Yesterday evening, my Twitter feed exploded with the news that Johan Santana had done a first in the history of the Mets organization. The event? Everyone was in awe of Mr. Santana and his no-hit gem. It is amazing to think about other pitchers who have played for the Mets but did not get a no-no. To wit: Nolan Ryan (owner of 7 no-hitters) played for the Mets but did not get his first until he left for the Angels. Tom Seaver threw several one-hitters. Doc Gooden was dominant in his day, but never went 9 innings with 0 hits. Johan is in rare company, and alone in his entire organization. Not bad work!
But how does this compare to other no-hitters? As per Baseball-Reference, there have been 178 regular season no-hitters thrown since 1918 (the first year individual game data is available). Interestingly, aside from poor Ken Johnson in 1964, all no-hitters ended in a win. I highly doubt you want a break down all 178 games, so how about we look at the no-hitters from 2010 to the present?
The past few years have been largely dominated by pitching. In that regard, I feel much more comfortable comparing no-hitters from the past 3 years than to one during the power era of the '90s- early 2000s. With that critera, B-Ref gave me a query of 11 games. This is excluding Roy Halladay's no-hitter in the playoffs that was, honestly, other-worldly. The pitchers, in chronological order: 2010-- Ubaldo Jimenez, Dallas Braden (perfect game), Roy Halladay (perfect game), Edwin Jackson, Matt Garza. 2011-- Francisco Liriano, Justin Verlander, Ervin Santana. 2012-- Phil Humber (perfect game), Jered Weaver, Johan Santana. Aside from a couple of random names, this is a list of very good players. How did Santana (Johan) do?
If efficiency is the key factor, then Johan did terribly. Only Edwin Jackson threw more pitches in a no-hit effort. Jackson threw 149 (!) pitches, while Santana threw 134 total. This did not translate into wildness, as might be expected. Santana only walked 5, which is less than Jimenez (6), Garza (6) and Jackson (8). As for strike-outs, Santana K'd 8, which is just above the 7.1 average of all 11 games. So from a traditional view, his no-hitter was incredible compared with the average game, but nothing out of the ordinary compared to recent no-hitters.
But what about the sabermetric viewpoint? After all, that is why you are reading this post. Firstly, his WPA (Win Probability Added) was 0.335. In a simple explanation, Santana increased the Met's winning probability by 33.5%. If you want a more technical discussion of WPA, please refer to FanGraphs or The Book. WPA is not predictive, but does a great job telling the story of who helped a team in a given game. Turning back to our B-Ref data, Santana's WPA is below the average of 0.476. However, seeing as the final score was not close, Santana is hurt by the low leverage situations and his team is credited with most of the win due to so many runs being scored. For example, Jackson had a WPA of 0.815 without being as dominant as Santana on the basis that the final score was 1-0. In other words, Jackson threw in higher leverage situations and therefore his WPA is better. Looking at Win Probability Average, we still cannot conclude much about Santana.
In the Baseball-Reference query, I decided to add a little-known metric invented by Bill James. While GameScore (GSc) is elementary in that it is only a counting stat, it sums up the events of a game in a way that gives a final result. GSc, in short, penalizes walks, hits, and runs allowed, while it credits strike-outs, innings pitched, and outs gotten. Simply, it measures how dominant a pitcher was in a given game. Johan Santana got a GSc of 90, which is close to the average of 91.27. The average is unfairly skewed by three perfect games and one near perfect game. (If you take out the 3 perfect games, the average drops to 89.63.) Santana's only blemish seems to be the 5 walks.
All in all, this was not as dominant a no-hitter as we have seen recently. Santana had to throw a lot of pitches and had to rely on his change-up for most of the 9th inning. But you know what? I don't care. Santana did something that no other Mets pitcher has done. And he did it with the class and style that we have come to expect from him. Striking out 8, getting weak contact for 9 innings, and giving a depleted franchise something to cheer for? Better than the stats can indicate. Oh and yes, this was his last pitch. Amazing work, sir. Well done!