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When a pitcher throws every single pitch for his team in a baseball game and does not allow a hit, that would seem like the most basic definition of a “no-hitter,” right?

Apparently not!

I was reading up on no-hitters this evening in honor of Justin Verlander’s masterpiece, and it turns out that Major League Baseball has a pretty odd way of defining a no-hitter.

The only known Andy Hawkins picture left in existence?For over a century, no-hitters were officially defined exactly as you would expect, but then in 1991, a committee convened by then Comissioner Fay Vincent decided to change the official definition of a no hitter to “a game in which a pitcher or pitchers (or pitchers) allows no hits during the entire course of a game, which consists of at least nine innings” (my italics).

Adding that last phrase means that under the current definition, if a pitcher pitches a no-hitter on the road and loses (meaning he only threw 8-innings), he has not officially thrown a no-hitter!

On the surface of it, this doesn’t seem like that big a deal. After all, how many pitchers throw a no-hitter and lose? Not many. And should a pitcher really get credit for a no-hitter if he loses?

Well, yeah, he should. There’s a reason it’s just called a no-hitter and not a “no-hit victory.”

But more importantly, it makes no sense to have an arbitrary distinction between throwing a no-hitter and losing at home, and losing on the road while allowing no hits in a complete game, but that is not a no-hitter because of some weird technicality.

To be fair to Vincent and Co., the whole purpose of changing the rule in the first place was not to punish pitchers who lost the game on the road, but to stop giving credit for no-hitters to pitchers who didn’t allow a hit in a 5-inning game called for rain, which nobody really supported.

But the problem came in introducing that phrase saying a no-hitter had to be at least 9 innings.  After all, we still give pitchers credit for a complete game if they throw all 8 innings in a road loss. Intuitively and according to all common sense, if you throw a complete, regulation-length game and allow no-hits, that’s a no-hitter, and the rules should be changed once again to reflect this.

The big loser in the 1991 decision was poor journeyman pitcher Andy Hawkins, who had had the triumph of his brief career the summer before when he had allowed no-hits pitching for the for the Yankees in a complete-game 4-0 road loss to the White Sox (thanks to a bunch of errors by his outfield).  According to common sense and rules which had been in place for over 100 years, Hawkins had thrown a no-hitter, but he got to celebrate his achievement for only a year before his no-hitter was stripped from him by Vincent’s ”Committee for Statistical Accuracy.”

It’s time to give Hawkins back his no-hitter, as well as the other pitchers who are still being refused credit for their 8-inning no-hitters as a result of that ruling in 1991.

3 Responses to “If you pitch a complete game and allow no hits, is it a no-hitter? MLB says ‘no.’”

  1. Nick Kapur says:

    This is an exceedingly excellent post, Paul, and I agree with everything you said 100 percent.

    I think one of the best arguments against the save as a stat is the statistic that since 1972, when a team entered the 9th with a 1-run lead, they won 85 percent of the time, when they had a 2-run lead they won 93 percent of the time, and when they had a 3-run lead, they won 97 percent of the time. These are the numbers across all teams, no matter who was pitching.

    Even the very best closers of all time – guys like Hoffman and Rivera – only increase these statistics by 1 or 2 percentage points. Hoffman’s career saves converted percentage is 89%. So it is beyond ridiculous to argue that closers have a larger impact on team wins than a guy who hits 500 jacks.

  2. Danny O says:

    I thought Hawkins was just the second pitcher to lose a no hitter. Who are the other two?

  3. Nick Kapur says:

    Good point, Danny – my wording was a little off. The other two pitchers who pitched an 8-inning no-hitter on the road were Silver King (1890), and the Red Sox’ own Matt Young in 1992.

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