One of baseball’s unwritten rules is that you don’t talk about a no-hitter in progress, whether you’re a fan at home or in the stands, or broadcasting the game. So, how did the emergence of Twitter affect the idea of the no-hitter jinx?
Data editor Elaine Filadelfo said in a blog post that Twitter decided to focus on the 2015 Major League Baseball season, which featured 34 no-hit bids—games during which pitchers went at least six innings without allowing a hit—and seven no-hitters.
Looking at volume level from the entire game time will include tweets that either celebrate a successful no-hitter or react to it getting broken up. To remove those surges and to standardize the time period for each game, we opted to focus on the number of tweets in approximately the first seven innings of the game. We measured the number of no-hitter tweets from start-of-game through 40 minutes before final pitch for a broken-up no-hitter (in 2015, the average MLB game was around three hours, which means that each inning lasts approximately 20 minutes) and 32 minutes for a completed no-hitter (average no-hitter game time was 2:31).
Here’s what the pace of conversation looks like for a no-hitter compared to one that got broken up, focusing on two of @Max_Scherzer’s (Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer) outings (he also had an additional no-hitter and an additional no-hit bid that season):
Now it’s time to zero in on the potential jinx. First, we checked how many tweets mention “no hitter” on an average in-season day in 2015 (excluding days that saw a no-hitter or bid): around 700. Games that had a no-hitter into the seventh but did not end as a no-hitter saw around 2,500 tweets in the 30-minute window. And no-hitters? Those had over 5,000 tweets in the 32-minute window.
So, what does that tell us? There are more than twice as many tweets saying the specific phrase “no-hitter” in (approximately) the first six innings for games that are indeed successful no-hitters than there are in games that fail to see it through. In other words: based on Twitter data, talking about a no-hitter does not jinx it. (But we won’t go so far as to suggest a new superstition that you have to tweet about a no-hitter in order to make it happen.)