First came Lucas Giolito’s 13-strikeout no-hitter in the White Sox’ 4-0 victory against the Pirates last Tuesday. Then, in a 10-1 rout of the Reds on Sunday, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Ian Happ made the Cubs the first major-league team to have three outfielders hit two home runs in the same game.
Both events are reflective of the way the game is played today.
By the Bill James game-score method, Giolito’s masterpiece was the most dominant no-hitter in Chicago baseball history. His 99 game score topped the previous no-hit best of 98 by the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta against the Dodgers in 2015. The highest nine-inning game score in major-league history was a one-hitter: Kerry Wood’s 105 with 20 strikeouts against the Astros in 1998.
Game score is a measure of pitching dominance, with strikeouts an important factor. Giolito outscores Arrieta because he had one more strikeout, while each walked one.
The high-strikeout, low-batting-average game of today, with major-league teams hitting only .244 with 8.65 strikeouts per game, is a fitting backdrop for a game such as Giolito’s.
We have seen a recent uptick in no-hitters. A search at Baseball-Reference.com finds 263 games of nine or more innings since 1901 in which teams were held hitless. That includes multiple-pitcher games, so not all appear on official no-hit lists.
Starting in 1901 divides neatly into 12 decades — 1901-10 through 2011-20.
Since 2011, there have been 35 hitless games, or 1.17 no-hit games per team per decade. That’s up from 0.7 in the 10 years ending in 2010, from 0.89 the previous decade and from 0.8 the decade before that.
This is the sixth decade to exceed one no-hit game per team per decade. Two are in the dead-ball era: 1.38 in 1901-10 and 1.75 in 1911-20. Three are in a cluster, with 1.19 in 1951-60, 1.70 in the enlarged-strike-zone ’60s and 1.12 in 1971-80.
What about the Cubs’ outfield homers?
With the outburst Sunday, Happ and Schwarber lead the team with nine apiece, followed by Anthony Rizzo with eight. Heyward is next in a four-way tie with five.
Overall, Cubs in the game as outfielders have hit 25 of the team’s 51 homers (49 percent).
Starting with the Cubs’ breakthrough to contention in 2015, outfielders have hit 31.6, 28.6, 30, 33.5 and 36.3 percent of the team’s homers.
Installing Happ in center has made an enormous difference. In less than a fifth of a normal season, he has homered six times while playing center, two while playing left and one while playing right. The most homers from a center fielder the Cubs have had since 2015 was 22 last season.
The Cubs’ outfield homer binge comes while homers are surging throughout baseball, just as Giolito’s no-hitter comes in a high-strikeout, low-hit environment. But more than going with the flow, all came through in a big way.