Trueblood: First-pitch fastballs and the team that stopped throwing them

From Matthew Trueblood at Baseball Prospectus on March 16, 2018:

Hitters want to hit fastballs. That’s one of the most universal truths in baseball. They want to hit fastballs, and they hunt them, especially early in the count. Over the last two seasons, the Red Sox have made the most of an already talented pitching staff, despite a bunch of injuries that tested their depth and forced them to ask certain pitchers to fill unexpected roles (either concrete or ceremonial). They finished second in team DRA in 2016, and eighth in 2017, and (other than spending a staggering amount of money and prospect capital to build the staff, through trades for Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, and Chris Sale, and huge contracts for David Price and Rick Porcello) their secret was that they gave opposing hitters fewer first-pitch fastballs than any other team in MLB.

In fact, they were more likely not to throw a fastball on the first pitch than to throw one, in both seasons. That’s not normal, though one day it probably will be. The only other team to throw more non-fastballs than fastballs on the first pitch in the entire PITCHf/x era (other than these two iterations of the Red Sox) was the 2014 Yankees. The trend line for first-pitch heaters is down, from 62.2 percent fastballs on the first pitch in 2008 to 60.1 percent in 2017, but the change is happening very, very slowly. The Red Sox, however, aren’t waiting for the rest of the league.

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Originally published: March 16, 2018. Last Updated: March 16, 2018.