Baseball

No Hits Allowed, but No Official Recognition for Bumgarner’s Seven-Inning Feat

On Sunday, Madison Bumgarner did what the Padres’ Joe Musgrove and the White Sox’s Carlos Rodón have already done this season: he pitched a game to its scheduled completion without allowing any hits. Yet the 31-year-old Diamondbacks lefty won’t get credit for an official no-hitter because his sterling effort took place in a seven-inning doubleheader game — oddly enough, the nightcap of a twin bill that began with teammate Zac Gallen holding the Braves to a single hit.

Because Saturday night’s game at Truist Park was postponed due to inclement weather, the Diamondbacks and Braves met for the season’s 21st doubleheader, playing under the rules put in place early in the 2020 season as a means of helping teams make up postponements in expeditious fashion, particularly COVID-19-related ones. The rule was then carried over into this season as part of this year’s health and safety protocols. In the opener, Gallen allowed only a sixth-inning single to Freddie Freeman, and afterwards waved off the thought of how his achievement would have been viewed if not for Freeman’s hit:

“Yeah, I didn’t know that it didn’t count, but it wouldn’t have really counted in my book anyway,” Gallen said. “[D-backs catcher Stephen Vogt] after was like, ‘Man, that would have been sick,’ and I was like, ‘Forget that, I want to get a legit one.’”

Bumgarner, Saturday night’s scheduled starter, put the hypothetical scenario to the test almost immediately afterwards, and he did it while staked to a 5-0 lead, as his teammates piled up five first-inning runs against Braves starter Drew Smyly. Bumgarner faced the minimum 21 batters, striking out seven and walking none; the only Braves hitter to reach base was Ozzie Albies, who led off the second inning with a routine grounder to shortstop Nick Ahmed, whose throw pulled first baseman Wyatt Mathisen off the bag towards the right field side, a clear error. Three pitches later, Bumgarner erased him by getting Travis d’Arnaud to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.

From there, Bumgarner cruised. He went to a three-ball count only four times, twice against Guillermo Heredia, who battled him for 11 pitches in the third before flying out and for nine pitches in the sixth before popping out. Though Bumgarner allowed five hard-hit balls of at least 95.0 mph on the afternoon, including two in the first inning, only two of those had an expected batting average (xBA) above .340. The highest was a .770 xBA on a 106.4-mph, 389-foot warning track fly ball off the bat of d’Arnaud, but the catch by center fielder Pavin Smith was pretty routine, and likewise for the line drive by the next batter, Dansby Swanson, which came Smith’s way as well; that one traveled at 99.2 mph and had a .430 xBA.

Bumgarner began the seventh with a pitch count of 88, and finished by retiring Ronald Acuña Jr., Freeman, and Marcell Ozuna in order in the seventh — no big deal, just three of the game’s most dangerous hitters going down in order on 10 pitches. He struck out Acuña looking at a cutter, induced Freeman to pop out to Ahmed in foul territory, and got Ozuna to line out to Josh Rojas in left field.

“Rojas is there, Madison Bumgarner, a complete-game shutout!” said Diamondbacks play-by-play announcer Steve Berthiaume, tiptoeing around the validity of the pitcher’s accomplishment. “No hits for the Braves in seven.”

“Look at that there, that says it all,” added Berthiaume as the Diamondbacks mobbed Bumgarner on the mound.

When Major League Baseball set the seven-inning doubleheader game rule into action last August, the league and the Elias Sports Bureau, its official statistician, declared that neither a team nor an individual pitcher would be credited with a no-hitter unless the game extended to at least nine innings via extra innings. The designation was in line with a 1991 ruling by the Fay Vincent-led Committee for Statistical Accuracy by which “any game of fewer than nine innings in which a pitcher or pitchers do not allow a hit should be considered as a ‘notable achievement,’” but not a no-hitter.

With that ruling, 36 no-hit efforts that were shortened by rain, darkness or other reasons were stripped of their official designation, according to the great NoNoHitters.com site, run by Dirk Lammers, which I’ve cited several times in this space; the count includes rain-shortened no-hitters by Hall of Famers Rube Waddell and Walter Johnson as well as a pair by brothers Pascual and Melidio Perez. Also wiped away were two no-hitters in which the visiting team pitcher allowed runs but not hits and thus threw only eight innings in a complete-game loss, including the infamous five-walk, four-run outing by Andy Hawkins on July 1, 1990. Stripped of their recognition as well were 12 games in which a pitcher threw nine no-hit innings but surrendered a hit in extra innings, including the heartbreakers of Harvey Haddix, who was perfect through 12 innings on May 26, 1959 but lost the no-hitter and the game in the 13th, and Pedro Martinez, who was perfect through nine on June 3, 1995 but allowed a double to lead off the 10th. The ensuing decades have added games of all three varieties to the litany.

