MLB’s no-hitter spree, explained: New baseballs, bad offenses are driving 2021’s record pace

For the love of baseball gods: No mo’ no-nos, please.

Baseball is on the verge of some pretty significant history just 2 1/2 months into the 2021 season. With six no-hitters already thrown, a seventh no-hitter will tie a MLB record, and at the rate that teams have been blanked this year, we can almost certainly expect that to happen.

While pitchers are largely nastier than they’ve ever been, the cast of hurlers who have tossed no-nos this year aren’t exactly a who’s who of “stuff” guys in baseball this year.

So what exactly is the cause behind it? Does offense just suck now? Does the baseball make that big of a difference?

It’s not exactly rocket surgery to find out why pitchers have been so dominant this year.

Why have there been so many no-hitters in 2021? 

Through May 19, there have been six no-hitters thrown, one off from tying the MLB record and two away from shattering it. More importantly than who’s thrown them — which isn’t necessarily a who’s who of starters — are the reasons behind it.

Bad offenses

Of the six no-nos tossed this season, Cleveland, the Mariners and Rangers have each been no-hit two times apiece. The next squad to get no-hit will be a first in baseball history: No team has ever been no-hit three times in a single season. Each team has a pretty, pretty good case of making that unfortunate history.

Batting average across the majors sat at .240 this year (.236 if you’re counting pitcher stats) on May 20, the morning after Corey Kluber threw the sixth no-no of the season. The Rangers are league average (.236) but both Cleveland (.213, 28th) and Seattle (.198, 30th) are bottom-of-the-barrel offensively in the majors.

Is it a matter of consistently changing offensive ideologies? Maybe, potentially. The offensive numbers across the sport are nearing historic lows: the .236 average is currently the worst in MLB history, while the league’s .705 OPS is comfortably in the middle of the pack of offensive seasons since 1871.

Pitchers are certainly much nastier than they’ve ever been, defensive analytics and positioning is smarter than its ever been, striking out isn’t as frowned upon as it used to be and the home-run-or-bust mentality among teams means that contact ball is the new market inefficiency. Throw that all into a pot, mix it up, and you get what you’re seeing in 2021. 

That’s not the only reason, though.

Bad baseballs

Let’s have some more fun with numbers.

MLB admitted that there were some manufacturing variances that caused baseballs to fly out of stadiums in 2019 and 2020, so they reversed course for the 2021 season. But, maybe they went a little too far.

In an under-the-radar story heading into the 2021 season, it was reported that MLB announced they would be changing the balls for this year. The changes to the ball made it slightly less bouncy and a little bit lighter, resulting in fly balls not carrying as far and pitchers, seemingly, getting the better end of the deal.

Balls used in 2019 and 2020 were flying out for insane home run rates, with teams averaging 1.39 and 1.28 home runs per game, respectively, in 2019 and 2020. Those are the two highest marks in baseball history.

The home run rate in 2021, through May 19: 1.14. Still a little higher than it had been in baseball history, but lower than in the last two years with the juiced ball. Fly ball rate tells us something, too: at 35.4 percent, it’s a shade under the 35.7 percent in both 2019 and 2020, so balls aren’t getting out at the rate they had been. Home run to fly ball rate tells us that, too: 13.3 percent is lower than 15.3 and 14.7 in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

So, the “fixing” of the baseballs has seemingly done its job so far, even if it’s coming at the expense of 

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