Luck will always be an intrinsic part of sport and especially in the world of baseball. Last night Reid Detmers of the Los Angeles Angels threw a no-hitter, which is a remarkable achievement no matter the circumstances.
What was truly remarkable about that no-hitter is that it was probably the luckiest no-hitter in Statcast history (2015 onwards) and has a good case for one of the luckiest of all time.
Luck v Skill
No-hitters are generally the combination of great pitching, great defence, and the luck of a lot of balls that went in play going to fielders in a simple manner. The pitcher has control of the strikeout parts of the no-hitter and has some control over inducing weak contact from hitters, but once that ball is in play, they are reliant on the defence. So, when I talk about the luck with regards to the no-hitter, I’m talking about what happens after the ball gets put in play.
Reid Detmers had just two strikeouts in his no-hitter. Of the previous 305 no-hitters, only 29 had fewer than three Ks, of which only two have occurred in the last 40 years (hat tip to Francisco Liriano in 2011). During his no-hitter, Detmers walked one batter, another reached on an error, and there was a double play on the walked runner. This meant that there were 25 balls put in play during the game and none went for a hit. How lucky was he with that?
Expected Batting Average and Expected Hits
Thanks to the wonders of Statcast we can model the likelihood of a ball put in play to be a hit. The model is based on exit velocity and launch angle of a batted ball, along with the speed of the hitter. This is known as xBA.
The Rays xBA against Detmers was 0.226, which on first appearance, might not look too bad. It’s a lower batting average than the current league-wide one of 0.233, but when you think that usually leads to, on average, 4.1 runs per game, you might start to see the luck involved for Detmers.
Of the 23 no-hitters from 2015 onwards (the Statcast Era), Detmers’ 0.226 xBA is the second-worst, only topped by Tyler Gilbert’s no-no from last season. In Gilbert’s no-no, the Padres had an xBA of 0.246. Why Detmers’ is luckier than Gilbert’s comes down to the number of balls in play (BIP).
Due to Detmers having 25 BIP compared to Gilbert’s 20, he passes him when you covert the xBA into xHits. Based on the data we would have expected Detmers to have on average given up 5.65 hits.
How Detmers rode his luck
If you’ve watched the highlight of the 27 outs you might be wondering how that xBA is so high. There wasn’t really the trademark wonder play that saves the no-hitter/perfect game, but there were a few hard-hit balls that almost perfectly pick out defenders.
Of the 25 balls in play, five of them had greater than 50% odds of being a base hit.
The top three of these clearly show what saved Detmers no-no last night… that was Brandon Marsh. One of his catches had an xBA of 0.937.
This play may have looked innocuous, but that’s what you get from having one of the players with the best outfield jump in MLB playing in left field.
If only defensive things were considered, Marsh would probably be playing centre field for the Angels, but when there is a certain M. Trout in that position, you might accommodate the best overall player in the league and play the slightly better defensive play in left instead.
Marsh had been splitting the duties in left field with Jo Adell so far this season until Adell was sent down to Triple-A on 2 May. The difference in their outfield jump is astronomic, Adell is in the first percentile (five feet behind the average) and Marsh is in the 78th percentile (1.8 feet better than average). This better jump also allows Marsh to play slightly shallower than Adell, averaging 290ft v 293ft.
Combine these two things together, and on the average short flare to left field, Adell will be 10ft behind where Marsh was, and if you rewatch the clip I don’t think Adell is ever making that play.
The error-phant in the room
There was a play that was ruled an error in the seventh inning, which I think most people can agree was probably an error. Does Jared Walsh make it look like more of an error than it was by continuing to boot it a second time, in doing so protecting the no-no? Who knows?
In the end, none of this really matters. Most people won’t remember these details in a few years, but the fact Reid Detmers has thrown a no-hitter will survive as long as MLB does.
Featured image of Reid Detmers by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Russell is Bat Flips and Nerds’ resident analytical genius, and arguably Europe’s finest sabermetrician. If you’re not following Russell on Twitter @REassom then you’re doing baseball wrong