ESPN baseball analyst Keith Law loves no-hitters. In fact, he attended Jim Abbott’s no-hitter in 1993, and it was one of the best baseball experiences of his life.
But Law, the author of “Smart Baseball: The Story Behind the Old Stats That Are Ruining the Game, the New Ones That Are Running It, and the Right Way to Think About Baseball,” offers new insight into our national pastime – insight that may change the way you look at no-hitters, especially from a pitch-count perspective.
Ross Stripling, for example, had a no-no going in his MLB debut in April 2016, but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled him in the eighth inning. Bill Reiter, in his head, knew that may have been the right choice; but in his heart, he didn’t like it.
“I love no-hitters, so I get it,” Law said on Reiter Than you, “and there is always this little part of me that’s like, ‘Oh, I wanted to see him get a no-hitter.’ But in Stripling’s case, he’s a kid. In baseball terms, he’s very young, very inexperienced.”
Stripling, then 26, was seeking to become the first pitcher since 1892 to throw a no-hitter in his MLB debut. He pitched 7 and 1/3 innings and had thrown 100 pitches when he was lifted. The bullpen blew a 2-0 lead and the Giants won, 3-2, in 10 innings.
But Stripling, it is worth noting, is still in the bigs.
“His dad ended up thanking Dave Roberts the next day,” Law said. “Thanks for taking care of my kid as opposed to leaving him out to dry.’
What if Stripling had stayed in the game and damaged his arm? That can happen.
“I remember Bud Smith, who was something of a prospect for the Cardinals, throwing a no-hitter,” Law said. “He was out of gas in the eighth and they ran him out there again for the ninth and he labored and he did get it.”
Smith, then a 21-year-old rookie, threw 134 pitches in a 4-0 win over the Padres in September 2001.
“Within a year, he was done,” Law said. “He had shoulder surgery and he never made it back. That’s, I think, what should be on teams’ minds. We have long-term investments in these players. And if there’s no realistic chance this guy’s going to compete this without getting to some level of pitching fatigue, then you got to think about pulling him sooner and (winning) the game first and foremost.”
Still, not all no-hitters should be treated the same. Johan Santana, for instance, threw a 134-pitch no-hitter for the Mets in 2012. Yes, Santana posted an 8.27 ERA over his final 10 starts that season and has not pitched in the majors ever since, but that no-no was in many ways the feather in the cap of a brilliant career.
“It was kind of the end of his career,” Law said. “He really didn’t pitch much after that. But it was the first one in franchise history and he was a veteran who really wanted it. Do you take that one back? That might be one where I’d say I understand the cost, (but) it might still have been worth doing it.”
Law also discussed his disgust for saves.
“Of all the traditional stats that I rip apart in the first section of the book, saves is the one that we just need to trash,” Law said. “It’s changed the way that rosters are built, that bullpens are managed and that players are compensated. It’s really done quite a bit of damage to the game for a stat that was essentially just made up out of thin air in the late-1960s.”