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Henderson Alvarez no-hitter: Analysis and grades

Miami Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez threw a no-hitter in the final game of the 2013 season. How did he beat the Detroit Tigers, and what other factors entered into the spectacular game?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins treated their fans to an extra-special ending to a miserable 2013 season, as Henderson Alvarez capped off the year with the fifth no-hitter in team history in his game against the Detroit Tigers. Alvarez shut down the Tigers through nine innings, but it took some walk-off magic in the form of a wild pitch of all things to get him the no-hitter on the final day of the regular season.

How did this all come to be? How did it all happen in the most unexpected time and in the most unexpected fashion? Let's analyze the performance that we just witnessed.

The Pitches
Pitch Type Avg Speed Max Speed Avg H-Break Avg V-Break Count Strikes / % Whiffs / % SNIPs / % Linear Weights
FT (TwoSeam Fastball) 94.31 96.53 -7.89 5.70 60 39 / 65.00% 3 / 5.00% 20 / 48.78% -4.8216
FF (FourSeam Fastball) 94.94 97.72 -2.61 8.90 14 10 / 71.43% 2 / 14.29% 9 / 69.23% -0.5525
SL (Slider) 81.33 84.17 4.90 -3.42 23 17 / 73.91% 2 / 8.70% 13 / 68.42% -1.3896
CU (Curveball) 67.10 69.26 5.99 -1.20 2 0 / 0.00% 0 / 0.00% 0 / 0.00% 0.3827

Alvarez threw the pitches above, according to Pitch F/X classifications. This is a pretty common profile for Alvarez, who primarily depends on his two-seam fastball and will mix in different breaking pitches. According to Brooks Baseball's pitcher card, Alvarez throws fastballs around 76 percent of the time, which is almost exactly what he did in today's start. The slider was the next most used pitch, and that also fits in with what he typically does. This season, he has thrown a number of other offerings, but against the Tigers, he threw mostly the slider and neglected the less-used changeup and curve, despite the lefty-heavy Tigers lineup.

The fastball was on the money tonight, in the sense that he was able to throw it hard as he usually does. Alvarez's fastball was running 94 mph on average and hitting 96 to 97 mph, which is a bit better than the season numbers. On the year, his average sinker has been running at a heavy 93.1 mph, and today's was just a little harder. That may explain why he was able to get five whiffs between his two- and four-seam offerings.

The Results

Overall, Alvarez did what he usually does with opponents. For one, he was able to get the ball down and force hitters to make grounded contact. Alvarez forced 14 ground balls out of 24 balls in play, a 58.3 percent mark for the day. This matches one of his primary objectives on the mound, as Alvarez has a career 55.4 percent ground ball rate and needs that sort of weaker contact to survive. His ability to keep the ball down enough led to those 14 ground ball outs.

It did help that Alvarez was also on top of his game defensively. He made at least four plays on the defensive end which helped keep the ball from traversing further down the infield and becoming a potential hit. Particularly impressive were the two plays he ripped off on consecutive batters. Alex Avila hit a sharp grounder that Alvarez fell to his knees to grab and quickly toss out for the first out of the inning. The following batter, Don Kelly, also hit a ball up the middle that Alvarez leaped for and snagged out of the air to prevent a potentially difficult toss from second base.

The other things that was successful on Alvarez's end was his ability to stay in the strike zone. Overall, Alvarez threw 32 balls versus 20 called strikes, which translates to an effective 1.6 balls-to-called-strike ratio. The ability to stay in the zone is very important for a pitcher who lacks strikeout stuff, and Alvarez did so in a non-precarious fashion. The fact that he only walked one batter also displayed his control in today's game.

The Help

As with most no-hitters, Alvarez did have some help. While the majority of his outs were mostly routine, at least one play by a defender took some solid effort. Adeiny Hechavarria played his role in preserving the no-hitter by making a terrific snag on a line drive off of the bat of Ramon Santiago.

That is at least one play in today's game that threatened to be a hit that was not mae by Alvarez himself. However, for the majority of the outing, the battle was between Alvarez and the hitter, with routine ground balls and pop flies finding Marlins gloves fairly easily.

The Grade

In the pantheon of the five Marlins no-hitters, this has to be one of the more impressive ones. It certainly ranks better than the ugly A.J. Burnett nine-walk affair. It also wasn't the close-to-perfection game that Kevin Brown pitched against the San Francisco Giants in 1997. Qualitatively, it falls somewhere in between those extremes, and it looks rather similar to the one Al Leiter threw for the team's first no-hitter. It was probably better than current Tigers and former Marlins pitcher Anibal Sanchez's, as his is still technically in doubt on that last throw.

As it stands, Alvarez's no-hitter appears to rank second among the most impressive in team history. That it ended with a walk-off wild pitch in a 1-0 win and was close to being a potential 10-inning affair had the Marlins not ended only adds to its mystique. What an impressive outing, and what a wonderful way to end a difficult season.

Congratulations to Henderson Alvarez and the 2013 Miami Marlins!