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Are R.A. Dickey's One-Hitters More Impressive Than Johnny Vander Meer's No-Hitters?

Fist pump.
Fist pump.

R.A. Dickey Day rolls on! Jim Baker has a post up at Baseball Nation* which asks whether Dickey's two one-hitters were more impressive, dominant, and altogether better than Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters in 1938. This speaks to the vagaries of no-hitters generally, which rely on defense and luck as much as pitching performance. Case in point, Johan Santana threw the franchise's first ever no-hitter a couple weeks ago and it now stands as maybe the third-best start for a Mets pitcher in June.

So here are Vander Meer's no-hitters juxtaposed against Dickey's two one-hitters:

Pitcher Date H BB K GmSc
Vander Meer 6/11/1938 0 3 4 88
Vander Meer 6/15/1938 0 8 7 86
Dickey 6/13/2012 1 0 12 95
Dickey 6/18/2012 1 2 13 96

In short, the difference between a no-hitter and a one-hitter is largely adventitious, owing more to luck and defense than to pitching performance. Once you've accepted that, Dickey's starts are transparently superior to Vander Meer's. Dickey struck out 25 hitters and walked just two; Vander Meer struck out eleven and walked... eleven. There shouldn't even really be a discussion here: R.A. Dickey was a significantly better pitcher in his two one-hitters than Johnny Vander Meer was in his consecutive no-hitters.

What's more, Dickey did it against tougher competition:

JVM 1st game: Boston Braves; 21-19 heading into the game. Finished 77-75 with an OPS+ of 84, which was second-worst in the eight-team league.

JVM 2nd game: Brooklyn Dodgers; 21-28 at the time. Finished 69-80 with a team OPS+ of 91 in a league where the average was 93.

RAD 1st game: Tampa Bay Rays; 35-26 at the time. Now 37-29 with a team OPS+ of 99, which is right at league average.

RAD 2nd game: Baltimore Orioles; 39-27 before game. Team OPS+ also 99.


* If it seems like we link to Baseball Nation a lot, it's because they're awesome. Rob Neyer, Grant Brisbee, and Jeff Sullivan writing about baseball every day? Yes please!