The title of the article is an allusion to Schott’s Miscellany, which you should definitely check out if you never have and feel compelled to know that a group of larks is called an exaltation or that a member of the 32nd degree of Freemasonry is known as a Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret.
–The Start After a No-Hitter–
No-hitters command a lot of attention from fans and writers and command a lot fantasy points in most formats, but I expect most fantasy players will take Chris Heston’s no-hitter as an interesting quirk rather than an indication that he deserves to shoot up starting pitcher rankings. As the platitudes go, many no-name pitchers threw no-hitters and did little else in their careers, and many of the best pitchers in baseball history never threw one at all.
The easy answer with Heston is that he is the next of the no-names. He is a 27-year-old rookie who was never highly touted as a prospect and never showed exceptional strikeout potential at any level of the minors. At 8.0 per nine, the strikeouts aren’t exceptional now, either, but the sum of all of his good-not-great parts is starting to look like a decent option even in shallower formats.
Heston has had great command with 2.2 walks per nine. His 56.2 percent groundball rate is very high for a player with even his more moderate strikeout rate, and it plays very nicely in front a talented defensive infield—they have combined for 11 Defensive Runs Saved, most of which has come from Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt—that is committed to shifting—their 183 shifts on balls in play is fifth most in the NL according to Baseball Info Solutions. AT&T Park in San Francisco limits run scoring more than any other park in baseball. And if anything, Heston has been a bit unlucky with a low 69.7 percent left-on-base percentage and a high 12.0 percent home run-to-flyball rate. In fact, Heston’s FIP (3.31) and xFIP (3.20) are about a half a run lower than his ERA (3.77).
It’s strange, but while Heston’s no-hitter may have done enough to his full-season numbers to catch my attention, it’s also the source of my greatest apprehension. It’s still fresh in my mind that both Johan Santana and Josh Beckett threw no-hitters that, at least in my mind, accelerated the ends of their careers. And even the rational part of me is curious what a no-hitter does to a pitcher in his next start and for the rest of his season.
Since 2002, there have been 33 traditional no-hitters in the regular season, beginning with Derek Lowe on April 27, 2002 and ending with Heston on Tuesday. Excluding Heston, two of those no-hitters were the last starts by the pitchers that season; both Henderson Alvarez in 2013 and Jordan Zimmermann last season just happened to throw theirs at the end of September. That leaves 30 pitchers we can compare their performances before and after no-hitters.
Seventeen of the 30 pitchers had a better ERA in the rest of their starts after the no-hitter than they did before it, and an even split of 15 of the 30 pitchers had fewer pitches per game for the rest of the season. In other words, there’s nothing there. Pitchers have generally been unaffected by their no-hitters for the rest of that season.
The other major question I had was whether the fatigue of throwing a lot of pitches in a no-hitter affected the pitcher going forward. I was surprised to discover that in only six of the 33 no-hitters did the pitcher throw 125 or more pitches. Of course, Santana and Beckett were two of those pitchers, so I was predisposed to be alarmed by the high totals. In truth, even the pitchers with those higher pitch totals showed unremarkable before and after splits. Santana was the only one of the six that sharply declined in performance. Even looking at just the pitcher’s next starts, there was little effect. There is a small negative relationship between pitches thrown in the no-hitter and pitches thrown in the next start, but it is also a weak relationship (r-squared of 0.08).
There are not so many no-hitters that we can draw strong conclusions by studying them, but based on what we have to work with, there is no cause for concern with Heston in his next start or for the rest of the season. He is unlikely to answer that previous dominant performance, but he deserves consideration as a top-50 pitcher and is a great pitcher to stream in his home starts.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt