By comparison, in 1968, commonly referred to as the “Year of the Pitcher” (but which, nonetheless, produced only one perfect game, by Oakland’s Catfish Hunter), batters struck out in just 15.8 percent of all plate appearances. As recently as 1981, that figure was 12.5 percent.
A higher strikeout rate, of course, means fewer balls being put into play, which means fewer opportunities for would-be no-hitters and perfect games to be lost via base hits or errors.
Batters “are still swinging from their heels with two strikes,” said Leo Mazzone, the former pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles. “It used to be, guys would choke up and protect the plate with two strikes, but now there doesn’t seem to be the same sort of stigma about striking out.”
Mazzone also believes since the ban of steroids and amphetamines in baseball, everyday players have less energy on a daily basis. “There’s a little bit of a fatigue factor now,” he said, “because the [drug] rules are what they are.” Starting pitchers, who typically pitch every five days, are presumably less affected than are everyday players by the tougher drug standards.
Nowadays, it seems, hardly a day goes by where someone isn’t flirting with a no-hitter in the late innings — or even after the game. On the same night as Cain’s perfect game, New York Mets knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey pitched a complete-game one-hitter, with the only hit coming on a high chopper to third base that was ruled a base hit by the official scorer after third baseman David Wright failed to make a charging, bare-handed play.
After the game, the Mets protested the scorer’s decision, petitioning MLB to change the hit to an error — and thus credit Dickey with a no-hitter. Although such a scoring change would be unprecedented in such a circumstance, it would, in the context of this season, be completely fitting.