2021 was the year of the no-hitter in Major League Baseball, as the modern record of seven no-no's was tied once again when the season was all said and done. Had the MLB not cracked down heavily on prohibited substances beginning in early June, the record likely would have been broken before August. By mid-June when the crackdowns began, the league-wide batting average was at its lowest point since 1968 (.236). This, combined with all the other unprecedented amounts of low offensive output and increasingly accentuated pitching performances, led to a year that will be forever remembered for its six no-hitters that all occurred before June. When trying to rank the seven performances, I looked at several factors, such as: How close was the pitcher to throwing a perfect game? How much dominance did they hold over the game? Did their defense help in the effort? And, most importantly, what kind of legacy did that performance leave behind? Will we even remember it a year from now? It’s clear that the brevity of a no-hitter is not quantifiable --- but just achieving the feat is enough to be immortalized. Therefore, if you don’t agree with this list, tell me why I’m wrong! What makes a no-hitter memorable to you?
7. Spencer Turnbull, Detroit Tigers - 5/18/2021 Sadly, Turnbull’s no-hitter sits as probably the most forgettable, and the least impressive over the course of the past summer. It doesn’t help his cause that the career Tiger also has the worst stats out of any of the pitchers above him on this list. His 2021 season, while more impressive than any other Turnbull has turned in thus far, still wasn’t top-30 pitcher material. Even local media outlets called this one “the least likely occurrence”, of all the other no-hitters of the year. A career era at 4.25 and WHIP of 1.323 over four seasons doesn't necessarily scream out that this is something that could ever be repeated by the righty. Prior to the special game, Turnbull had never made it out of the 7th inning as a starter before. He also had a career FIP of 3.71 prior to the no-hitter, and he led the majors in losses two years prior.
However, the pitcher can't be discounted just yet. Turnbull throws an amazing slider; allowing only a .202 BA when throwing the pitch across his career. If he can stay healthy in 2022, Turnbull could turn into a solid mid-rotation starter. His no-hitter however was a pretty average affair, with one of his best stat's being that the Mariners only put five balls in play out of the infield the entire game. The nine strikeouts turned in by Turnbull also rank high here in comparison to the rest of the 2021 no-hitters club. Another key to his success on the mound that day was the 24 first pitch strikes Turnbull threw (out of 29 Mariner hitters faced altogether). One reason his no-hitter gets bumped down is that out of his nine K’s, three of them came off of Kyle Lewis, a strikeout machine who has more punch-out's over his career than hits.
6. Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres - 4/9/2021
Joe gets bonus points for starting the no-hitter craze of last season and for throwing the first no-hitter in San Diego Padres history! The former world champion Musgrove actually had a quite impressive outing by the numbers, striking out 10 Rangers during his no-hit performance; the second-most K’s of any no-hit night in 2021.
The outing was also only his second ever start for the franchise he once idolized as a kid (he wears the same number now as his childhood idol Jake Peavy).
This particular no-no does get knocked down a peg for it coming against a pretty bad Ranger's squad in 2021. The team lost over 100 games and were no-hit twice over the course of last season. Musgrove’s night was impressive, nonetheless, as he struck out six different Texas batters, and he only allowed a baserunner through hitting Joey Gallo with a wild pitch. The night was also the Padres ace’s first ever complete game in over 84 starts. This game was an impressive performance, and solidified Musgrove as the head of the San Diego starting rotation. Altogether, his performance in 2021 led to him being a clear top 30 pitcher in the league. Besides the no-hit performance, Musgrove ranked in the 99th percentile among all major league pitchers last year in fastball spin, and managed to post a career low WHIP in 2021 at 1.081, finishing the season close to the 1.057 number necessary to break into the top ten rankings in the league. On top of this, the 29-year-old also tied for the most shutouts in the entire league last year with 2 (tied with other big names' such as Zach Wheeler and Max Fried).
At the end of the day, the only reason I can’t put 'Joe no-no' higher on this list is due to the memorability and importance of the other gems below.
5. Wade Miley, Cincinnati Reds - 5/7/2021
One thing that jumped out at me when revisiting Miley’s performance---the Red’s lefty threw three, 'three-pitch strikeouts’ in his no-hitter performance. That type of nastiness bests any other no-hit pitchers' same stat in their outings. One of those three-pitch K's happened to come against Jordon Luplow. The outfielder was set down via a mix of Miley's changeup and cutter that at-bat. Miley expertly kept the third and final pitch at the knees and just enough outside the zone to get a swing and miss. We hate to say we told you so here at The Lefty Catcher, but this exact scenario concerning Miley's two best pitches was actually already previously discussed on this very site.
