Seriously, people, we've seen five of the damned things this season, and we're not even at the All-Star Break yet. Cain had his perfect game last night, and the White Sox' Philip Humber threw a perfect game on April 21.
Eleven days later, Jered Weaver tossed a no-hitter for the Angels. Barely a month after, Joan Santana threw one for the Mets. And then a week after that, six non-descript Seattle Mariners combined to throw another no-hitter.
Has the ball been de-juiced? Are "All You Can Eat" stadium section food binges affecting the size of the strike zone? Is Lt. Frank Drebin impersonating a home plate umpire and making pitcher-friendly calls to prevent an assassination attempt?
There are more theories flying around than there are no-hitters already pitched this season. Let's look at a few.
- Duh, Less Steroids -- Well, here's the obvious one, and it's probably to some degree true. Major League Baseball did not test for steroids until 2002. Now that they do, there are curiously fewer runs being scored. As Tom Verducci points out in his Sports Illustrated analysis, there have already been more no-hitters this year than in the three combined seasons before steroid testing was implemented.
- The Trendiness of Strikeouts -- When I say strikeouts are becoming trendier, I mean among batters. In baseball culture, there is less of a stigma in striking out than in previous years. Stat Geeks have gotten their point across that a strikeout is better than grounding into a double play, and hitters are being coached to swing for the fences, or to look a hittable-but-not-crushable pitch. This season we're seeing an average of 7.5 strike-outs for every nine innings pitched -- the highest average ever in the history of the game.
- Data and Defensive Adjustments -- We're now seeing the first generation of managers who are/used to be Stat Geeks, and this is affecting defensive efficiency. To many skippers, spreadsheets and statistics are taking the place of wads of chewing tobacco in the clubhouse. Clubs can track a hitter's typical groundball locations and shift their defensive infield according to that hitter's tendency. Bill James Online, the daily bible of Stat Geeks who speak in acronyms, points out that this season is seeing twice as many infield defensive shifts as the last two season. That's not a coincidence.
- Umpire Ted Barrett -- Barret worked the plate last night for Cain's perfect masterpiece. He also called David Cone's perfect game in 1999. Barrett is the only umpire who has ever called two perfect games. Also, umpire Brian Runge worked third base -- and he has worked three no-hitters and perfect games this season.