2010′s First Bang

The first eight batters of the 2010 season came and went without much fanfare. An impartial observer might even have begun hoping for a baseball game between the Yankees and Red Sox that did not require four hours to complete. That was not to be and the problems began with Jorge Posada in top of the second inning.

With two outs already recorded, Josh Beckett started Posada out with a fastball well down and inside that no self-respecting hitter, or Vladimir Guerrero, would have swung at. Beckett followed with a 95mph fastball over the middle of the plate that Posada fouled back, just missing under the pitch. Posada had the pitch pretty well timed, but could not get his bat elevated in time. Take note, as that would be important about 20 seconds later.

Beckett stayed with the fastball for a third time on the next pitch, this one again landing too far inside but closer to the knees for ball two. It is worth stopping the narrative at this point to digress into some stats. Josh Beckett owns one of the league’s better curve balls. His fastball is good, too, but not as good as the curve. Jorge Posada makes a living off hitting fastballs, averaging almost two runs of offense above what the average hitter would produce for every 100 fastballs that he sees at the plate. On the other hand, Posada has been markedly worse at hitting curve balls, about one run below average per 100 curve balls.

Beckett had drawn Posada’s eyesight inside with his first and third pitches and upward with his second that Posada, remember, was just underneath. He had given Jorge three straight fastballs with which to time his swing. What would be the worst pitch to throw next? A fourth consecutive fastball, this time on the inner half of the plate and a little below the belt was probably it and Posada turned all over it. That Posada was so far in front of Beckett’s pitch tells us that he was sitting fastball and the location was right in his wheelhouse. With the aid of Pesky’s Pole and mediocre pitch sequencing, Posada had 2010’s first hit, first run and first home run.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

17 Responses to “2010′s First Bang”

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  1. Jairus says:

    All of the first of the firsts, with just one hit? Nice

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  2. Oliver says:

    Would Victor Martinez be responsible for calling four pitches in a row?

    Shouldn’t Beckett have called off his suggestions?

    What’s the typical dynamic and process for pitch calling and positioning? Do catchers get to choose everything until the pitcher shakes it off?

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  3. Matty Brown says:

    Oh Oliver. The mysteries of the true extent of control of the catcher is about the only thing FanGraphs can’t (yet) quantify or demonstrate.

    Your question is a good one though. At least one of those professional ball-players should have decided not to throw a 4th consecutive fastball to Jorgay.

    (what was the count? Were those the only 4 pitches thrown? If, so you stated what the count was implicitly)

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  4. TsB says:

    Beckett has never seemed comfortable with Martinez catching him. Small sample size however, as this was only the fourth time this has happenned. Varitek caught Beckett most of the time last year though, even after Martinez was aquired. That said, whilst you could perhaps blame the ‘dynamic’ for the pitch selection, there is nonetheless the fact that neither Beckett’s fastball nor curve were on form. It appeared that they weren’t moving too much on the whole. Perhaps he just wasn’t confident in his curve? That said, those two pitches haven’t been on elite form since 2008 and 2007 respectively. I suppose you could say it’s suprising the Sox gave him this extension given that is the case, but perhaps it comes more down to supply with so many big name starters being signed to extensions recently. But i’m digressing.

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  5. Mark Ahrens says:

    I don’t think Beckett had a feel for his curve ball. Several Yankees had also just missed the fast ball in the first inning. He didn’t throw many in the first two innings up to Posada and Granderson

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    • Mike says:

      His curveball, in fact, looked awful all game. He couldn’t throw it for strikes, I think he threw one strike all night with it. In a 2-1 count(i think it was 2-1), if you can’t throw a curveball for strikes, don’t throw it.

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  6. Sandy Kazmir says:

    That would have turned foul in 28 parks.

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  7. JoeC says:

    I don’t think all these statheads make *enough* noise about the affect a particular catcher has on a pitcher’s stats. I’m going to venture a guess here that Varitek calls a better game than Martinez. I have no proof of this. I’m just going with the greater experience Varitek has.

    So, if this is true, and if our beloved statheads could prove it, does Varitek’s “defense” outweigh Martinez’s offense?

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    • chuckb says:

      What does this even mean? Is Beckett not enough of a veteran to have the ability to shake off either Martinez or Varitek? Is your point that the homer is Martinez’s fault b/c he called the fastball and that Varitek would have surely called for the curve? Beckett threw a fastball b/c he wanted to throw fastball and it didn’t make a dime’s bit of difference whether Martinez, Varitek, or you were behind the plate.

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    • deadpool says:

      BPs (or rather some of the BP guys’) book Baseball Between the Numbers did an analysis of the Cardinals pitching staff with Matheny vs. Marrerro over three seasons. They found no statistically significant improvement over that sample size, and Marerro v. Matheny is as lopsided as it gets.

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  8. chuckb says:

    An interesting corollary to this is the game theory element of it. If fastball was the worst pitch (and curveball the best) to throw in that circumstance, then it’s reasonable to think that Beckett may have thought that Posada was looking for the curve. Thus, Beckett may have thought he could sneak the fastball by Posada. Moreover, with the count being 2-1 — a “fastball count” — Beckett may have thought that Posada was thinking that Beckett would try and cross him up by going with the curve in a fastball count. The bottom line is that Posada guessed correctly and Beckett guessed incorrectly (or chose incorrectly) and the ball bounced off Pesky’s pole with the same velocity with which it left Posada’s bat.

    (Or Beckett’s arrogance may have simply gotten the best of him thinking that he could get his fastball past even the best fastball hitters in fastball counts. Regardless, he was wrong.)

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    • Joser says:

      It doesn’t matter: if Posada is a hitter who has trouble with curves, then a curve is the pitch to throw in that situation even if he “knows” it is coming. You’re much more likely to have a better outcome throwing a curve to a player who has trouble with curves than a fastball to a player who eats up fastballs, no matter what he is expecting.

      But only if it’s a decent curve, and only if the pitcher has confidence in being able to throw it for a strike. And that may not have been the case.

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  9. DaveP says:

    You can’t always throw your best pitch for the particular situation. Sometimes you have to go against the grain in order to keep ‘em honest.

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  10. Judy says:

    I just think it was one of those times where he took his chances with a fastball because it was the only pitch he felt like he had a prayer of putting anywhere near where he wanted to put it.

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    • Dan says:

      I agree. He had no command of his breaking stuff. If he abandons the fastball, the AB almost surely ends in a walk. Pitch selection and sequencing was irrelevant. Beckett had nothing besides his fastball.

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  11. Kyle says:

    Not only did he have little control over his breaking stuff, Beckett is a guy who believes Varitek is a great pitcher’s catcher. He looked up to Schilling, and when Schilling said it, Beckett automatically agreed.

    Also he’s been stubborn with his fastball his whole career. Schilling was a lot like that, too. Verlander gave up a few hits off 100 mph fastballs the other night. Some power pitchers just think “my fastball is better than than this guy.” Lidge took that approach with Pujols 5 and 6 years ago in the postseason more than once. We all remember that(though Lidge was throwing 97-99 mph.)

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  12. Kyle says:

    I was vague, that’s why Beckett doesn’t look comfortable with Martinez behind the plate calling a game. It’s like Varitek has a placebo effect for him.

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