The irony was not lost on this past Labor Day Monday when the Phillies bullpen staff worked together to earn a no-hitter. Cole Hamels took to the bump at Turner Field against the Braves and pitched six hitless innings with 108 pitches. Hamels issued five walks and passed the ball over to Jake Diekman to pitch the seventh, Ken Giles to pitch the eighth and finally Jonathan Papelbon to close out the game in the ninth. The work force whiffed 12 Ks in a combined effort and carried the team through their 7-0 victory.
The Phillies are no strangers to a No-No. Halladay had two No-Nos in his recent career with the Phillies, one of which was a perfect game, thrown May 29th, 2010 against the Marlins. He threw a no-hitter later that same season in an October playoff game against Cincinnati.
Both feats - the singular and the combined effort for the no-hitter - are very impressive. It is a very small group of pitchers in the MLB that can claim the solo feat; Halladay, Koufax, Lincecum, Buehrle, and a handful of others. Only 11 times in MLB history has a team pulled off the No-No with a combined effort, and of those 11, only six were with more than two pitchers. The Phillies this past Monday (four pitchers), the Mariners in June 2012 (six pitchers), Astros in June 2003 (six pitchers), Braves in September 1991 (four pitchers), Orioles in July 1991 (four pitchers) and the A's in September 1975 (four pitchers).
So yes, both are very impressive, but what is more valuable to a club? Earlier this season, back in June, Tim Lincecum threw his second no-hitter in less than a year for the SF Giants. Since, Lincecum has struggled, with a current ERA of 4.70, and recently being bumped back to the bullpen and out of the starting rotation. Homer Bailey has thrown two no-hitters in the past two seasons and is currently holding a 3.71 ERA with the Reds. Similarly, LA Dodgers starter, Josh Beckett, has been recently struggling with his pitching and rehabilitation, but was able to pull everything together for one game and throw a no-hitter earlier this summer. Sometimes the baseball gods shine down and everything comes together I suppose.
The lesson here though is that no-hitters are unpredictable and inconsistent. The Giants, who currently hold a Wild Card spot in the NL, likely won't take into consideration Lincecum's no-hitter when they are designing their postseason rotation. The Phillies on the other hand, currently last in their division, when looking into their downfalls, are able to take into consideration the overall performance of pitching, comparative to their offense. It is easy to see that pitching is not their issue (who are currently in the bottom seven of the MLB in team offensive stats for RBIs, BA, hits, etc.)
Seeing as the current trend is to compare all patterns to the Moneyball strategy - I would say these pitching demonstrations completely validate the strategy.
Taking this one step further, if we look at the 2003 Houston Astros, who threw the six pitcher no-hitter mentioned above, we see that the Astro's pitching staff, as a combined effort, kept the opposing BA to .245. The Astro's offensively put out a collective .263 BA. Mathematically - it is very clear why the Astros were able to finish the regular season with a .537 win percentage.
The Moneyball shift has taken the focus away from the singular pitcher and their mutually exclusive talents and shines the light on the encompassing nine innings and what statistical feats are needed within those nine innings. The focus isn't on who specifically will provide those coups, but collectively, what unit is statistically more likely to come to the winning conclusion.
It will be interesting to see in say, 10 years, what the no-hitter stats look like. If a team can consistently put together a pitching staff that can collectively shut out opponents and match that with an offensive line up that can move base-runners around than the entire team sport of baseball will have elevated to a level that Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta would be most proud of.