In MLB, a shutout happens when a single pitcher doesn’t allow the offense any runs for a whole game.
“Wait, then how does the opposing team score runs if the pitcher won’t allow any?”. They don’t.
As far definitions go, that’s as basic as it gets, but there are specific conditions to a shutout; conditions that will also help you tell it apart from a no-hitter.
But before diving into the nuances of a complete game shutout, we quickly need to go over the lingo. Trust me, if you’re not familiar with some of these terms, this little guide will save you the hassle of googling everything. So bear with me for a moment, baseball vets (pun fully intended), and let’s start with:
Important Vocabulary To Know
Any offense player running from base to base. Also, those waiting in any of the bases for a chance to run the next one.
An offense player coming in to substitute a teammate in any of the bases. They’re usually the team’s best at stealing bases and making it to the home plate.
Whenever a baserunner makes it to the home plate and they score a run for the team.
That’s a play where the defense prefers to let a baserunner advance and even score so they can focus on a different baserunner.
Now, any time you hear the opposing team was ‘allowed’ to advance, you’ll know it was the defense waving off a baserunner to focus on a more troublesome one, like a pinch-runner in second base. They would prefer to let the batter make it to first base and focus on tagging out the pinch-runner who may very well make it to third and score altogether.
Earned and Unearned Runs
It’s called an earned run when the offense scores a run due to their strategy and effort and not because of a mistake made by the defense. An unearned run, on the other hand, happens when the offense scores a run due to an error or a passed ball.
Hit or Basehit
When a batter makes it to first base after hitting the ball into the fairground with no error or fielder’s choice to help them advance.
Shutout VS No-Hitters
The Two Main Differences
So, by definition, a shutout game consists of a game in which a single pitcher did not allow the opposing team to score a run for 9 innings. A no-hitter, on the other hand, is a game in which the pitcher or pitchers did not allow the opposing team to record any hits for 9 innings.
The second biggest difference is that in a complete-game shutout, it must be a single pitcher through the whole game, whereas in a no-hitter there could 2 or more pitchers throwing a combined no-hitter.
In a shoutout game, the opposing team may still manage a few hits but has no way to score a run, earned or unearned. None.
Conversely, in a no-hitter, the offense cannot record a single hit, but they may still complete a few runs. Remember, even if the opposing team can’t record a hit, they can still get to first base and make their way to the home plate by other means, namely:
“Walk” or “base on balls” (BB)
After 4 pitches are called in as ‘balls’ by the umpire, the batter is awarded first base.
“Hit Batsman” or “hit by pitch” (HBP)
Occurs when a pitched ball hits the batter. If the batter actively tried to dodge it, they’re awarded first base.
“Defensive Interference” or “obstruction”’
Runners may be awarded at least one base if a fielder illegally tries to block their way to a base. So, if a fielder doesn’t have the ball or is not fielding it (trying to catch the ball), and deliberately gets in the runner’s way to a base, the offense is granted more bases.
It’s called an error if instead of striking out a batter or tagging out a baserunner, the pitcher or another fielder makes a mistake that allows the offense to make a plate appearance (a batter reaching first base), or a baserunner to move on to the next base.
Similar to an error, this happens when the catcher drops the ball or otherwise misplays it and allows the batter to make a plate appearance or a baserunner to advance to the next base.
It usually happens when the pitcher is pitching to home and the base runner takes the opportunity to run to the next base.
If the pitcher moves anything other than their head after assuming their set position, it will constitute a balking penalty in the form of awarding bases to the opposing team. This includes flinching, twitching, or bad pick-off technique (tagging out a baserunner leading off or stealing a base).
Dropped or uncaught third strike – When the pitcher strikes the batter out, but the catcher fails to cleanly catch the ball, the batter may advance at their own risk to first base.
These are pretty much all how the offense can still score runs in a no-hitter. All unearned runs but runs all the same.
Under the same circumstances, the offense could make it to the third base in a shutout. So long as they don’t reach the home plate and score a run, it’s still a shutout.
The Perfect Game
Since we’re talking about shutouts and no-hitters, it’s only fair we talk about the perfect game.
A perfect game is a no-hitter, meaning no hits, only in this case, there is no base on balls, no-hit by pitch, no obstructions, errors, passed balls, or any of the aforementioned alternative ways to get to first base.
Without hits or any other way to get to first in 9 innings or more (assuming they get extra innings), the offense cannot score any runs, therefore a perfect game is a no-hitter and also a shutout.
There is an important distinction to make though. If a single pitcher pitched for the whole game, that pitcher is accredited with a shutout. If that pitcher got a substitution, none of them is individually accredited with a shutout, but it still counts as a team shutout. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be a perfect game anymore.
It is worth noting that in MLB history, there have only been 23 perfect games, the most recent one pitched in its entirety by the Seattle Mariner’s Félix Hernández against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012.
Changes in the rules and definitions made between 1991-2020 sadly brought the number of perfect games down to 21. The most important of those changes is that there cannot be a perfect game in less than 9 innings, which leaves out any 7-innings doubleheaders unless they get two extra-innings.
A match in which a batter makes it to first base in an extra inning doesn’t count as a perfect game either, and that rules out Harvey Haddix’s perfect game against the Milwaukee Braves, where a batter made it to first base in the 13th inning.
The Last Inning
So there you have it. What’s a shutout? A game in which a pitcher did not allow the opposing team a single run for the entire match. Sure, they may still get to third base, but if no runs were allowed for 9 innings or more, then it’s still a shutout.
Is it the same as a no-hitter? Nope. A shutout means no runs, and a no-hitter means — well, no hits. Can the offense still score runs? Unearned runs, sure.
What’s a perfect game? A shutout and no-hitter threw by a single pitcher.