Miley also struck out an incredible seven different batters that night; only one pitcher above him on my list also accomplished this feat during his no-no. Another point in his favor is that the game was rain-delayed for over an hour, yet he still came out of the gate dominant, throwing a perfect game all the way up until the 6th inning. The Reds didn’t aid Wade Miley much that night against Cleveland either, as the team defensively gave up two errors in the field. Through no fault of his, the team didn’t help Miley out at all, and that does bump the pitcher’s performance out of top consideration for me. Any great no-hitter requires a whole team effort, not just on the part of the pitcher. The Cincy defense ensured their guy on the mound never had a chance at a perfect game that day. Over anything else, there’s one main reason this game was a boss of a no-hitter performance, and it’s quite simple: Wade Miley’s son encouraged his dad to put a temporary HULK tattoo on his arm before pitching that day…the rest is history.
4. Corey Kluber, New York Yankees - 5/19/2021
The two-time Cy Young winner threw his first ever no-hitter on a Wednesday night in Texas with an incredibly low 101 pitches. This game gets extra points for having an exciting ending, where an out of position Tyler Wade made a tough play in right field to secure the feat for his pitcher.
Kluber’s game also gets bonus points in my rankings for its overall impact on his legacy. He became the first Yankee to throw a no-hitter since Dwight Gooden tossed one in 1996. Adding a game like that in pinstripes to an already illustrious career has made the three-time all-star Kluber a potential Cooperstown inductee.
Another reason I loved this no-hitter after is because twice Kluber struck out Ranger batters with only three pitches during the game. Both times he just simply threw the exact same pitch three times in a row; his 82-mph curveball was just not hittable that night and he knew it.
Honestly, the only reason Kluber doesn’t rank higher on my list overall is because he wasn’t as close to throwing a perfect game as the other three above him. Also, if I hold Musgrove's game in lower regard for having come against the Rangers, Kluber must be held to the same standard. His performance is definitely a tier above the others below him, however, I felt the final three were not only more dominant performances in general, but they were more memorable and closer to perfection than this effort.
3. Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox - 4/14/2021
Carlos Rodon wins the award here for “closest to a perfect game, then losing it at the very last moment.” The White Sox hurler was midway through the 9th inning of his no-hitter against Cleveland when he suddenly hit catcher Roberto Perez with a 1-2 back-foot slider that got away. It was the first slider he happened to throw that at-bat, after managing to put Perez down 0-2 with three consecutive fastballs (one was fouled off). Up until that point, the southpaw had sat down 25 straight Cleveland batters. One slider that got away cost Carlos Rondon the first perfect game Major League Baseball would have seen since King Felix’s in 2012.
Rodon’s performance also resonated with me due to his dominance; he consistently was up on batters in counts, and he was almost never in danger of giving up a hit. Even when batters were making contact with Rodon, they were either grounding out to the infield or popping up short fly balls. The closest possible hit came in the 6th when Leury Garcia, a right fielder playing shortstop, made a miraculous snag and threw out Roberto Perez at the last second. However, at the end of the day it was Rodon himself who solidified his place in the top four. His 4th inning strikeout of Jordan Luplow was one of the most impressive single moments in any of the no-hit games thrown. Rodon went down in the count 3-0 and came back and struck him out with three fastballs in a row.
Undoubtedly, the game’s most nail-biting moment came at the top of the 9th when Josh Naylor nearly made it to first base on a sharp grounder. Naylor dove head-first to the bag, while first baseman Jose Abreu did a perfect banana split just in time to save the no-hitter which, at that moment, was also still a perfect game. Not only was this performance a memorable one, but it also helped in the career resurgence of Rodon as well. The former third overall pick in the 2014 draft only pitched 42 1⁄3 innings in the past two seasons following his Tommy John surgery. In total, the whole night just meant so much for Rodon and the White Sox that it cemented the game as more memorable than its predecessors on this list.
2. John Means, Baltimore Orioles - 5/5/2021
Coming in at number two on my list is arguably the best no-hitter tossed last season. If we’re trying to figure out who was closest to a perfect game, Means’ Cinco De Mayo masterpiece was by far the closest to perfection out of any other pitcher's no-hit performance. Not only this, but the O’s southpaw also threw the first complete game no-hitter the organization had seen in over 50 years. This no-no doesn’t rank high just because of the dominance of Means’ performance that day, his outing literally changed Camden Yards forever.
After his no-hitter against Seattle, Means is quoted as saying, “If this was Camden Yards, it was gone” (a reference to Kyle Lewis’ near homer in the 8th inning of the game). Because of this, among other reasons such as that left field wall getting Gleyber Torres some pretty fat stacks of cash coming his way in the near future; the club has officially decided to raise the wall and move it back 30 feet. If John Means’ no-hitter didn’t happen in Seattle, maybe this decision isn’t made in the 2021 offseason…it probably still is, but maybe not.
