I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it, “first pitch strike is the most important pitch in baseball”. When a pitcher begins an at bat with a first pitch strike it changes everything, the batter feels less comfortable, he has to protect the plate more, he immediately trying to dig himself out of a hole. Visa Versa, a first pitch ball flips the entire at bat into the batters advantage for the same reasons, and a pitcher digging out of a hole creates a much bigger problem. He throws more pitches.
When a pitcher throws more pitches fatigue becomes an issue, which, has a snowballing effect because as the pitcher throws more his pitches become less crisp which leads to lack of control which leads to mistakes which leads to lots of runs given up.
According to Craig Burley of the Hardball Times, a batters average when seeing a first pitch strike is about .261, whereas when a pitcher starts behind a batter the average raises to .280. Also, when 2 completely average pitchers are examined, one who always throws first pitch strike and one who always throws first pitch ball, Burley says “The first pitcher, the “strike one” pitcher, has an expected ERA of about 3.60. The second one, the otherwise perfectly average one who always throws a ball on pitch one, has an expected ERA of about 5.50. He’ll also pitch about 12% fewer innings.”
That point leads me to my subject, the John Danks of 2012.
John Danks this year has been pitching behind all season. Let’s begin by examining his latest outing, vs. the Tigers. In that start he began with a first pitch ball to 15 of 22 batters of those 15 at bats only 5 lead to outs, whereas the 7 at bats that began as strikes lead to 4 outs, small sample sizes, but you get the drift.
In his last start vs. the Tribe those numbers, essentially, were reversed. He began 11 batters with a first pitch ball which resulted in 3 outs but started 12 batters with strikes which resulted in 11 outs.
The tertiary effect of all these first pitch balls is the extended at bats, which lead to extended innings, which when given to good hitting teams, as we saw with Detroit, will lead to big innings for the opponents; which, with the offensive woes of the Sox, we don’t need to be spotting other teams with big leads. Also, Danks is supposed to be our
With all that being said John Danks has always been a high pitch totals type of pitcher but this year the free passes seem to be catching up with him and with him taking over the role of the big innings eater, the replacement for Buehrle, that won’t last long if he continues to go deep into counts.