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Will Corey Kluber ever pitch a no-hitter?

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We don't even have to make the "Dumb and Dumber" joke; 20% really is a chance!

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For years and years now, my closest friend has been getting me the annual Bill James Handbook every winter. (Grady Sizemore was the cover boy back in 2008.) James' Historical Abstract was a game changer for the both of us, and this tradition grew out of that. In some ways, the book doesn't have as much use to me as it once did. Having so many baseball statistics in one place isn't as novel as it once was, what with sites like Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, and because I prefer WAR to Win Shares, James' metrics are no longer my go-to. Still, I'm always happy to receive the book.

Every year the layout is the same, and so I always know right where to go to find my favorite section of the book, in which updated forecasts from James' Favorite Toy system are displayed. The Favorite Toy is a fairly simple tool James created for estimating career totals for a player at any point in their career. Age, the player's seasonal total (for whatever stat you're interested in) for the last three seasons, and their career-to-date total in that stat is all you need. The system then spits out a career projection. You can also set a "goal" total, and the system gives the player's chance of reaching it (as a percentage). It isn't as scientific as it probably could be, but it's still a lot of fun to look at the results.

The book lists the pitchers with the best chances of reaching 300 wins (an accomplishment James now thinks is headed towards extinction), and also a listing of the pitchers who are most likely to throw a no-hitter this year. (That list doesn't involve the Favorite Toy.) Here's the top of the no-hitter list:

  • Clayton Kershaw: 25%
  • Chris Sale: 23%
  • Stephen Strasburg: 21%
  • Corey Kluber: 20%
  • Max Scherzer: 20%

Kluber got through 9 innings four times in 2014, allowing an average of only 3.5 hits in those games, so it shouldn't be especially surprising that the system likes his chances so much (relatively speaking).

The Favorite Toy projects Kluber for 125 career wins, and gives him a 0% chance at reaching 300 wins. Given that he's 28 years old and has only 31 career wins to date, I don't think anyone can argue too strenuously with the computer's conclusion on that one.

In addition to topping the no-hitter list, Kershaw is given the best shot at reaching 300 wins, at 31%. That's the lowest "best" chance in any edition of the book I have. The continually growing role of the bullpen makes it harder and harder for pitchers to collect big win totals, even as offense drops. It's also striking to see what a difference three years makes: In 2012 Kershaw was nowhere to be found on the 300-win list. Meanwhile, CC Sabathia (30 years old and already at 176 wins at that point) was given a 48% chance then, but (after winning only 3 games last year) is given the same 0% chance as Kluber now. (Even if he'd won 10 games, his chances would be only 15% now.)

The Indians don't have quite enough experience in their rotation for anything very interesting to come out of the Favorite Toy for the pitching staff. Soon I'll look at the Tribe's position players, where there's a lot more action.