To be sure, the concept of a bad no-hitter is relative, as it is seemingly a contradiction in terms. How inept can you be if you utterly prevent the opposing lineup from scratching out even the most meager base hit?
And yet, not all no-hitters are created equal. As many thinking fans understand these days, hits are only a part of a pitcher’s tale, and not even the part over which he has the most say. Plenty of pitchers have thrown more dominant games than some who have tossed no-hitters. Just because you — and some combination of “luck” and defense — prevent a hit doesn’t mean you pitched particularly well.
Which brings us to Liriano. Since 1919, 184 pitchers have pitched complete-game no-hitters. By FIGS — Fielding-Independent Game Score, which considers largely pitcher-dependent stats like walks, strikeouts and home runs — Liriano’s performance Tuesday ranks seventh-worst:
|5||Johnny Vander Meer||6/15/38||CIN||BRO||35||9||0||0||0||8||7||0||42|
|5||Fred Frankhouse||8/27/37||BRO||CIN||29||7 2/3||0||0||0||6||3||0||42|
Perhaps the oddest aspect of the no-hitter was that the often-nasty Liriano struck out only two of the 30 batters he faced. Of those 184 no-hitters in history, only seven that went nine innings had fewer Ks, and none since 1970. Liriano walked six batters, recalling the more-recent hitless work of AJ Burnett (nine in 2001) and Edwin Jackson (eight in 2010), who, in a double irony, was both Liriano’s opponent Tuesday and pitched as well as he did (from a FIGS standpoint). Liriano’s was the third-worst no-hitter on record by K/BB (0.33).
If you’re not convinced that defense and “luck” played at least a part in Liriano’s “gem,” consider that he benefited from three double plays, the most in a no-hitter on record. Yes, he technically “induced” the grounders, but when you figure that he gave up more fly balls than ground balls, it wasn’t as though he was consistently getting batters to pound the ball into the dirt. And speaking of fly balls, of the 10 outfield flies that he allowed, none went out of the park, a particularly fortunate outcome given the ballpark. Don’t just take FIGS’s word for it: His xFIP for the game was an unsightly 5.96.
Again, Liriano deserves his moment of fame for a well-pitched game. When it comes to no-hitters, though, this one was far from perfect.