2013’s First Pitches in Review

Some time ago, Brandon McCarthy asked a question about first pitches of seasons. McCarthy is neat and fun and smart and good and he recently dropped a FanGraphs reference in an article, so we pay attention to McCarthy, and to his question we issued a response. McCarthy was asking about offspeed frequency with the first pitch of a season. Turns out offspeed pitches are almost never thrown to begin a year, or at least that’s been the case during the PITCHf/x era. Things might’ve been the opposite before and we’d have no way of knowing because all that information is inaccessible if not unavailable and/or non-existent. It stands to reason that the fastball has always been the popular pick to kick things off.

McCarthy’s question got me interested in McCarthy’s question, but it also got me personally interested in first pitches of seasons in general. What gets thrown, where does it get thrown, and what do hitters do? As of Tuesday, every team in baseball has now played at least one game of the 2013 regular season. So every season is underway, so we can assemble a complete record of 2013’s first pitches. Are you also curious about these things? Are you not at all curious, but can you not pull yourself away from this article? Below, please find a thorough table, followed by more stuff commenting directly or indirectly on the table.

The first pitches of 2013, by team, in the tops and bottoms of first innings:

Angels Weaver Choo Fastball 86 Ball Bottom
Astros Norris Kinsler Fastball 92 Called Strike Top
Athletics Anderson Gutierrez Fastball 93 Called Strike Top
Blue Jays Dickey Bourn Knuckleball 75 Ball Top
Braves Hudson Revere Fastball 91 Ball Top
Brewers Gallardo Fowler Fastball 89 Ball Top
Cardinals Wainwright Parra Fastball 93 Ball Bottom
Cubs Samardzija Marte Fastball 95 Ball Bottom
Diamondbacks Kennedy Jay Fastball 91 Foul Top
Dodgers Kershaw Pagan Fastball 93 Called Strike Top
Giants Cain Crawford Fastball 91 Called Strike Bottom
Indians Masterson Reyes Fastball 93 Ball Bottom
Mariners Hernandez Crisp Fastball 91 Ball Bottom
Marlins Nolasco Span Fastball 89 Called Strike Bottom
Mets Niese Denorfia Fastball 89 GB 1B Top
Nationals Strasburg Pierre Fastball 94 Called Strike Top
Orioles Hammel Jennings Fastball 93 Ball Bottom
Padres Volquez Cowgill Fastball 93 Ball Bottom
Phillies Hamels Simmons Fastball 92 Ball Bottom
Pirates Burnett DeJesus Fastball 93 Ball Top
Rangers Harrison Altuve Fastball 91 GB 1B Bottom
Rays Price Markakis Fastball 94 Called Strike Top
Red Sox Lester Gardner Fastball 91 Ball Bottom
Reds Cueto Trout Fastball 92 Called Strike Top
Rockies Chacin Aoki Fastball 90 Ball Bottom
Royals Shields De Aza Fastball 93 Called Strike Bottom
Tigers Verlander Hicks Fastball 88 Called Strike Bottom
Twins Worley Jackson Fastball 88 Called Strike Top
White Sox Sale Gordon Fastball 94 Ball Top
Yankees Sabathia Ellsbury Fastball 88 Called Strike Top

The table is sortable, for your convenience. Our first observation: nearly every single pitcher started off with a fastball, with the lone exception being R.A. Dickey, who almost never throws a fastball. Dickey’s third pitch was a fastball after consecutive knucklers. Our second observation might be, I don’t know, Justin Verlander throwing a fastball at 88 miles per hour. This is what they might call a get-me-over fastball, and Verlander wasn’t his usual self all day, perhaps owing to the cold, or perhaps owing to something else, or perhaps both or neither.

Make some assumptions about the season’s first pitches. You probably imagine a fastball, thrown at less than 100%, taken for a strike over the plate. Indeed, 27 of the 30 first pitches were taken, but a full 15 of them — half of them — were first-pitch balls. So this wasn’t a case of pitchers just grooving one in there, knowing that the batters wouldn’t swing. And of course, three of the batters swung, two of them in the top of the first. Two of them wound up with hits. There were a lot of first-pitch fastballs hanging out around the strike zone’s various edges.

