It’s easy to say that Orioles ace John Means has been trending to the no-hitter he achieved on Wednesday all season, with his outings getting progressively more impressive against some of the league’s best offenses and culminating with a historic outing in their 6-0 win over Seattle.
He had already spent the first month of the season being one of the game’s best pitchers, and was doing so in such a relaxed, confident manner that it felt natural for it to continue and even grow.
Manager Brandon Hyde said Wednesday, however, that such an event takes a combination of pitcher and circumstance.
“You just can never predict a no-hitter,” Hyde said. “A lot of times guys have no-hitter stuff and things happen. A lot has to happen. That’s why it’s so special because it’s so hard to do. Balls have to be hit at guys. [Austin Hays] on the ball that [Kyle] Lewis hit and Cedric [Mullins] on a really nice play in center field shallow, but besides that, I don’t remember any balls he hit hard.
“That just shows you how dominant he was and how many swing and misses he got. Every foul ball from the seventh inning on, I would cringe, but it just showed you, the lack of hard contact against a major league club for nine inning is incredibly rare. Just shows you the kind of stuff he had and the command he had today to be able to speed guys up, slow them down, and put the ball where he wanted to.”
Means has been doing all that for over a month now, and it’s not just the basic rate stats that qualify him as among the league’s best after Wednesday’s 27-out no-hitter. He’s doing so much well to make that station deserved too.
Here are five stats that stand out behind Means’ dominant start to the season after Wednesday’s no-hitter against Seattle.
Among qualified starters, Means’ batting average on balls in play is the lowest in the league. While this doesn’t include the five home runs he’s allowed as in play, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Means is inducing such weak contact that it’s not even really luck that’s leading to this success, though there’s some regression possible. MLB’s Statcast data has Means’ expected batting average allowed at .195 as opposed to the .135 opponents are batting off him, but that’s still not going to kill him or the Orioles going forward.
Means’ bat-missing ability and the off-balance swings his pitch mix gets are creating contact of the nonthreatening variety. Wednesday was an example of that when, naturally, the Mariners’ batting average on balls in play was .000.
Buoyed by an astonishing 26 first-pitch strikes to 27 batters Wednesday, Means raised his first pitch strike percentage to 73.5%, second-best in the big leagues among qualifiers behind Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías. While such a consistent day of getting ahead 0-1 will balloon a rate stat like this at such an early stage of the season, it’s an area where improving for a full season could make a big difference for Means. He was at 63.3% and 63.6% in his first two full seasons. Both of those numbers would be in the top third of the league, but for a pitcher with so many weapons, getting ahead is crucial and Means did that at an elite level Wednesday.
The point of baseball is to simply win on a given night, and Means’ actions on the mound in the first seven games have measured at a win probability added of 1.61, best in the league among qualified pitchers. In simple terms, everything that happens in a game impacts a team’s probability of winning that game, and adding those up gives a good impression of how a player is influencing said game. No one has added more value in-game to his team from the mound than Means has, which makes sense. He’s failed to pitch into the sixth inning just once in seven tries, and in the rare moments when games can swing in the other team’s favor, he’s simply not giving in. To that end …
Means has faced 166 batters this season, and a mere 38 of those plate appearances came with runners on base. Only two pitchers in baseball have had fewer at-bats with traffic, which allows a pitcher to stay in low-pressure situations and limit big innings that can change the complexion of a game. Means has allowed just seven singles and a walk in those plate appearances, resulting in the only two non-homer runs of the seven he’s allowed this year for a 1.50 ERA. In 2019, his ERA with runners on was 8.46, with 13 home runs allowed. In 2020, it was 9.49. By taking control of those situations — and limiting them — Means is limiting the opportunities for a fly ball leaving the park or finding a gap to hurt him.
Similarly to how every event in a game impacts win probability, so too does every pitch, and Means’ -9 run value on his changeup according to MLB’s Statcast data is tied for the best of any big league pitch with reigning Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer’s fastball. The next-best changeup is Gerrit Cole’s at -5. Opponents are whiffing on it 41.5 percent of the time they swing on it and batting just .102 off of it. For comparison’s sake, the next-best Orioles pitch on that leader board is Tanner Scott’s slider at -3 run value. Means does benefit in this counting stat from having thrown 200 change-ups, but considering it’s his best pitch and has been since his first outing in 2019 against the Yankees, why not throw it as often as possible?