For a few days this April, it seemed as though a combined no-hitter was perpetually in progress. The Marlins came close to one twice in a matter of days, with Dan Straily and Wei-Yin Chen leaving with no-hitters in progress after 5 1/3 and 7 innings respectively. The day before Straily, Oakland’s Sean Manaea went 5 clean innings before being removed in the sixth after three consecutive walks and an error left his pitch count at 98 and the Astros with a run on the board anyway.

Rich Hill was controversially removed with a no-hitter in progress last September, and Dave Roberts did the same with rookie Ross Stripling earlier in 2016. The Marlins removed Adam Conley from his bid with four outs remaining, just a few weeks after Stripling’s effort.

You might think that it’s not that common for combined no-hitters to even be in play particularly often. In fact, a pitcher has been removed with a no-hitter intact through six innings at least once in every season since 2010. Teams are more conscious of pitch counts and preserving starters, and for the likes of Roberts and Don Mattingly (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say their front offices and medical staff), those concerns outweigh the potential of an appearance in the history books for one of their starters.

The Mariners combine for a no-hitter vs the Dodgers in 2012.
Presumably this used to be less common, given the value placed on the achievement and the relatively recent emphasis on pitcher preservation. How much less common? Let’s Play Index to find out.

Since 1913, there have been 101 instances of a starter going at least five no-hit innings without making it the full nine, and therefore were not credited with the no-hitter. 52 of these went six innings or more. However, six of those – started by Cole Hamels, Kevin Millwood, Kent Mercker, Bob Milacki, Mark Langston, and Steve Barber – did go on to be no-hitters.

Out of the 250+ total no-hitters in the modern era, only 11 have been of the combined variety — the most famous of which was one of Sam Miller’s draft picks in Effectively Wild episode 500, the legendary Babe Ruth-Ernie Shore game. Details of each, including the starter concerned and their reason for removal, can be seen below.

DateTmOppResultStarterNo. pitchersStarter IPReason starter removedBBSOTotal pitches
6/23/1917BOSWSHW 4-0Babe Ruth20Ejected for arguing leadoff walk12?
04/30/1967BALDETL 1-2Steve Barber28.2Walks/pitch count/just lost lead anyway103?
09/28/1975OAKCALW 5-0Vida Blue45Final day, A's in playoffs25?
07/28/1976CHWOAKW 2-1Blue Moon Odom25Walks115?
04/11/1990CALSEAW 1-0Mark Langston27First start, shortened spring45126
07/13/1991BALOAKW 2-0Bob Milacki46Hand hit by comebacker45121
ATLSDPW 1-0Kent Mercker36Had been a reliever most of the year26108
07/12/1997PITHOUW 3-0Francisco Cordova29Pitched full 9, game went to extras311139
06/11/2003HOUNYYW 8-0Roy Oswalt61Groin strain313151
06/08/2012SEALADW 1-0Kevin Millwood66Groin strain39114
09/01/2014PHIATLW 7-0Cole Hamels46Pitch count512147

Barber suffers the unfortunate distinction of being one of only two starters to be part of a nine-inning no-hitter and still lose. Two others on that list of 52 pitched eight-inning complete games in losing efforts: Andy Hawkins and Matt Young. Jered Weaver combined with Jose Arredondo to do the same in 2008. In total, 15 of the 52 games (29%) actually ended up being losses for the team that got at least six hitless frames from the starter.

With the 8-inning losses taken out, 50 starts are left. Five more were pitched by just the starter, but do not qualify as no-hitters as they were shortened games. This leaves 45 games in which the starter went at least six no-hit innings but left before nine, and 39 in which the bullpen then allowed a hit.

Here’s a handy chart that breaks down the 45 six-inning-plus occurrences:

Almost a third of the unfinished no-hitters since 1913 have taken place in 2010 or later. It may not have escaped the attention of anyone who knows which year it is that there are almost three full baseball seasons remaining in this decade. There are going to be more of these, and it would hardly be surprising if they became even more common, and less noteworthy, given the recent trend.

With hitters making less contact than ever, it seems no-hitters should be more common, but it’s clear there has been a fundamental shift in how they are perceived by those making the key decisions. As managers continue to remove starters who are in a position to complete no-hitters, will they ultimately become less significant as an achievement?

I’d argue the opposite is true. I felt that no-hitters were becoming all too common – there were 7 in 2015 alone – and it’s hard to consider it a particularly remarkable event when there’s more than one a month. This trend towards handling starters carefully even when no-hitters are involved could now mean that we get less no-hitters of the underwhelming or health-threatening pitch count variety and more high quality, efficient, dominant outings that feel more appropriate for an achievement that is supposed to be so significant.

Yes, there may be fewer no-hitters, but we might just appreciate them more. Of course, we will probably care about combined no-hitters even less than we do now.

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