Monday, June 22, 2009

Losing the No-Hitter

Over this past weekend, I got an email from my brother asking me to look into something for him. The question was interesting - as were the results - so I figured I'd share them all here. First the email:
"I'm just about finished with Jane Leavy's excellent biography of Sandy Koufax. In it she mentions in passing that Koufax took no-hitters into the 7th inning 9 times - not including his 4 no-hitters. I'm wondering if anyone else ever went into the 7th inning with a no-hitter 13 times in their career. Nolan Ryan did it at least 7 times. Do you think you can use your impressive research skills to find this answer? I wouldn't even know how to begin to research this."
If what the biography claimed was true and Koufax did indeed take nine different no-hitters into the 7th inning before giving up a hit (on top of his 4 full-game no-hitters), then that's pretty impressive, especially considering Koufax's short career and his even shorter peak. But was the biography right? And, as my brother asked, was there anyone who ever did it more?

I assumed that a list like this would be around somewhere but, even after asking the guys on the SABR mailing list, I wasn't able to find it. So I decided to do the research myself, using the Retrosheet database. This would limit the results to games since 1954, but it would have to do. This is what I found.

Koufax did take no-hitters into the 7th inning or beyond 6 different times before giving up a hit (not the 9 times the book claimed). He did not pitch his first game of the like until 1961, when he pitched three. With his four no-hitters, that means that he had 10 different games in his career where he pitched at least 6 innings of no-hit ball. This puts him 3rd on the list (since 1954, at least).

The two ahead of him are not at all surprising. Number two is Randy Johnson with 11 near no-hitters, two of which were broken up in the 9th, and two no-hitters, one of which was a perfect game. The number one pitcher on the list is, of course, Nolan Ryan. Ryan's record is astounding, though. Besides his seven no-hitters, he also had 24(!) no-hitters brought into the 7th before being broken up. Of those 24, a full 5 of them were broken up in the 9th inning (all with 1 out). Eleven others were broken up in the 8th inning.

The top 10 looks like this (see the full list here):
Player.........Near NH..Full NH..Total
Nolan Ryan.......24.......7.......31
Randy Johnson....11.......2.......13
Sandy Koufax.....6........4.......10
Don Sutton.......8........0........8
Tom Seaver.......7........1........8
Ken Holtzman.....6........2........8
Dean Chance......7........1........8
Roger Clemens....7........0........7
Gaylord Perry....6........1........7
Sam Jones........
David Cone.......
Dave Stieb.......
There are also an additional 7 pitchers (including Steve Carlton, Early Wynn, Luis Tiant, Tim Wakefield, and Pedro Martinez) who pitched into the 7th inning six different times before giving up their first hit.

An interesting note: of Dave Stieb's six "near no-hitters", four of them were broken up in the 9th inning (and three of them were with two outs in the 9th). Besides Ryan and Stieb, the only other pitchers to lose a no-hitter in the 9th inning more than twice are Pedro Martinez and Tom Seaver, who each did it three times (Pedro actually lost one of his in the 10th inning). That's some illustrious company. Just think how differently we would view Dave Stieb if he had gotten that final out in those three games...

That's about all I could find. Koufax's total is plenty impressive, despite the author getting the details wrong. Considering he pitched those 10 games in only six years and 223 games, it's a big number, essentially doing it twice a year. Ryan's number is just preposterous, though. I wish I could see the totals for the pre-Retrosheet era. I highly doubt that Ryan's record would be bested, but it would be nice to see how many times Walter Johnson or Christy Mathewson took no-hitters into the 7th. Still, it's a pretty good list to have.

(EDIT: Imagine that! It looks like this is pretty timely, considering Barry Zito carried a no-hitter into the 7th inning yesterday before giving up a home run to Andruw Jones. Oh, and the numbers above should be accurate through 2008. If Randy Johnson, for example, has added to his total this year, it wouldn't be reflected.)


Paul said...

Great info! Thanks for doing this research. By the way, that near no-hitter by Zito yesterday was the 4th of his career.

Cyril Morong said...

Great stuff. Did you see that you made the WSJ blog?

lar said...

Thanks, Cyril. I did see that! It's always nice to see that others are reading the blog and finding it interesting. Thanks for pointing it out.