I have never seen a Royals pitcher throw a no-hitter.
Never, not once in my lifetime, has any Royals pitcher thrown a no-hitter. The concept seems so foreign, so exceedingly unlikely that I get surprised when I look at the list of players and teams that have.
Since the Royals last threw a no-hitter (August 26, 1991), nearly every team in the majors has had one of their own. Most have had more than one. The Dodgers have five, as do- astoundingly- the Marlins. Dallas Braden threw a perfect game at age 26 and was out of baseball a year later. Philip Humber, a former Royal, threw a perfect game of his own in 2012. Humber was in the minors a year later and now pitches in Korea.
But no-hitters avoid the Royals like running avoids Billy Butler. Only five teams have waited longer for a no-hitter: San Diego (which has never thrown one), Milwaukee, Cleveland, Toronto, and Baltimore. Baltimore barely counts because their last no-hitter came a month before the Royals’.
In a way, the no-hitter is the next great mountain for the Royals to climb. The playoff drought is over, but the no-hitter drought only trailed it by a few years. Of course, we’re still holding out for a championship. But if the 2015 Royals aren’t going to be a championship team, then a no-hitter would be a nice consolation prize. So what is that going to take?
How to throw a no-hitter
Step 1: Be a major-league pitcher
Step 2: ?????
I spent a really long time researching for this post. I dove into all sorts of pitching stats trying to find a common bond for recent no-hitters. Ground ball vs. fly ball rates? Strikeouts? Limiting contact? Pitching to your defense? Experience? Grit?
Henderson Alvarez broke everything.
To be fair, nothing was really holding up before I got to Alvarez. Jordan Zimmerman’s no-hitter included a 35% line drive percentage, well above his already-high 30% mark for the season. Tim Lincecum threw one in each of the past two seasons; in one case he struck out 13 and limited contact well, and in the other he only struck out 6 and had a contact percentage 20 points higher. In both cases, Tim Lincecum threw a no-hitter, which is probably the weirdest fact of them all.
Then I started looking through Alvarez’s stats from 2013, and discovered what was likely the most improbable no-hitter of all time.
On September 29, 2013, Henderson Alvarez’s mostly terrible Marlins were facing a resting-but-still-kind-of-trying-and-still-very-formidable Detroit Tigers lineup.
Opponents were pretty good at putting wood on Alvarez’s pitches; the Tigers themselves were pretty good at putting wood on everyone’s pitches.
Alvarez typically struck out five batters per nine innings in 2013. And for a little more context, the 2013 Marlins hovered just around league average in defense.
So, of course, everything worked out just as expected. Alvarez struck out four Tigers, while walking one and hitting another. When the Tigers swung, they made contact 91% of the time.
And after nine innings, Henderson Alvarez had a no-hitter.
To his credit, Alvarez broke out in 2014, more than doubling his career WAR. And he was young, expected to improve. But up until he threw his no-hitter, he had been a 1.0-1.5 WAR player over each of his three seasons in MLB.
If a 1.0-1.5 WAR pitcher (with some admittedly good stuff) can throw a no-hitter, who says a Royals pitcher can’t do the same this year?
The most likely candidates to throw a no-hitter
1. Danny Duffy
I put Danny Duffy at the top of the list because Dayton Moore would say that, in a small way, he’s already thrown a no-hitter. Duffy was perfect through six on May 17 against Baltimore, and the Orioles were one of the best hitting teams last year.
We all expect Duffy to regress this year, but that’s a regression over the course of a 162-game season. A baseball season is an overall summation of lots of individual data points. And there’s no reason that Duffy can’t replicate that May 17 data point just once this upcoming season. Who knows? Maybe against a lineup without Adam Jones, Duffy actually gets the job done.
Ventura’s got the best stuff in the rotation, but he still makes mistakes. I have trouble seeing Ventura putting together a complete game without giving up a hit here or there.
That said, in the future, I think Ventura is probably the Royals’ best chance for a no-hitter. When he’s on, he can be unhittable. The problem is getting him to stay on for nine innings without destroying his arm.
I admittedly don’t know a whole lot about Volquez yet, but looking at his game logs from last year, he appears to be so wildly inconsistent that he just might have a chance to throw a no-hitter. Of course, he could be just as likely to blow up and channel Vin Mazzaro.
Volquez has thrown a one-hitter in his career, and probably his best start last year was a one-hitter over seven innings.
We’re paying Volquez $20 million, which is something that I think should be mentioned every time he comes up until he earns the money. It might be mentioned a lot.
4. Wade Davis
If throwing an inning of no-hit ball in nine straight appearances counts as a no-hitter, he’d already be almost there.
As a starter? No chance. Thank goodness that experiment is over.
5. A starter whose name starts with "J"
On the bright side, we did acquire Guthrie by trading a pitcher who had thrown a no-hitter, and regardless of your opinion of Guthrie, we can all be thankful that he isn’t Jonathan Sanchez.
How will it happen?
Let’s say we were actually going to throw a no-hitter this year. How will it all go down?
1. It’s not going to happen.
Okay, fine, but what if it did?
1. It would probably happen on the road
Even with the Royals’ great outfield, there are too many places for balls to drop in Kauffman Stadium. But on the road, in smaller ballparks, the outfield can cover more ground. If the Royals finally get a no-hitter, it probably won’t be in front of the home crowd.
2. It would happen against the Rays
The Rays (along with the Padres) have been no-hit an ungodly amount of times in the past five years. It’s like the baseball gods choose to taunt the Rays by taking away their ability to bat for one game each year. Anyone can be no-hit, even the mighty Tigers… but the Rays are really good at it.
All things considered, it’s a much better alternative to the other way the baseball gods taunt teams- by making them go 29 years without the playoffs.
3. It would be a combined no-hitter
Here’s where things start to get interesting. I can’t buy Yordano Ventura or Danny Duffy going the full nine innings without giving up a hit. But I can buy either one of them going six or seven innings of inefficient, no-hit ball, forcing Ned to his bullpen. Holland, Davis, and if necessary, Herrera do the rest.
On any given day, I think six innings of Yordano plus one inning each of H-D-H yields a better chance of a no-hitter than nine innings of Clayton Kershaw. That might be reaching a little too far, but it’s certainly plausible.
Who knows? Maybe this will actually happen. It won’t, but there’s a chance. And with these Royals, you never know how much of a chance you really need for something magical to happen.