It arrives every spring at the start of the baseball season, a sound as recognizable as the crack of the bat or the roar of the crowd: the dulcet tone of Eliot Tatelman’s voice, sharing the latest promotion for Jordan’s Furniture.
The silver-ponytailed Tatelman, the company’s chief executive and pitchman, has spent the last decade running a string of promotions tied to the team’s prospects, and this year is no different. Should the Sox pitch a no-hitter in any of the 64 games scheduled for July 17 through Oct. 1, Tatelman is promising the East Taunton retailer will refund any furniture purchase made between March 28 and May 20.
Tatelman says he is willing to make the gamble because he takes out an insurance policy on those purchases, having persuaded a roster of insurers to co-sign the deal. He says he’s not interested in sabermetrics — “I’m too cheap for that” — and leaves the risk determination to the actuaries. “The odds have to be high enough that there’s a chance it could happen, but not [enough] that it’s going to happen,” he said.
Payouts do occasionally occur: The first year Jordan’s introduced its Sox promotion, 2007, it was tied to the team winning the World Series. And it actually happened.
“Nobody expected it,” Tatelman said. “But 25,000 families got $35 million back for what they bought. . . . We had someone outfit a whole motel. All the beds he got free.”
So what are the chances that this year’s promotion will pay out?
We asked Alex Speier, the resident Red Sox numbers guru at the Globe, who put the chance of a no-hitter at 3.4 percent. “Since 2000, across baseball, there's been roughly one no-hitter for every 1,847 games pitched by a team — meaning roughly a 0.05 percent chance that there is a no-hitter in any single game,” Speier said. “The promotion would thus offer roughly a 64/1,847 chance of winning.”
Evan Horowitz, our Quick Study columnist and another Globe data junkie, found the odds slightly better, though not by much. “The odds against the Sox are steep. Last year there was just one no-hitter out of the 2,430 games (plus postseason games),” he said. He put the odds at 4.8 percent.
Both Speier and Horowitz said the Sox’ powerful 2018 pitching roster could have an impact on the overall chances, so we asked Seth Bienstock, a financial analyst and baseball historian, to run the numbers a bit further.
So just how rare is a no-hitter?
A no-hitter is an extremely rare occurrence. . . . Since the Red Sox franchise came into existence in 1901, there have only been 252 no-hitters across the major leagues. Interestingly, Red Sox pitchers have accomplished the feat 18 times, second only to the Dodgers among all teams.
So what are the odds looking like this year?
To understand the probability of a no-hitter, one needs to appreciate that the overall batting average in the major leagues over the past few years has been .255 — meaning that, on average, a batter will get a hit one of out of every four at-bats (excluding walks and being hit by a pitch). A no-hitter requires generating 27 outs without giving up a hit. Mathematically, this probability is .745 to the 27th power — or approximately 0.036 percent — once every 2,800 games for Red Sox pitchers, all things being equal.
This is about the same chance you would have of flipping a coin 11 times and having it come up heads every time.
How do the Red Sox pitchers fare among the rest of the league?
The batting average against Red Sox pitchers last season was .243 — better than the league average — meaning that over the 64-game period covered by the Jordan’s promotion, one would expect a 3.5 percent chance of a no-hitter.
However, this assumes all pitchers are created equal, which is not the case when it comes to the Red Sox. There are two powerful factors that meaningfully increase the odds of a no-hitter for the Red Sox, and their names are Chris Sale and David Price. Both pitchers ranked among the top 30 starting pitchers in all of baseball over the past five years in batting average against. Hitters managed a paltry .206 batting average against Sale last year.
As a result, the odds of generating a no-hitter in a game pitched by Sale are markedly higher. If the Sox could field a pitching staff purely comprised of Sale clones, the odds of a no-hitter over a 64-game period would rise almost fourfold to over 12 percent. In addition, there are some teams with much weaker offenses than the major league average, which further increases the chance of a no-hitter, particularly when Sale and Price are on the mound.
So do the dates have any impact on the chances?
Fans should be watching the games of Aug. 24 to 29 intently. . . . If a no-hitter were to occur after the All-Star break, this five-game stretch presents the greatest chance. The Red Sox face the Rays three times and the Marlins twice, two teams that promise to inspire little fear with their woeful starting lineups this season. Further, barring injury, Price and Sale are almost guaranteed to both pitch over this period.
So if someone buys a couch from Jordan’s this year, how likely will it be that it will be free?
Putting it all together, I would surmise that the odds of a no-hitter by the Red Sox over the games covered by the Jordan’s promotion are about 6 percent.