Justin Verlander pitches today for the first time since his no-hitter, which led brilliant reader Brian to suggest the nickname Verlander-Meer in anticipation of him throwing another one. It's a good nickname. But the likelihood of Verlander throwing even a quality start -- much less a no-hitter -- is actually pretty low, if you look a little at history.
This is not EXACTLY about follow-up games to no-hitters ... but there will be a lot in here about those. You, you will get your fill of follow-up games, if that's the sort of thing that interests you like it interests me. Who was the last person to follow up a no-hitter with a complete game? A shutout? Do pitchers throw better after perfect games than after no-hitters? How did Nolan Ryan do after each of his seven no-nos? All those answers and more follow.
But the main point here is this: I found all those answers. It didn't take too long. My editor called Wednesday evening and wondered if I would have any interest in doing something on no-hitter follow-up games, and upon first blush I managed to count only 59,485 things I would rather do. But, of course, my editor is smarter than I am, and he certainly knew that just throwing out an open-ended question like, "How do pitchers throw after no-hitters?" would gnaw on my mind until, just out of curiosity, I fired up the computer and went to the incomparable Baseball Reference and began to look back at a few pitchers who threw no-hitters and then looked at a few more and then ...
... suddenly I had a spreadsheet with every follow-up game to no-hitters since 1970, and every follow-up to a regular season perfect game the last 75 years.
This is a new development, of course, this easy access to sports information. Bill James used to do his seminal baseball work using box scores clipped out of The Sporting News. How long would it have taken me to find every post-no-hitter the last 40 years using that clip-and-file system? I can't even imagine. A week? A month? Longer? I'll tell you exactly how long it would have taken: Forever. Because I never would have even started the project. I'm interested. But I'm not THAT interested.
Now, the information is there, easy to find, easy to sort, it took me three mouse clicks per player to find the game I wanted. And so I can tell you that since 1970, pitchers have followed up their no-hitters by throwing, on average 6 2/3 innings.
They allowed, on average, 5.78 hits.
Their ERA in those was 3.42.
I can tell you that six pitchers threw their no-hitter in their last start of the season -- this include Mike Witt's perfect game in 1984. I can tell you that three pitchers made a relief appearance right after their no-hitters. I can tell you that in 1973, Steve Busby followed up his no-hitter with five hitless innings, he gave up a homer in the sixth and was pulled. What makes that quirky is that in 1977, Dennis Eckersley followed up his no-hitter with five hitless innings, he gave up a homer in the sixth and he was pulled at the end of an inning.
I can tell you that only three of the last 11 pitchers to throw no-hitters followed with a quality start. I can tell you that the worst follow up in the last 40 years was undoubtedly Bob Forsch's one inning, seven-run effort after he threw his first no-hitter. It's funny, between 1978 and 1983, nine pitchers threw no-hitters. Three of them were Forsches -- Bob twice and Ken once.
I can tell you a lot more (and probably will before this thing is through) but my point here is that there is no mystery. There is no mythology. How well do pitchers follow up no-hitters? Fire up the computer. Look at the answers. Voila: They do not do too too well. In the last 10 years, there have been 21 no-hitters, not counting Devern Hansack's five-inning no-no. Not one pitcher followed up with a complete game or anything particularly close. The longest any pitcher went in a follow-up was eight innings. The combined ERA for those games is 4.20. And so on ...
This easy access to answers fits my mindset. I like to know. On the other hand, this easy access to answers does flatten the landscape. In 1988, after Tom Browning followed up his perfect game with eight innings of one-run ball, I guarantee that more than one person wrote about how the perfect game had changed Browning as a pitcher, how that one great game had given him more confidence, how throwing a no-hitter can do that for a pitcher, how pitchers often carry the momentum from their no-hitter into their next start. Well, there was no easy way -- or even a difficult way -- to look up every no-hitter follow up game. So you could say things like that and feel confident that you were right, or at least right enough. Truth is, before the latest explosion of information you could say almost anything that SOUNDED true and feel confident that you were right enough.
