03 September 2019

Verlander's No-Hitter and Considering Context

Justin Verlander threw his third career no-hitter on Sunday, against the Blue Jays.  This is apparently a record as he's the first opposing player to ever no-hit the same team twice in their own stadium, which I guess is something people count now.  Verlander's no-no (kept from perfection only by a first-inning walk to Cavan Biggio) may or may not have sealed his Hall of Fame resume, but in any case, it was certainly a cool feat. 

For whatever it's worth, I do think the feat comes off as a little less impressive when you consider the opposing lineup:

* Bo Bichette, SS: Though the rookie phenom has cooled off of late, his cooling off period is still pretty solid.  Seems like a pretty darn good, if not terribly patient, major league hitter.  No disrespect to him. 

* Vlad Guerrero, Jr., 3B: Another real player.  He hit .341 in August. 

...aaaand that's about where the real threats in the lineup stop.  Sure, Randall Grichuk had 23 HR (24 now) but he was hitting .234 coming into that game, and he rarely walks. He and Justin Smoak are respectively ranked 118th and 129th in batting average among the 130 qualified MLB hitters this season.

Backup catcher Reese McGuire had a .300 batting average coming into the game, but that's a small sample size mirage.  He has a .239 batting average in almost 170 games in AAA, and is only on the roster because the Jays' normal lousy backup catcher, Luke Maile, hitting .153, is on the DL.  McGuire's not really a threat, his 3-for-3 night with a homer on Friday notwithstanding. 

As of the end of the game, the whole rest of the lineup was barely above the Mendoza Line.  Cavan Biggio (.214), Rowdy Tellez (.218), Justin Smoak (.215) and Yankee castoffs Brandon Drury (.222) and Billy McKinney (.216) rounded out the lineup, which managed not to get a hit all night.

For that matter, it's almost surprising that the Blue Jays had not been no-hit yet this season, as their team average of .236 is the worst in the majors. (The Mariners, 4th from last with a .241 team BA, have been no-hit twice this season.) 

Granted, the Jays, like everyone else this season, can hit homers.  Smoak has 20 HR, and Biggio, Tellez and Drury are all in double-digits, with McKinney at 9 homers.  But if a pitcher can keep them from homering - and that's by no means a sure-thing with Verlander, who has allowed 33 dingers this year, third most in MLB - they almost don't hit at all. 

It reminds me a little of Erik Milton's no-hitter against the Angels in 1999.  That lineup - also during the expanded September roster period - included a few of their regulars (Todd Greene, Troy Glaus, Orlando Palmiero) but also a bunch of extremely marginal players. 

  • Leadoff man Jeff DaVannon was making just his second MLB appearance ever.  
  • Steve Decker and Matt Luke were each making one of their last, as neither would ever play in MLB after 1999.  
  • Backup catcher Bret Hemphill was amazingly doing both, as he played only 12 games in MLB.  This was his 5th.  
  • Trent Durrington was in the middle of a miserable rookie season in which he hit .180 with 2 RBIs in 136 plate appearances.  
  • And #9 hitter, journeyman infielder Andy Sheets, "hit" .197 that year.  And I don't mean a modern, Rougned Odor-style .197 in which, yeah, he hits under the Mendoza Line but also hits 20-25 homers.  Sheets hit a traditional .197, with three homers in 244 ABs.  

So this is not quite that bad, as while the Blue Jays' lineup did include five rookies, a few are really promising rookies, unlike Hemphill and DaVannon, for example.  Plus, some of the regulars with low batting averages are established veterans, not washed-up roster filler like Decker or Luke. 

It's still an amazing accomplishment for Verlander, of whom I'm generally a fan, except when he faces the Yankees, but like many things in baseball, it's best not to just hear the storyline and take it at face value.  In this modern age of nearly everyone swinging for the fences, maybe it's not so surprising that a whole team of swing-and-miss batters faced one of the best swing-and-miss pitchers of all time and simply, well, missed them all


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