Before we start, we should say that San Francisco Giants’ rookie Chris Heston had an impressive performance the night he tallied his first no-hitter in a 5-0 victory vs. the Mets. While Heston (6-4) had a stunning night that left many MLB odds fans astonished, he hit three batters, including one in the 9th inning — to spoil his chance at a perfect game. The three hit batters are the most ever in a no-hitter. We’re not trying to take anything away from what Heston accomplished in what he said was “the greatest moment of his life”. With that said, the strike zone in the game certainly appeared to benefit Heston late in the tilt, which may have made getting that no-hitter a bit easier.
An Inside Analysis on the MLB Betting Profiles on Chris Heston and His First No-Hitter
When Heston came back out for the ninth inning, it looked like the umpires were hoping for a no-hitter as well. Heston went up 0-2 on Daniel Muno, who had come on to pinch hit in the pitcher’s spot. With his third pitch, Heston threw a curve that, upon replay, never crossed the plate. Even so, the umpire rang Muno up for strike three. It also helped that Buster Posey was the catcher; Posey led all MLB catchers in framing runs saved in 2014 and is in the lead again in 2015. In many cases, the strike zone gets a little smaller when the count goes 0-2, which is why called third strikes are even more rare. However, the framing, the pitcher’s motion and the excitement of being in a ninth inning may have all caused that zone to expand a bit beyond its normal parameters.
With two outs, Ruben Tejada was up to bat – another lefty. With a 2-1 count, Heston sent a sinker in, about the same distance away from the corner, and he got another strike call. With a 2-2 count, Heston threw another pitch for a borderline strike. That called third strike brought this no-hitter to an end. Because Muno and Tejada are generally lower than average in their hitting, Heston probably would have gotten his no-hitter without the strike zone expanding mysteriously. So he did have some help.
How much help? During the 2015 season so far, the average probability of having a strike called is 45.9 percent. So if the batter does not swing, the average pitch has just less than a 50-50 chance to be a called strike. If you limit the sample to strikes that end up being called, though, that number goes up to 79.0 percent. It might seem odd that the called-strike probability of called strikes isn’t 100 percent, but the fact is that many called strikes shouldn’t be, and likely wouldn’t be with a different catcher, umpire and/or pitcher.
During Heston’s no-hitter, he threw 28 called strikes, and they had a 77.8 called strike probability, which is a little bit below that MLB 79.0 percent average. That means that the strike zone wasn’t gargantuan the whole game – but it did grow a bit for that ninth inning. Those pitches to Muno and Tejada had only a 5.3 and 7.1 percent likelihood (respectively) of being called strikes. That means that you could throw those same pitches to those same batters with those same counts and expect the umpire to call a strike about once in 14 times.
Is the umpire a factor here? Rob Drake was behind the plate for Heston’s no-hitter, and he was also the home plate umpire when Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game on August 15, 2012. If you look at the ninth inning of that game, the strike zone appeared to grow as well. During that game, Hernandez had one pitch that was a low-probability strike (34.2 percent) called for him, but that’s not nearly as far from the plate as the pitches Heston threw to Muno and Tejada.
However, ninth innings in no-hitters get strange. Pitchers start nibbling at the edges because they’re tired; hitters start swinging away with less discrimination because they want a hit. Umpire strike zones (not just Rob Drake’s) tend to expand. So that last inning gets easier for everyone – except the hitters.