And there's just so much like that in sport, stuff that sounds true, stuff that should be true, stuff that would make our games more fascinating if they were true. Can a player throughout a career consistently hit better in the big moments than he does in the not-so-big moments? Is there really such a thing as basketball players getting the hot shooting hand? Are there really quarterbacks who aren't good statistically but know how to win? There's no evidence I know that supports any of that. But for so many years people kept hammering those points home, over and over, based on quotes and feelings and the gut instincts of people who watch sports.
Now, the stats will often pour cold water reality over our most beloved myths. And many people don't like that. They prefer a little bit of myth over a that reality shower. I can understand that. I prefer a little bit of myth myself. I have the same instinct to downplay the effects of luck and the weather and the small and boring things that shouldn't matter and instead believe in a storyline.* It makes sense to me that a pitcher who has just thrown a no-hitter will go out the next time out and be overflowing with confidence and will feel locked in and will pitch great. It makes so much sense. It just so happens that -- like so many other things that make sense in sports and in the the world -- it turns out not to be true.
*The other day, I saw Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah interviewed on TNT, and he was asked how he prepared to be the "energy" of the team. I think the person asking the question was hoping for something thrilling, funny, something like, "I dance three polkas even afternoon and then chase around a live chicken." What he said, instead was, "You have to get plenty of rest and you have to eat right." I think Noah is exactly right. That's exactly what it takes to play basketball at a high energy level, sleep and smart food, but who wants to hear that?
We just happen to live in a time where the reality is too easy to find. Most of my childhood, I believed that the kid who played Little Mikey in the LIfe cereal commercials ("He likes it! Hey Mikey!") died after eating Pop Rocks. Now, if you type in "Mikey" "pop rocks" and "life cereal" into Google, you get more than 10,000 hits, the first several pages (at least) which tell you that, nope, ain't true, wasn't true, don't believe it. The history is too easy to uncover. The myths don't stand a chance. That isn't to say that Verlander-Meer won't throw a great game tonight. He certainly could. But he will be going against history.
OK, so to answer some of those questions. The last pitcher to throw a complete game after a no-hitter is also the same to throw a shutout after a no-hitter -- Philadelphia's Tommy Greene followed his no-no in May of 1991 with a three-hit shutout (no walks, nine strikeouts too). Greene only made 80 more starts in his injury-plagued career, though he did go 16-4 for the pennant-winning Phillies in 1993.
The last pitcher before Greene to throw a shutout after a no-hitter? That would be Charlie Lea almost exactly 10 years earlier, in May of 1981. Lea was only in his second year when he had those fabulous back-to-back games which led my buddy Robert and I to load up on Charlie Lea baseball rookie cards. We were such fine speculators then. Lea was a pretty good pitcher from 1982-84 but then he blew out his arm and those rookie cards were destined for the Jose DeLeon Box of Commons.*
*The Jose DeLeon box of commons is the place where once-promising baseball rookie cards withered and died. Among those in the Jose Deleon Box of Commons -- Cory Snyder, David Green, Charlie Lea, Rich Dotson, Brook Jacoby and, of course, Jose DeLeon.
Do pitchers throw better after perfect games than after no-hitters? Obviously it's a smaller sample size, but that smaller sample size says that pitchers actually throw a little worse after perfect games. I did not include Don Larsen's no-hitter ... but since then pitchers have followed perfect games by throwing fewer than seven innings with a 4.44 ERA. The only pitcher to follow a perfect game with a complete game was Len Barker. The only one to allow fewer than two runs was Tom Browning. Catfish Hunter followed his perfect game by allowing eight runs in six innings.
Nolan Ryan followed up all seven of his no-hitters with pretty good performances, sometimes great ones.
He threw a two-hit shutout after one, and threw 10 1/3 innings after another. He threw three more complete games after no-nos, allowing 1, 1 and 2 runs. All in all, Ryan in follow-up games had a 1.88 ERA. He not only was unhittable on seven days, he was awfully good the game after those no-hitters too.