Francisco Liriano No-Hitter: Lucky or Not, Liriano Deserves Better Reception

Justin SwiderskiSenior Analyst IMay 4, 2011

Liriano's no-hitter, pretty or not, should earn him a pat on the back.
Liriano's no-hitter, pretty or not, should earn him a pat on the back.

Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter bothers me, but not for the reasons it seems to bother everyone else.

Everyone else seems ready to mock Liriano’s balls-to-strikes ratio (57 balls, 66 strikes), high number of walks (six) and low number of Ks (two). They want to use his less-than-dominant stats and poor numbers coming in (9.13 ERA coming into the game with more losses than wins and more walks than Ks), as well as the anemic White Sox offense to write off Liriano’s performance as luck.

And that’s what bothers me.

The idea that Liriano lucked into a no-no just because he didn’t K the White Sox up and down the lineup and walked a few guys is silly and insulting.

Yes, Liriano put six guys on base, but he pitched well enough to coax weak ground balls and pop-ups from Chicago. He didn’t surrender any extra-base hits. He didn’t crumble and allow big innings after his walks. You could even say his lack of control made him effectively wild.

The bottom line is the White Sox didn’t get any hits. Liriano utilized good defense and a bit of good fortune the same way any other pitcher to throw a no-no has. His no-hitter was not purely the product of luck and should not be dismissed as any less remarkable.

Liriano is an unfortunate casualty of the baseball public’s suddenly disdainful attitude toward luck.

Many sabermetric statistics are meant to subtract luck from the equation of player evaluation. BABIP, for example, aims to adjust batting average for balls in play. If a player’s BABIP is higher or lower than the mean (generally .300) it’s assumed they’re lucky or unlucky and they’ll soon regress or advance back to the mean.

Defense-adjusted ERA also presumes to take luck out of the equation for pitchers. It’s useful for trying to predict future performance.

You know, just in case luck stops being a part of the game.

These statistics are speculative at best, and they cast a negative connotation toward anyone who shows himself to be “just lucky,” as if the stats and accomplishments he’s posted mean less because they happened by chance.

Like things that have already happened didn’t.

Trying to separate luck from statistics not only debases some statistical achievements, it is also futile. The nature of luck is that it is purely by chance. By definition, it cannot be quantified. If it could, we’d all measure our luckiest friends, get them together and take down the lottery system.

Is that perhaps the next wave of statistics, isolating a luck rating for each player?

I’ve always favored the platitude that it’s better to be lucky than good. Francisco Liriano was both on the night he threw his no-hitter.

It’s a shame that his lack of strikeouts—the primary anti-luck stat—has the baseball public viewing his accomplishment in a diminished light.