There's been a lot of talk these past few weeks about the seemingly high number of pitchers taking no-hitters into the late innings. A quick perusal of Google News gives me seven pitchers (Shawn Marcum, Ricky Romero, CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Doug Fister, Scott Olsen, and Jered Weaver) who brought a no-hitter into the seventh inning or later already this year. Combine those seven with the no-no/perfecto combo of Ubaldo Jimenez and Dallas Braden and it just feels like we've had an abnormally high amount of these late-inning no-hit situations. It doesn't help when the press gushes every time someone - like Ted Lilly tonight, for example - takes a no-hitter into the fifth or sixth innings. But we all know that just because something "feels" one way doesn't make it so.
Remember last year when I went through the Retrosheet database to find which pitchers had the most late-inning no-hitters? Randy Johnson and Sandy Koufax had the second- and third-most games where they took a no-hitter into the seventh inning or later with 13 and 10, respectively, while Nolan Ryan was the far and away leader with 31 total games. It was a post that people seemed to find interesting.
Using that same data, I went back and calculated the number of late-inning, near-no-hitters by year. I also calculated how many late-inning, near-no-nos had occurred in each season by May 10 so that we could compare them to the year in progress. The numbers show that, yes, we're seeing a few more near no-hitters this year, but it's not exactly a record-breaking total.
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Between 1954 and 2008 (my Retrosheet database is badly in need of a 2009 refresh), the season with the most late-inning, near no-hitters as of May 10 is 1968, with nine. There were eight by the same date in 1984. There are seven as of today (unless I missed one), which ties the 2010 season with 1987, 1989, and 2002.
If you combine the seven near no-nos with the two actual no-nos, we have nine on the season. That leaves the 2010 season alone in third place for most near/actual no-nos as of May 10. Only 1968 (9 near + 2 actual) and 1984 (8 near + 2 actual) had more games with late-inning, no-hit situations.
** EDIT: According to a comment from jaysgirl32, it looks like I missed Brett Cecil's May 3 performance, where he took a perfect game into the seventh inning. That gives us 10 actual/near no-hitters so far this year, tying 1984's early season success.
Looking through the totals for the full seasons, it's hard to say that this high total means anything. The 1968 season did end with 32 near no-hitters and 5 actual no-hitters, which is the third highest total since 1954 (1976 had 43 such games, and 1969 had 38; there were also 37 such games in 1963). The 1984 season, however, had only 28 such games. The 2002 season, which is the most recent comparable season with 7 near no-nos and 1 actual no-no as of May 10, ended with barely 20 such games.
It may be a bit premature, then, to start calling the 2010 season a renaissance in the art of the no-hitter. But at least it's been fun to watch and, if the press can stop going crazy over a fifth inning no-hitter, we might just have a memorable summer ahead.