Now, despite all the fluff, this game was also the best pitched as a total game out of all the seven no-hitters tossed last season. Means struck out seven different Mariners throughout the game, as well, tying Wade Miley for the most among the no-hit performances of last summer. In total, the lefty struck out 12 batters that night; no other pitcher who threw a no-hitter in 2021 struck out more than 10 during their special outings. 9 of those 12 strikeouts Means achieved came from swings and misses on the third strike. The Mariners were trying to get hits off the mean man on the mound but had absolutely no chance. 12 batters that night; no other pitcher who threw a no-hitter in 2021 struck out more than 10 during their special outings. 9 of those 12 strikeouts Means achieved came from swings and misses on the third strike. The Mariners were trying to get hits off the mean man on the mound but had absolutely no chance.
This no-hitter was as close to a perfect game as we saw all season.
Just how close was he? Just about by the loose string of his catcher's mitt--a dropped third strike in the bottom of the third to Haggerty brought his perfect game attempt to an abrupt close.
Unlike all the other pitchers on this list, Means didn’t actually walk anyone. He finished the game with 0 BB (and didn’t plunk anyone like Musgrove and Rodon did), all while that wild pitch on the strikeout allowed what would be the only baserunner of the game. If that curve falls just a millisecond slower, or his catcher makes a slightly better defensive effort, John Means tosses a perfect game that day. But he didn’t, and because of that, a door was left open to be overtaken on my list by another southpaw.
1. Tyler Gilbert, Arizona Diamondbacks - 8/14/2021
Did #1 necessarily pitch a better no-hitter than Means? No. Was #1 closer to a perfect game than the Oriole? No, not at all actually. However, there are not just one, but several reasons why my top ranking was the best no-hitter thrown in all of 2021.
From the get-go, do I believe Gilbert’s no-hit game was the best by pure performance standards of them all? No. However, it was by far the most perfect encapsulation of everything we love about no-hitters, and the game of baseball, in general, all nicely wrapped up into one fun nine inning game. This no-no had everything: the hold-your-breath moments, the close calls, the improbability, and the proud dad going absolutely nuts in the stands.
What better story could there be for Major League Baseball than a guy accomplishing one of the hardest feats in the sport during his first ever career start? On top of that, Gilbert earns bonus points in my book for having thrown the only complete game no-hitter that’ll appear on this list after the league began their crackdown on foreign substances with pitchers. That’s right; out of the seven listed here, Ty Gilbert’s gem was the only one to have come after the “enhanced enforcement procedures" went into full effect by June 15th. Let’s be honest, too, the thrill of a no-hitter begins to diminish slightly the more frequently it occurs (i.e Turnbull and Kluber’s back-to-back nights). That’s why this particular performance by the rookie southpaw stands out even more, it meant more. It was the first ever no-hitter thrown at Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks. Moreover, like Means’ outing, if it weren't for a single factor, Tyler might have even thrown for a perfect game in his first start. That factor: Tommy Pham. The pesky outfielder walked three times off of Gilbert, effectively breaking up the perfect game try. Their dynamic throughout this game is just another reason why it helps put this no-no atop my list. Pham just so happened to be the final out that sealed the feat for Gilbert. After walking three times, the Padre looped a ball into short center that could’ve easily spoiled Tyler Gilbert’s no-hitter; until Ketel Marte slickly strode in for the quick catch in centerfield.
Another point that puts this no-hitter above the rest is the level of difficulty faced. Despite Fernando Tatis Jr. not being in the lineup that day for San Diego; Gilbert had to set down the likes of Adam Frazier, Manny Machado, Jake Cronenworth, Austin Nola and Eric Hosmer; all of whom had above a .335 OBP and a Slugging % above .390 at the time. Gilbert also squared off on the mound against another member of this list that day, Joe Musgrove. Weird how baseball works sometimes isn’t it?
Let’s not forget another great factoid that makes this game even more memorable and special. Tyler Gilbert wasn’t just a no name prior to this game; the year prior he was working as an electrician for his dad.
The minor league season was suspended due to COVID, and it wasn’t until the D-Backs picked up Gilbert in the Triple-A portion of the rule 5 draft that his MLB dream was once again back on.
Now, re-watch the clip of his dad in the stands. That is pure, rare, unfettered emotion that only baseball can bring a father-son duo. Overall, the outing thrown by Tyler Gilbert was the most memorable, and in my opinion one of the most difficult among the barrage of no-hitters we saw around the league last season. So, congrats Tyler! I love the story, and I hope this award will be the first of many down the road.