How Do Pitchers Fare After A No-Hitter?

Image credit: Vanderbilt righthander Kumar Rocker (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Vanderbilt freshman Kumar Rocker is coming off of one of the best starts in college baseball history.

Nine innings, 19 strikeouts, no hits and a season saved. Rocker dominated Duke in the second game of their Super Regional with a performance that will be hard to ever top.

But that led to a quick question. How do pitchers usually do after the start of a lifetime?

There’s no easy way to answer that in college baseball, as Baseball Reference’s Play Index doesn’t cover the college game. But with the acknowledgement that MLB and college baseball are very different entities, hopefully there’s still some value in this admittedly quick study.

This decade, there have been 12 times where a major league pitcher threw a no-hitter while throwing 120 pitches or more (Rocker threw 130 in his start).

And in the start after that no-hitter, the pitchers were often not very good. In the start following their no hitters, those 12 pitchers posted an average ERA of 5.40. And after holding teams hitless in their previous start, they combined to give up 63 hits in 65.2 innings in the follow-ups.

There were some solid starts–Ubaldo Jimenez threw 7.1 scoreless innings in his follow-up start and Mike Fiers has twice allowed only one run in his no-hitter follow-up.

But in half of the 12 starts, the pitcher posted a game score of less than 50 (which is considered average for a start). The worst outcome was Tim Lincecum. After striking out 13 in a no-hitter on July 13, 2013, Lincecum was given eight days off before his next start to help him build back up after his 148-pitch outing. Apparently it wasn’t enough, as he allowed nine hits and eight runs in only 3.2 innings.

Many of the pitchers were given some extra time to recover after what was often a strenuous start (few pitchers top 120 pitches regularly these days). Only five of the 12 starts came on a regular five-day schedule while six were made with two or more extra days off.

Interestingly, four of the five best starts in the study were made by the pitchers working on their normal schedule.

Few inferences can be made from a study with so few data points, but it is safe to say that there’s very little indication at the MLB level that such a dominant start generates any positive carryover effect for a pitcher in their next outing.

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