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Saturday, March 21, 2020

First Pitch Follies

One of the joys of baseball, and sports in general, is that the narrative arc of the game isn’t preordained. You can’t know when the most important pitch of the game will be before the game starts. This isn’t a TV procedural, where nothing decisive can happen in the first 20 minutes. The visiting team might go up 3-0 in the first inning and never relinquish the lead, or they might rally furiously from down five only to lose in the bottom of the ninth.

Even though the most exciting pitch of the game isn’t a given, one thing more or less is: the first pitch of a game won’t be the most exciting one. That’s partially due to the rules of baseball — no one is on base, and most at-bats take more than one pitch — but the first pitch is unique in its own way. For one, no one swings. Combining the first pitches thrown by each starter in a game, batters swing at 23% of offerings, significantly lower than the 29% overall swing rate on 0-0 counts.

Secondly, it’s almost always a fastball. Sam Miller delved into the thinking behind game-opening fastballs, and pretty much everything from his piece still holds. Pitchers throw fastballs because batters don’t swing, and batters don’t swing because they already don’t swing much on 0-0, and particularly so when they haven’t seen the pitcher throw anything yet.

But batters aren’t static opponents. In 2010, they swung at 25.1% of 0-0 pitches. In 2019, that number was a meaty 29.4%. Strikeouts are rising, pitchers are fastball-happy on 0-0 counts, and batters increasingly can’t afford to hang around waiting for something to hit given the decline in overall fastball usage.

Disappointingly, this isn’t about ceremonial first pitches- but it still has interest in other regards.


QLE Posted: March 21, 2020 at 01:30 AM | 0 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: first pitch

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