Much ado has been made recently about baseball’s historic lack of offense in April, with batting averages plummeting and strikeouts skyrocketing. Fans across the globe worry that the offensive nadir could be even worse for the sport than the ongoing pace of play issues, and could lead to a decline in viewership and new fans. Perhaps nothing illustrates that point better than the fact that big league pitchers are on pace to shatter the all-time record of eight no-hitters thrown in a single season.
The 2021 campaign has seen a rapid succession of successful no-hit bids, with the first coming from Joe Musgrove, which was quickly followed up by Carlos Rodon. John Means would go on to throw the third such game, with Wade Miley following suit two days later. May 18th would play host to Spencer Turnbull tossing his own no-hitter, and most recently Corey Kluber twirled a hitless masterpiece last night in Arlington. As an aside, Madison Bumgarner threw a seven-inning no-hitter on April 25th, which was declared not a true no-hitter by MLB. Not two months into the season, pitchers look poised to demolish the old record, and perhaps throw upwards of 10 no-hitters.
While many fans enjoy seeing history in the making, and have no problem with the uptick in no-hitters, there is a subset of baseball watchers who think this remarkable run could be detrimental to the sport. One line of reasoning is that with historic outings becoming so frequent, it takes away from the majesty of such a momentous event. Another, and perhaps more worrisome possibility, is that the increase in no-hitters is the result of historically low numbers of batted balls put in play. With so much of the game revolving around the three true outcomes; home runs, walks and strikeouts, many players and teams have forsaken other exciting aspects of baseball like stolen bases and legging out triples. Diehard fans will always tune in no matter how the game is played, but the larger concern is that less committed viewers may turn away from a product they perceive to be boring, and MLB could face difficulty in attracting new fans entirely.
Clayton Kershaw, one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all-time who threw his own no-no in 2014, pulled no punches when offering up his thoughts on the topic. Per the Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya, Kershaw opined, “Well it’s not good. I’ll tell you that… No-hitters are cool. I have all the respect in the world for Corey Kluber and Bum and all those guys that have thrown no-hitters [this year]. But to have one happen every night, it seems like it’s probably not good for the game. Fans want to see some hits.” This brand of thinking has led many around the game to call for league-wide reforms in order to liven up offenses and raise the level of excitement. Reintroduction of last season’s universal designated hitter is at the top of the list, with other, more extreme changes like lowering or pushing back the pitcher’s mound, as well as banning defensive shifts, not far behind. The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh posits that this recent rash of no-hitters could be just the thing to cure baseball’s offensive woes, as it forces fans and league officials alike to acknowledge the current state of hitting, and quite possibly could force the implementation of changes in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Whether or not this bizarre trend of no-hitters continues, it has people all around the game talking. With baseball facing an existential crisis regarding the old school versus the new generation, it’s always beneficial to start thinking about how to move the sport forward. Will Commissioner Manfred think proactively about how to put the best product out on the field, or will he let the old guard rule the day? Only time will tell, but in the here and now, history is being made seemingly every week, and we’re all watching it happen.