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2023 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards: Voting Open Now!

On Wednesday, Wei-Yin Chen started building a possible perfect game, and from 3,000 miles away I could tell Bill Barnwell—who was at the game—was getting nervous. Once, Bill had said this:

What, Bill was certainly wondering in his Fenway seats, should he do if Chen gave up a hit with two outs in the ninth? Stand and cheer for Chen, sit and cheer for Chen, sit and pout for Chen, stand and pout at Chen? What if the first hit came with none out in the eight? One out in the sixth? Two outs in the fourth? This probably seems like a trivial matter, but it’s not in the least. The pitcher has a simple job: Don’t give up hits. The hitter has a simple job: Hit. The fan has a simple job: Avoid cheering at the wrong time, and cheer at the right time. Failing to do one or the other can cost your team points. It’s right there in the rules. Doing it repeatedly is bad for the economy.

We all want to do it right. So, per Bill’s suggestion, for Bill’s benefit, and as a companion to Zachary Levine’s piece on no-hitters today, I’ve done research. I am prepared to tell you when it is appropriate to cheer for a broken-up no-hitter, and when you should instead just focus on your sexting.

Methodology: I watched scores of broken-up no-hitters going back to 2011. The typical situation is this: If the pitcher gives up his first hit late in the game, the crowd comes alive (because there was a hit), then the clamor dies down, then a few fans begin cheering for the pitcher, which is followed by a wave of applause for the pitcher, sometimes encouraged further by fans standing up to see and be seen by the pitcher. They do this for a period of time they consider commensurate with the achievement of the pitcher. So what I did is: I started my way-overqualified-for-this-nonsense Accusplit stopwatch as soon as I determined that the few cheering fans had begun to produce the momentum leading to a stadium-wide surge. I avoided situations where the first hit was a home run, which skewed the pre-applause applause. I tried to avoid situations where the applause for the no-hitter merged with the applause for a pitcher being taken out of the game. I noted situations where not just a no-hitter but a perfect game was disrupted. And, for stage one, I recorded only ovations for pitchers pitching at home. About 80 of these situations yielded recordable times.

Results:

So what do we see here. First, the very most obvious thing: Fans’ sense of disappointment and pride correlates to how deep the pitcher carries a no-hitter. (The preceding is the sentence that you copy and repaste somewhere out of context to mock the pointlessness of my writing.) However, it is not really a smooth progression toward completion. If a pitcher’s no-hitter at home is busted in the ninth inning, his fans will cheer for, on average, 28 seconds. If a pitcher’s no-hitter is busted in the eighth inning, his fans will cheer for, on average, 29 seconds. Sample-size caveats apply (especially for the ninth inning, for which we had only six examples), but it appears that the highest drama tier for fans starts not in the ninth inning, but in the eighth inning; and that fans consider the two achievements equally significant.

Other than that, the progression is fairly straight, with each out roughly corresponding to more applause:

Outs Seconds
26 23.24
25 33.33
24 23.24
23 26.13
22 34.33
21 25.15
20 20.00
19 17.18
18 18.00
17 14.26
16 13.70
15 7.59
14 7.62
13 2.10
12 0.00

The two places the line diverges from its route are with one out in the ninth and with one out in the eighth. Fans love them some no-hitters being broken up with one out. The loudest, longest cheer for any broken up no-hitter surveyed was for Jake Peavy, who lost his no-hitter with one out in the eighth last month. (It was really two or three separate thrusts by the crowd, including a chant of his name. Came within a second of cracking a full minute.) The only other cheer that lasted all the way through the next pitch was for Justin Verlander—also in the eighth, also with one out. Park factors and individual storylines, of course, apply, and could be skewing our average. But one hypothesis for why two-out endings don’t elicit the same emotion: The crowd is already fired up expecting the final out of an inning, perhaps cheering in anticipation of some third strike punctuation; a base hit, then, becomes simply too demoralizing of an energy swing for fans to overcome.

(No-hitters broken up with no outs in an inning get the shortest applause.)

Let’s answer some of your questions.

Do busted perfect games get cheered longer than busted no-hitters-just?

It’s complicated. Late in the game, no. Late in the game, fans don’t seem to care whether the lack of hits is accompanied by a lack of walks and hit batsmen and fielder errors and catchers interfering and strikeouts followed by wild pitches or passed balls. All four of the perfect games broken up in the eighth inning or later got shorter cheers than the rest of the no-hitters in those innings.

However, the earlier in the game, the more premium put on perfection. In the seventh, the times are roughly the same, with one exception—a 35-second, two-surge cheer for Mike Fiers' attempted perfecto.

In the sixth inning, the average perfect game bid gets about two seconds more cheering than regular no-hitters do.

I hate cheering. Cheering makes my hands hurt and gets spittle in my beard. When am I safe from cheering?

If there are any outs in the sixth inning or later, you’ve basically got to cheer. Only once did I see a no-hit bid end with at least one out in the sixth and no fan acknowledgement of the effort—a Kris Medlen game, not sure why him.

If there are no outs in the sixth, you can probably get away with not cheering. I watched seven no-hitters end then, and only four involved ovations. (And three of the four were perfect game bids.)

Strangely, though, every no-hit bid I saw with two outs in the fifth (n=6) got an ovation. Short ovations. One was so short that I clocked it at a single second. But ovations. With less than two outs in the fifth, you’re off the hook. I found only one ovation at that point or earlier. Though that brings up one other thing…

How shameful is it to be caught doing the wrong thing?

The truth is, we’re talking about cheering climate, but each of these situations has its own peculiar weather. For instance, that one example of a pitcher getting an ovation in the fifth inning? It was a loud, clear cheer for Wei-Yin Chen, 13 seconds, unambiguous. It was in Baltimore, this year, and it wasn’t a perfect game, just a no-hitter. Later in the year Miguel Gonzalez, of the Orioles, took a no-hitter just as far, also in Baltimore, also not a perfect game, and there wasn’t one friggin extra clap for him. They just treated it as a hit, like any other.

In a 25-out bid, Justin Verlander got 35 seconds of applause. In a 22-out bid, Justin Verlander got 35 seconds of applause. But in a 23-out bid, Justin Verlander got 24 seconds of applause. Why? Who knows. And, remember Peavy’s 59-second ovation for a 23-out no-hit bid? A year earlier, Yusmeiro Petit went 26 outs with a perfect game. His ovation in the same ballpark was 26 seconds.

So, basically, don’t count on anybody to act predictably.

But Sam, Bill Barnwell is watching Wei-Yin Chen throw a perfect game on the road. So what should he do?

Based on the norms observed by the road no-hit bids that I watched: If it’s the eighth inning or later, he should cheer. Heck, he should cheer almost as though it’s the home crowd’s own guy, 20 seconds or so. The Red Sox cheered Jake Arrieta so loudly this year that he had to tip his cap.

If it’s the seventh, he can cheer (as the Twins fans did for Zach Stewart, for 16 seconds; and as the Astros fans did for Verlander, for 11 seconds), but the far more common thing to do is cheer the hitter who broke it up and ignore the pitcher.

Sixth inning or earlier: No acknowledgement. Eff that guy.

So what happened to Bill in Boston?

Chen’s no-hitter was broken up in the sixth. Precedent suggests eff that guy. And?

Hope that helps.

Thank you for reading

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