A no-hit bid in Major League Baseball, as recently as a decade ago, was a “drop what you’re doing” occasion for baseball fans — and the completion of a no-hitter was major news.
These days, the former is still somewhat true, particularly as social media speeds news of such a thing to more people — though I wouldn’t say it’s a “drop everything” moment. The latter? No-hitters register a ripple on the surprise meter instead of a spike. At the Star Tribune, it’s usually not even fodder for the cover of the sports section (as was the case with Monday’s paper, when the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta’s Sunday no-no didn’t crack the cover).
The simplest reason: no-hitters seem to happen a lot more often, and in reality they ARE happening more often. Arrieta’s no-hitter was the 6th one this season, all since June. We’re on an every-other-week schedule with no-hitters over the past few months, turning them from exceptional acts into relatively routine occurrences.
There have already been 30 no-hitters from 2010-present after there were only 15 in the entire last decade. Historically, there is an ebb and flow — there were 31 in the 1990s but just 13 in the 1980s — but we are at an unusually high peak right now at five per season so far this decade, as illustrated by this graphic of no-hitters by decade since 1920, the start of the Live Ball Era:
There are some mitigating circumstances within that chart, with the biggest being that there used to be far fewer games played (the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s were played with 16 teams and a 154-game schedule, meaning there were roughly half as many games as there are today). The 1960s offer the only real comparison to this decade in terms of no-hitter frequency, with 34 no-hitters in about two-thirds the number of games played per year as now (putting that decade on pace for about five per season instead of 3.4 in an equal number of games).
The 1960s brought a dramatic change when the mound was lowered after the 1968 season because pitchers were so dominant. The 2010s are a similarly dominant era for pitchers, brought about by different factors:
*The end of the Steroid Era, generally agreed to have happened around the late 2000s, brought offensive numbers down. Juiced up pitchers were certainly part of that era, too, but hitters arguably reaped the greater benefit.
*Pitchers are nastier. While it’s hard to quantify whether sliders, cutters and other breaking pitches are getting better, the eye test seems to suggest it. What’s not hard to quantify is that pitchers are throwing harder. Thanks to PITCHf/x data, we know that hurlers averaged 89.9 mph on fastballs in 2002, 90.9 mph in 2008 and 92.0 in 2013.
*Batters are not afraid of striking out. There are way more strikeouts then their used to be. Some of it is because, as noted, pitchers are nastier. Some of it, though, is that batters are no longer faced with a stigma of being strikeout-prone. On-base percentage and slugging percentage are valued more than batting average and putting the ball in play. Consider: In 2005, MLB teams struck out an average of 1,021 times a season. In 2014, that number was 1,248. Fewer balls in play means fewer chances for a flare to the outfield or an infield single that stymies a no-hit bid before it starts.
*This is just a guess, but I also have to imagine defensive shifts have played a role in all of this. Better scouting about where batters are getting their hits — and positioning defensive players in non-traditional spots to eliminate those hits — would seem to increase the odds of a no-hitter.
All of that is the “why.” The gist of the original question was, “Are they still special?” To that, I would say: no-hitters still resonate with fans, but not in the same way they used to. Watching the end of one is still good theater, but the accomplishment itself has certainly lost its “wow” factor.
The Vikings have placed cornerback Josh Robinson on the reserve PUP list.
Under this injury designation, Robinson will not count against the team’s roster. He is eligible to return as early as Week 7. At that point, the Vikings have a five-week window in which Robinson can return to practice. Once he practices, the Vikings have three weeks to add him to the active roster.
Robinson started training camp on the PUP list after partially tearing a pectoral muscle during spring workouts. He has not practiced since.
This move, which was expected, got the team’s roster down to 77 men.
Placing offensive tackle Carter Bykowski, who tore his pectoral in the second preseason game, on injured reserve got the Vikings to 76.
They must make one more cut or roster move to get to 75 by tomorrow.
Quarterback Mike Kafka was not practicing this afternoon. Instead, he stood and watched the three other quarterbacks go through position drills.
Tight end Chase Ford was there for the team stretch at the start of practice then disappeared and was not spotted again during the media access period.
Also sitting out practice at Winter Park today were starting center John Sullivan, nose tackle Shamar Stephen and outside linebacker Brian Peters.
It has now been 12 days, six practices and two preseason games since we last saw Sullivan, who is dealing with back spasms, according to the team. The Vikings have downplayed Sullivan’s injury and absences, but the fact that he still remains sidelined seems like a reasonable cause for concern.
In other injury news, rookie tight end MyCole Pruitt, who has missed the last two preseason games with an ankle injury, has returned to practice.
Frankly, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer disagrees with his defensive coordinator.
Last week, while talking with reporters, defensive coordinator George Edwards said the goal was to have rookie cornerback Trae Waynes starting by the regular season opener.
“I read that and I didn’t agree with what George said, to be honest with you,” Zimmer said Monday. “I think it was interpreted incorrectly.”