Here’s a list of the hitless complete game efforts that were shorter than nine innings:

No Hits Allowed in Complete Games Shorter Than 9 Innings Since 1901

Pitcher Date Team Opponent IP H R BB SO
Red Ames 9/14/1903 (2) Giants Cardinals 5 0 0 2 7
Rube Waddell 8/15/1905 Athletics Browns 5 0 0 0 9
Jake Weimer 8/24/1906 (2)* Reds Dodgers 7 0 0 1 4
Stoney McGlynn 9/24/1906 (2) Cardinals Dodgers 7 0 1 2 2
Lefty Leifield 9/26/1906 (2) Pirates Phillies 6 0 0 2 6
Ed Walsh 5/26/1907 White Sox Yankees 5 0 1 2 1
Ed Karger 8/11/1907 (2)* Cardinals Braves 7 0 0 0 2
Howie Camnitz 8/23/1907 Pirates Giants 5 0 0 5 2
Rube Vickers 10/5/1907 (2) Athletics Senators 5 0 0 0 3
Johnny Lush 8/6/1908 Cardinals Dodgers 6 0 0 5 3
King Cole 7/31/1910 (2) Cubs Cardinals 7 0 0 4 1
Carl Cashion 8/20/1912 (2) Senators Cleveland 6 0 0 1 2
Walter Johnson 8/25/1924 Senators Browns 7 0 0 2 2
Fred Frankhouse 8/27/1937 Dodgers Reds 7.2 0 0 6 3
John Whitehead 8/5/1940 (2) Browns Tigers 6 0 0 1 2
Jim Tobin 6/22/1944 (2) Braves Phillies 5 0 0 2 1
Mike McCormick 6/12/1959 Giants Phillies 5 0 0 1 2
Sam Jones 9/26/1959 Giants Cardinals 7 0 0 2 5
Dean Chance 8/6/1967 Twins Red Sox 5 0 0 0 4
David Palmer 4/21/1984 (2) Expos Cardinals 5 0 0 0 2
Pascual Perez 9/24/1988 Expos Phillies 5 0 0 1 8
Andy Hawkins 7/1/1990 Yankees White Sox 8 0 4 5 3
Melido Perez 7/12/1990 White Sox Yankees 6 0 0 4 9
Matt Young 4/12/1992 (1) Red Sox Cleveland 8 0 2 7 6
Devern Hansack 10/1/2006 Red Sox Orioles 5 0 0 1 6
Madison Bumgarner 4/25/2021 D’backs Braves 7 0 0 0 7

SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

* Game shortened to seven innings beforehand by mutual agreement of both teams under the rules of the time. Parentheses denote doubleheader games.

Most of those games were shortened due to rain or darkness. Interestingly enough, two of those games, the ones denoted by asterisks, were shortened to seven innings ahead of time by mutual agreement according to researchers from the Society for American Baseball Research. MLB official historian John Thorn offered a couple of 19th-century examples as well (see below), and noted to FanGraphs that the 1957 rule book still contained the following provision: “A league may adopt a rule providing that one game of a doubleheader shall be seven innings in length. In such games, any of these rules applying to the ninth inning shall apply to the seventh inning.”

With the exception of those mutually-shortened games, Hawkins’ effort, and three others in which the visitors allowed a run or runs but no hits, what the others and the Haddix-type ones preceding Bumgarner’s all have in common, other than a litany of hard-luck stories, is that the pitcher or pitchers in question did not hold their opponents hitless to the scheduled completion of the game. Bumgarner, on the other hand, did, and for that, my feeling is that his game deserves to be recognized as a no-hitter. Call it a “seven-inning no-hitter,” fine, but count it just the same. It’s an official game played to its scheduled length, and if the pitchers (including Bumgarner) who have held their opponents scoreless for the entirety of seven-inning doubleheader games have been officially credited with shutouts — and they have — then a pitcher that holds a team to no hits for the duration should get the no-hitter.

Having said that, I count myself among the majority that does not care for the seven-inning games. When I polled FanGraphs readers last November about whether the various rules introduced for 2020 should carry over into 2021 given the continued pandemic conditions, 67.1% of readers were against retaining the doubleheader rule for 2021, though they were more vehement when it came to the runner-on-second extra-innings rule, with 76.4% voting to scrap it. Yet the players’ union agreed to keep both rules without word of significant dissent. It’s not implausible that either or both could be part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, though it’s premature to handicap the likelihood of that happening — it’s small potatoes compared to the economic issues that need ironing out — and we can all stand to save the yelling at clouds regarding those matters for another day.

