2014 in Opening Day First Pitches

Brandon McCarthy isn’t our boss, nor is he anywhere on the FanGraphs payroll, but similar to how one would act around a boss, we’re willing to do what McCarthy asks us to do. There’s nothing better than being handed an idea, and a year ago, McCarthy handed over an idea that we get to write about on an annual basis! The old tweet in question:

This was written about on March 20, 2013. Based on the evidence, it was pretty much fastballs all the way down, with one or two potential question marks. But now we can put together an update, because as of the beginning of Tuesday’s game between the Yankees and Astros, everyone’s 2014 opening-day game is complete. So what’d we get in terms of opening-day first pitches? Was it all fastballs, or were there breaking balls and changeups to be found? Please consult the following big giant table.

Team Pitcher Batter Pitch Result
Angels Jered Weaver Abraham Almonte Fastball Called Strike
Astros Scott Feldman Jacoby Ellsbury Fastball In Play
Athletics Sonny Gray Nyjer Morgan Fastball Ball
Blue Jays R.A. Dickey David DeJesus Knuckleball Called Strike
Braves Julio Teheran Carlos Gomez Fastball In Play
Brewers Yovani Gallardo Jason Heyward Fastball Ball
Cardinals Adam Wainwright Billy Hamilton Fastball Called Strike
Cubs Jeff Samardzija Starling Marte Fastball Called Strike
Diamondbacks Wade Miley Yasiel Puig Fastball Called Strike
Dodgers Clayton Kershaw A.J. Pollock Fastball Called Strike
Giants Madison Bumgarner A.J. Pollock Fastball Called Strike
Indians Justin Masterson Coco Crisp Fastball Ball*
Mariners Felix Hernandez Kole Calhoun Fastball Ball
Marlins Jose Fernandez Charlie Blackmon Fastball Ball
Mets Dillon Gee Denard Span Fastball Ball
Nationals Stephen Strasburg Eric Young Jr. Fastball Called Strike
Orioles Chris Tillman Daniel Nava Fastball Called Strike
Padres Andrew Cashner Carl Crawford Fastball Ball
Phillies Cliff Lee Shin-Soo Choo Fastball Foul
Pirates Francisco Liriano Emilio Bonifacio Fastball Called Strike
Rangers Tanner Scheppers Ben Revere Fastball Ball
Rays David Price Jose Reyes Fastball Called Strike
Red Sox Jon Lester Nick Markakis Fastball Called Strike
Reds Johnny Cueto Matt Carpenter Fastball Called Strike
Rockies Jorge De La Rosa Christian Yelich Fastball Called Strike
Royals James Shields Ian Kinsler Fastball Called Strike
Tigers Justin Verlander Norichika Aoki Fastball Called Strike
Twins Ricky Nolasco Adam Eaton Fastball Called Strike
White Sox Chris Sale Brian Dozier Fastball Ball
Yankees CC Sabathia Dexter Fowler Fastball Ball

In there, 30 first pitches, from 30 different pitchers, to 29 different hitters. And, we’ve got 29 fastballs and one obvious knuckleball, which counts as an exception. McCarthy was asking about pitchers besides Dickey. Besides Dickey, this year, it was all heaters. Here’s that knuckler, for the hell of it:

DickeyFirst.gif.opt

Now, of those fastballs, 26 were taken. Of those taken fastballs, 16 were taken for strikes. It’s clear that these aren’t just fastballs grooved down the middle, but you also think that maybe hitters can take advantage of this predictability and try to punish the first pitch they see. Historically, they haven’t done that, and maybe the hitters aren’t quite ready to swing, before they see a single live pitch. But just because swings this year were infrequent doesn’t mean they didn’t happen at all.

First, you’ll notice there’s an asterisk in that table, by the pitch from Masterson to Crisp. That’s because, while Crisp took the fastball for a ball, he at least threatened to bunt before pulling back:

MastersonFirst.gif.opt

The Rangers signed Choo in large part because they love his approach and his ability to post a sky-high OBP. Choo swung at literally the first pitch he saw in a meaningful game in a Texas uniform. I suppose, against a pitcher like Lee, it’s a good bet you’re going to get a strike, so you might as well not fall behind if you don’t have to:

LeeFirst.gif.opt

Ellsbury did Choo one better, or perhaps one worse. Tuesday, against Feldman, Ellsbury was ready for a first-pitch fastball, and he put the ball in play, lifting it to left-center:

FeldmanFirst.gif.opt

Yet the big winner was also the big loser. Last season, Freddie Freeman was second in baseball at 46.4% first-pitch swings. Carlos Gomez was first in baseball at 52.3% first-pitch swings. More often than not, Gomez went after the first pitch of a plate appearance, and it didn’t matter to him that Monday’s game was the first of the 2014 regular season. He’d seen enough pitches in spring training. Maybe he hadn’t done enough baserunning in spring training:

TeheranFirst.gif.opt

On the first pitch to a Brewer in 2014, Gomez singled against Julio Teheran. He aggressively advanced to second on an error. Then he ran himself right into an out at third for seemingly no reason. What you don’t see is how casually the ball was returned to the infield with Gomez breaking for third. The Braves weren’t even in a rush. That’s not something Gomez was taking advantage of — that’s just how easily Gomez was retired. I’m not sure we’ve had a more eventful first pitch in a long long time.

In all: 29 fastballs, with one knuckler that doesn’t really count as a non-fastball. The knuckler was taken for a strike, and 16 of the fastballs were taken for strikes. Three first pitches were swung at, and another was almost bunted in the direction of new third baseman Carlos Santana. There’s something to be done, probably, about the pitchers’ predictability, here. But this only seems like kind of a big deal now. Ultimately, it’s one pitch, and we don’t even know how ready the hitters are to hit before they see anything thrown in their direction. Carlos Gomez was ready the other day, but he seemed ready for just about anything. I don’t know if Gomez is a coffee drinker, but that would be a legal explanation.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
tz
Guest
tz
2 years 3 months ago

Upton did a great “IDGAF” decoy on Gomez. Wonder if he would have gotten away with that with McCann in the ballpark.

JMo37
Member
JMo37
2 years 3 months ago

Maybe not, McCann seems to think his fat ass knows everything about running the bases.

King Asher Wojciechowski
Guest
King Asher Wojciechowski
2 years 3 months ago

I don’t give any free (bases)?

Kazuo Matsui
Guest
Kazuo Matsui
2 years 3 months ago

“It’s clear that these aren’t just fastballs grooved down the middle, but you also think that maybe hitters can take advantage of this predictability and try to punish the first pitch they see.”

Step 1: Profit!
Step 2: Punish season-opening fastballs.
Step 3: ???

MustBunique
Member
Member
2 years 3 months ago

Steal underpants?

Aaron (UK)
Member
Aaron (UK)
2 years 3 months ago

Is this just an opening day effect? How about the other starters’ first pitches of the season?

nd
Guest
nd
2 years 3 months ago

Much bigger sample size, so we might actually get some useful conclusions out of that study.

Swfcdan
Guest
Swfcdan
2 years 3 months ago

Hey Dickey throws a heater too (well luke-warm pitch), yet he didn’t!

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 3 months ago

To me, what is truly meaningful is the Ellbury one. He is the only player that swung at literally the first pitch. The others were all in the bottom half. They weren’t the first pitch of the game or the season.

Also, I still would like to see what the averages are for normal games.

Brad Johnson
Member
Member
2 years 3 months ago

Gomez swung at the first pitch the next day too. It was a long home run.

But maybe he shouldn’t be leading off with that mentality? I’m not saying Gomez should adapt, I’m saying the Brewers should change the lineup.

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