I’m now going to include for you some .gifs of some first pitches of note. These are .gifs, so you’ll want to complain, but they’re also relatively small .gifs, so either don’t complain or don’t complain as much. Off we go, all together.

The 2013 season’s very first pitch


It’s Bud Norris, throwing a first-pitch fastball to Ian Kinsler at which Kinsler never had any idea of swinging. Kinsler was taking the whole way, as most people probably would in his situation. Who wants to make the season’s first out on the season’s first pitch? We’re all naturally risk-averse. Imagine the glory of hitting the season’s first dinger on the season’s first pitch. Anyway, it was actually quite a good pitch — a heater with strong velocity in the low-outer quadrant. Kinsler wasn’t going to do much with that in any case. Norris didn’t groove it in there.

The 2013 season’s most grooved first pitch


In terms of proximity to the center of the strike zone, James Shields threw the most grooved first pitch to Alejandro De Aza. On the other hand, look at the movement on that heater. James Shields is good! Wow!

The 2013 season’s slowest first pitch (non-Dickey department)


Here we have Jered Weaver throwing Shin-Soo Choo a first-pitch ball at 86.0 miles per hour. In the game, Weaver’s velocity was down about two miles per hour from his 2012 full-season averages, and it was down about three miles per hour from his 2012 April averages. Weaver’s made some adjustments to his delivery, but while CC Sabathia has gotten a lot of the attention, Weaver’s another guy who deserves to have his velocities monitored, because he’s critically important to his team and dropping velocity is never a positive indicator. Not for a pitcher’s pitches, anyway.

The swings




Facing Matt Harrison, Jose Altuve singled on the first pitch to the Astros as an American League team. That’s noteworthy, but it also came in the bottom of the first, so it wasn’t truly the first pitch of the year. Chris Denorfia singled against Jon Niese in the top of the first on the first pitch, so that’s a little more extraordinary. Denorfia’s first-pitch single would’ve been taken as a good omen for the Padres, who subsequently lost by nine. Finally, Jon Jay went after a fastball from Ian Kennedy and fouled it off into the seats. It was a very good fastball from Kennedy, located in the low-outer quadrant, and it was a curious pitch for Jay to chase right at the get-go. Jay probably had the idea that he was going to swing at anything that was close, just for effect. I say this as if I know Jon Jay as a person.

The 2013 season’s wildest first pitches



Up top, we see Jason Hammel come close to shaving Desmond Jennings‘ face with a baseball. Hammel didn’t actually come that close to drilling Jennings in the body, given how close some other pitches come, but this fastball was 93 miles per hour, so even kind of close feels really really close if you’re in the batter’s box. As much as people think that pitchers just go out there and groove the first pitches, consider the extra adrenaline when you’re kicking off a season. Pitchers are going to be a little more amped up, which could intuitively lead to greater wildness. If pitchers were that good at throwing strikes when they wanted to we wouldn’t see so many four-pitch walks, or any walks to Brendan Ryan.

Down below, R.A. Dickey misses against Michael Bourn. And J.P. Arencibia misses against R.A. Dickey. It isn’t a very good .gif, given the camerawork, but it was at this point that I figured out MLB.tv has a login limit that kicks you out if you log in too many times in too narrow a window. I was loading up new windows for almost every single first game, and this was the last one I wanted to look at. I couldn’t access the archived footage, so I had to depend on the existence of an official MLB.com first-pitch video highlight. Which, thankfully, there was. Now I don’t know when I’ll be able to log into MLB.tv again, and for all I know this could be a 24-hour or a 48-hour block, but the important thing is this post got finished. And now my next post probably won’t have any .gifs in it. Yay, or, oh no!

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.

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9 years ago

Great work. I still think it would be better when looking at this historically to look at first pitches in the top of the first alone. That is the first pitch.

It would also be interesting to know what the first pitch fastball percentage normally is, for all games, playoff games, world series games, etc.