing to historical numbers. I don't expect it in a comments section - but it would be nice in an article like this one. Perhaps it is down in their longer piece they publish. In here, at a minimum - it would be great if John could publish the formula he used to get to the 25% so we can have a more detailed discussion on it.
3:44 PM Jun 12th
We discuss this on my blog:


The key comment from a commenter:

"I created a list of pitcher seasons with between 30 and 35 starts, from 1961 to 2014, and opponent BA between .190-.210. ... I count 6 no-hitters thrown by 73 pitchers on that list, in seasons that make the list - 8.2%."

You can also get to 8% mathematically, by assuming a .200 batting average, 27 outs, and 34 starts:
=(1 - (1 - ( (1 - .2) ^27)) ^ 34)
1:24 PM Jun 12th
Shinsplint - I did the same math as I thought those numbers seemed high. Getting the 88%, I too thought it was high. I then went back and checked and given the # of no-hitters a year, I thought it was not on its face unreasonable....

What jumped out at me, though, is this would be a good way for them to check their methodology. Go back using the same formulas and for each year, find the to 10 players and see how they did as an aggregate group versus expectation.
11:42 AM Jun 12th
According to the percentages shown, there's an 88% chance that at least one of the guys above will have a no-no this year. Seems high, but we'll see.
8:38 AM Jun 12th
John, I saw a couple highlights from the no-hit game, and Crawford at short made a very nice play on what looked like a tough ball- a sharply hit grounder to his backhand that looked tricky based on its speed and where the ball took its last bounce before getting to him. Is that something taken into consideration when assessing ease or difficulty of plays- where the last bounce was before getting to the fielder, and how fast it's going? Or is it only a directional/vector kind of thing?
7:03 PM Jun 11th
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