Zimmer said the goal is to coach every quality player with the goal that he will be a starter. But it is not realistic that Waynes will start ahead of veteran Terence Newman when the Vikings open the season against San Francisco.
It is more likely that Waynes might earn a spot as the top extra cornerback in nickel situations. But even that isn’t a lock, considering the Vikings went back to using Captain Munnerlyn in that situation in Saturday’s victory in Dallas.
Still, Zimmer said, Waynes played well in Dallas. “Waynes had his best game this last week,” Zimmer said. “He was in position the entire night. Not sure his guy caught any balls on him. His technique was much better this last time. I thought he was in position much better. There were some things we had to talk about on the sidelines. But, for the most part, I thought this was by far his best performance.”
Asked if he would consider splitting the nickel position between two players once the regular season started, Zimmer said he would.
Other highlights from Zimmer’s Monday news conference:
The team still needs to make three moves, and Zimmer said they would be announced later today. But, after having made many of those moves Sunday, Zimmer said the decisions on the cuts are much more difficult than last year.
“No question,” he said. “[Sunday] was a hard day. Joe Banyard is a terrific kid. He busted his rear end around here, had some good runs last year. Josh Kaddu, just a great kid. … Yes, we have a deeper football team than we did a year ago.”
Zimmer said that, in the end, he thinks having five preseason games has been a positive thing. It has allowed the coaches to, in Zimmer’s word, tinker with different looks at some positions.
“Like with the linebacker position,” Zimmer said. “We were able to look at that a little more.”’
That meant looking at a few players at the middle linebacker spot and look at different combinations in the nickel package; Zimmer said Gerald Hodges looked very good at middle linebacker Saturday and rookie Eric Kendricks looked good in the nickel package.
“And we have been able to maybe not play the guys as long in a bunch of games,” Zimmer said. “I think that helped us. We’ve moved guys around; this week we had [Brian Robison] inside a little bit.”
Perhaps it was faint praise, but Zimmer was asked about Cordarrelle Patterson in the wake of Patterson’s 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. “Last week was a better week for him, even though he didn’t have any catches, than the week before,” Zimmer said. “Just another guy we can use.”
Zimmer wouldn’t say how much, if any, the starters would play in the preseason finale. “The guys who need to play will play,” he said.
The Vikings are at Tennessee at 7 p.m. Thursday.
If there’s one player on the Vikings roster that can relate to rookie cornerback Trae Waynes, it’s Xavier Rhodes.
Like Waynes, Rhodes was a first round selection known for his aggressiveness coming out of college. He went through his own struggles after leaving Florida State in 2013, but Rhodes flashed his All-Pro potential last season in his first season under head coach Mike Zimmer.
So naturally, Waynes has approached Rhodes about the growing pains he’s already experienced in coverage three months into his career. Rhodes said the hardest adjustment he had to make as a rookie was playing within the NFL rules.
“Within those five yards not trying to be too aggressive, that’s by far the hardest thing that you can adjust to in the NFL,” Rhodes said. “You have to be technique sound here in the NFL. In college, you can be more aggressive down the field. In the NFL, you have to be able to work your feet more than your hands.”
Waynes, the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft, was flagged twice for defensive holding and once for pass interference in his first preseason game, but he hasn’t drawn a penalty in the last three Vikings’ friendlies. The transition period is far from over, however.
Last week in practice, Waynes was flagged for pass interference during an 11-on-11 period. He was in good position to contest a deep ball but grabbed the receiver’s arm right when the ball arrived, causing the sideline official to reach for his yellow handkerchief.
Rhodes was only flagged once as a rookie during the preseason, but he drew two flags in his first regular season game — an illegal block above the waist and a pass interference penalty. He drew six penalties in 13 games played his first season.
But as time progressed, Rhodes improved his technique and had a better gauge of how to remain aggressive yet play within the rules. He finished last season tied for fourth in the NFL with 18 passes defended.
“It’s going to take time,” Rhodes said. “[Waynes] asked me when I grew out of it, and I said after the 30th flag. After a while, you’re like, ‘Something’s got to go. Something’s got to change.’ I said eventually you’re going to grow out of it, and you’ll eventually find yourself. Just don’t pressure yourself into trying to force [out of] it because the more you force it, the worse it’s going to become. Just let it come naturally, and once it does, you’ll be good.”
Rhodes is also very familiar with the media, social media and fanbase hype that can surround a first round selection. He was selected with the 25th overall pick in 2013, one of three first round picks for the Vikings. There’s often an unrealistic expectation that every first rounder must have an immediate impact, which is far from the truth. Rhodes stressed that Waynes, who was the first cornerback taken in the draft, shouldn’t focus on all the external pressure he will face in his career due to the draft.
“You have to stay focused, stay on your path and set your own expectations to the point where you can only disappoint yourself,” Rhodes said. “You want to go out and have expectations for yourself and not listen to all the hoopla and all that because that can distract you from your team goals and your self-goals.”