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2021 Single-game performance of the Year: Tyler Gilbert's no-hitter

You expected, perhaps, something else?

San Diego Padres v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

I must admit, I was partly hoping everybody presumed everyone else would vote for Gilbert, and so it'd end up being Matt Peacock or something. [Insert Michael Caine as Albert meme here] But the SnakePit proved eminently sensible, with Gilbert getting 78% of the vote. It's only right. Gilbert delivered the first no-hitter by a player in his debut as an MLB starter since Bobo Holloman of the St. Louis Browns on May 6, 1953. It was his fourth appearance, with just 3.2 innings of experience when he took the mound at Chase Field on August 14. [I believe Wilson Alvarez is the only pitcher with fewer major-league innings at the time of his no-hitter]

Now, this was a season where it seemed there was a no-hitter being thrown every time we turned around. Including combined efforts, there were nine in total - and that's not even including the two seven innings ones (not least the one thrown for the Diamondbacks by Madison Bumgarner). That broke the record for a season set back in 1884, the year before overhand pitching was legalized. But it's worth noting Gilbert's was the only solo one to come after the league cracked down on foreign substances. There had been six thrown by May 19th. Funny that.

This was certainly the most unexpected. Tyler had come over from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft the previous December, but not even in the major-league portion. Last year, with the minor-league season canceled, he had worked for his father, a fourth-generation electrician in Northern California. This season, he had pitched for Reno, putting up a pretty good 3.44 ERA there, until making his major-league debut at the beginning of August. That was out of the bullpen, with three apperances and no earned runs allowed before he took over from Caleb Smith in the rotation. He was the fifteenth starter used by the D-backs this year, which gives you some idea how far down the depth chart Gilbert was on Opening Day.

But it didn’t matter on the night. Gilbert started off by walking the first batter he faced, but then dialed up a double-play ball, and settled down thereafter. It likely helped that the offense put up a five-spot in support of Tyler in the bottom of the first, giving him a cushion with which to work. It wasn’t a dominating start at all, with only five strikeouts, compared to three walks. That’s a lot of balls in play for the Padres. Five of them had exit velocities north of a hundred miles per hour, led by Manny Machado’s 112.2 mph screamer in the fourth. All of them became outs.

The expected batting average across his whole start was .243. The actual figure: .000, one of the biggest gaps in the Statcast era. Above, you can find the five plays which Statcast said had a 60% chance or better of becoming a hit. The odds of just those five all being outs? About one in 360. It’s interesting that none of them were particularly “difficult” plays. But they were the ones which, largely due to good defensive positioning, kept the no-hitter alive. Even the last out, what seemed a relatively simply out to Marte in center, had nearly a three in four chance of being a hit. [As an aside, I literally LOL’d as Ketel almost threw the ball away after making the final out, then suddenly realized the significance of it!]

  • Adam Frasier, 4th inning double-play: 60%
  • Eric Hosmer: 2nd inning groundout: 61%
  • Austin Nola: 2nd inning groundout: 62%
  • Tommy Pham: 9th inning line-out: 74%
  • Manny Machado, 4th inning line-out: 82%

Speaking of reactions, the presence of Gilbert’s father in the stands made things all the more fun to watch. His son may have been cool on the mound, but his pop was anything but, as the game marched towards its conclusion. But the Padres played their part in helping Gilbert get there too. Most notably, through seven innings, the starter was at 88 pitches. With six outs to get, it seemed a dicey proposition, considering Gilbert was already past the pre-game limit, set at 85, hadn’t thrown gone over 93 since July 9, 2016 in A-ball, and had never had a complete game as a professional. But in the eighth, he recorded three outs on three pitches, convinced allowed manager Torey Lovullo to give his starter the shot at the record.

Tyler came through, putting his name in the record books forever. After the game, he gave credit to the defense behind him: “It was just one of those days. I know balls were getting hit around, but they were getting hit to guys. And then I was making good pitches. It was just kind of a rush the whole time, to be honest... It was weird. I wasn’t nervous at all, and I felt like I should have been. I don’t know why, but I kept just going out there and doing my thing. I was really nervous before the game leading up to the game, but after the three-pitch eighth inning, I was like, ‘OK, this is going to happen.’ But, no, I just kind of stayed levelheaded and then kept making pitches.”

Of course, it couldn’t last forever. His next start, the no-hitter lasted just five pitches, and Gilbert allowed nine hits in five innings. Hopefully, his career won’t go the same way as that of Bobo Holloman, whose starting debut no-hitter came in his only major-league season. But he seems likely to be in the mix for a rotation spot next year, and it’s likely already safe to call Gilbert the most successful Rule 5 draft pick in Diamondbacks history.