Sullivan: Opening Day and first-pitch tendencies

From Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs on March 19, 2013:

Tuesday afternoon, Brandon McCarthy presented an idea:

? for my stat enthusiast followers- in last 5 years, has any team’s opening day starter started the season with an off-speed pitch?


Thanks to PITCHf/x, Gameday, and, we can try to answer McCarthy’s question, and though the data gets less accurate the further back you go, that’s the data’s fault, not the user’s fault. Let’s see what’s out there.

First, consider what you might assume. Intuitively, you’d think the first pitch of a season would generally be a fastball, over the plate, taken for a strike. That just feels like it ought to be true — not for strategic reasons, but because of human nature. The pitcher wouldn’t want to throw a first-pitch ball, and he wouldn’t want to get cute before establishing the heater. The hitter wouldn’t want to risk making an out on the first pitch of the year, and humans tend to be risk-averse. It seems like Opening Day is the right recipe for a first-pitch called strike on a fastball.

So now we can look at what the data tells us. This past season, in 2012, nearly every Opening Day pitcher threw an obvious first-pitch fastball. Clayton Kershaw‘s first pitch was a little weird, but then, he was also sick. Justin Masterson‘s first pitch looked like a fastball with something taken off, as did Erik Bedard‘s. The only guy we can’t be quite sure about is Carl Pavano.

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Originally published: March 20, 2013. Last Updated: March 20, 2013.