On June13, at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Giants pitcher Matt Cain threw a perfect game. Indeed, a tremendous sports feat. However, just below the surface of this outstanding achievement lies an interesting reality: These days, perfect games and no-hitters seem to happen a lot more often.
Even though Major League Baseball has only had 22 perfect games, Cain's was the second of this season (Chicago White Sox pitcher Philip Humber threw one in April), and the fifth since July 2009. Half of all perfect games have occurred in the last 24 years.
"There are just so many doggone good pitchers in the game, and I hate to say it, but maybe there are just fewer great hitters," said former Washington Senators pitcher Dick Bosman.
Today, it seems that everyone is throwing a no-hitter. Stars such as Roy Halladay (2010), Randy Johnson (2004), and David Wells (1998), and those who aren't stars such as Dallas Braden (2010) and Humber.
At first glance, you get the feeling something's going on here. Not necessarily. Baseball history is loaded with similar trends of extraordinary performances. Between 1998 and 2001, we witnessed all six individual seasons of 62 or more home runs. Also, between 1933 and 1937, there were four Triple Crown winners, but only five since.
The big home run seasons at the turn of the century might be attributed to steroid use during that period. However, the reasoning behind the perfect games and no-hitters might be discovered within a larger statistical trend.
The truth is, hitters are striking out at a higher rate than ever before. Currently, that rate is 19.6 percent of all plate appearances, a full percentage point higher than the previous record of 18.6 percent, set last season. In fact, a new record has been set each of the past four seasons.
Of course, a higher strike out rate means less balls being put into play, which means less opportunities for base hits and errors, which means more chances for perfect games and no-hitters.
Now it seems like someone flirts with a no-hitter on a daily basis. Even on the same night that Cain pitched his perfect game, New York Mets pitcher R. A. Dickey pitched a complete-game one-hitter. As we proceed through summer, don't be surprised if we see more no-hitters and maybe even another perfect game.