Thorn is of the opinion that Bumgarner’s achievement, and those of Weimer, Hawkins, and their ilk should be recognized as no-hitters. Here’s what he told FanGraphs:

“Weimer’s no-hitter, like Bumgarner’s, should reenter the record books, imho… Evidently Karger and Weimer are two whose no-hitters were foreshortened by design (there are others). No one on the 1991 ‘Statistical Accuracy Committee’ could have cared that Karger and Weimer would lose their no-hitters long after their deaths … but neither could they have imagined that a scheduled seven-inning game would become … commonplace.

“Then there are [19th century pitchers] Dupee Shaw and Jack Stivetts with their five-inning no-hitters, games called by the clubs’ mutual consent … and Jay Cashion and King Cole and Andy Hawkins and his contingent of eight-inning no-hit losers. What to do there? I say bring ’em all back into the fold. But I say this a historian and as a logician, not as one with any power to reverse an MLB ruling of a committee headed by Commissioner Fay Vincent.

“To rule today that a no-hitter or perfect game could not occur solely because nine innings were not played is, in my view, not conforming with Vincent’s ruling but instead relying upon consistency while bending logic and perception.”

I’ll side with the historian on this one while noting that neither Bumgarner nor his teammates seemed to object as strenuously to the prospect of calling the outcome a no-hitter as Gallen did. “I didn’t give up any hits today,” Bumgarner told reporters afterwards. “I’m not in control of how many innings we’re playing. I like the seven-inning doubleheader thing. I don’t know.”

“It was a seven-inning game and we gave up no hits in seven innings,” said catcher Carson Kelly. “That’s how I’m going to look at it. Whether the league says ‘unofficial,’ whatever it is, I believe it’s a no-hitter. We were told we were playing seven and he took care of business.”

“He basically was perfect for seven complete innings,” said Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo. “So it’s a no-hitter for me, and it will be forever. I don’t know what the rule book’s going to say and I don’t know if Major League Baseball’s going to recognize it. But for what’s going on in that room right now, for the special feeling that Madison gave us today — it was a no-hitter.”

For Bumgarner, who has thrown four one-hitters, three of which were no-hitters through seven innings (most recently on July 10, 2016 against the Diamondbacks), Sunday’s outing by any name was a welcome turn of events. Since signing a five-year, $85 million deal with the Diamondbacks after 11 seasons with the Giants, he has struggled mightily; he entered Sunday with a 7.16 ERA, 6.76 FIP, and 2.5 homers allowed per nine in 60.1 innings spread over 13 starts since the start of last season, “good” for -0.6 WAR. He missed nearly four weeks with a mid-back strain last year, and while he’s been healthy thus far this season, he’d been lit for a 8.68 ERA and 5.83 FIP in 18.2 innings over four starts. A Bum deal, indeed.

In his first three starts this season, Bumgarner allowed at least as many runs as innings pitched, but on April 18, he held the Nationals to two hits and one run over five innings, striking out five. According to Statcast, his four-seam fastball in that outing averaged 90.9 mph, his highest single-game average since joining the Diamondbacks, and up 1.3 mph from his previous start; he averaged 91.3 mph in his final start as a Giant in 2019. On Sunday, he inched upwards to 91.1 mph.

Just as big on Sunday was Bumgarner’s curveball, with which he netted six swings and misses, his highest total as a Diamondback; only twice in his 13 previous starts for Arizona did he have more than three, and only four times did he have six or more in 2019. He did benefit from the wide strike zone called by home plate umpire Jeremy Riggs, particularly on fastballs inside to righties, but Braves’ pitchers benefited as well:

Meanwhile, neither team had a single ball called on a pitch inside the zone. By his own admission, Bumgarner also benefited from the shadows of the late-afternoon game:

None of this diminishes what Bumgarner accomplished; just about every no-hit effort takes some alignment of the elements, so to speak. As to whether it “counts,” in the immediate aftermath of his outing, the Elias Sports Bureau’s Twitter account congratulated him on the dreaded “notable achievement”…

…but MLB Network’s Jon Heyman soon reported that the league and Elias have not reached a final verdict:

Whichever way it goes, what Bumgarner did on Sunday was special. If not quite the equal of the 307 official no-hitters recognized by MLB and Elias, it’s among those that deserve a category of their own.

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