First Pitch Fastball Watchers?

As former Cardinal Mark Reynolds stood in to lead off the fifth inning, Cardinal starter Lance Lynn fired him a four-seam fastball that Reynolds fouled off.  In six-plus innings last night, Lynn faced 21 batters.  Reynolds was the only one all night to swing at his first pitch.  Even Matt Carpenter doesn’t take that many first pitches.

Lance faced only 13 batters as he sailed through the first four innings.  Twelve of those batters saw first-pitch fastballs.  None of them swung at them.  Five of the twelve were out of the strike zone.  Three of the other seven were very inviting.  Beginning in the third inning, five consecutive batters – including Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado – took first-pitch fastballs for strikes.  Thirteen of the 21 batters took the first two pitches from Lynn.

If this was strategy, it didn’t work very well. Lance didn’t get the win, but he stopped Colorado on one run on three hits over his six-plus innings and set the Cards up for a 3-2 walk-off win (box score).

In so doing, Lance added another strong starting effort to the team’s latest streak.  Over the last 14 games, Cardinal starting pitchers have thrown 10 quality starts.  In the 87.1 innings they’ve pitched during those games, they have surrendered just 77 hits, including only 8 home runs and 15 walks (1 intentional).  It works out to a 2.27 ERA, a .231 batting average against, and a .266 opponent’s on base percentage.

The best hope that Cardinals have of being significant before the season ends is a continued string of strong starts.  And, hopefully, at some point a bullpen that can hold a late-inning lead.  St Louis is only 8-6 in its last 14 games, in spite of the excellence of its starting pitching.

Lance Lynn

Lance – who I am hoping will survive the trade deadline and remain with the team for the rest of the season – has been a pillar of the great recent run of starting pitching.  He has started 4 of the last 14, all of them quality starts.  He is 2-0 with an 0.71 ERA and a .193/.228/.273 batting line against.  After previously allowing 8 home runs over a 4 game span, Lance has allowed just 1 in his last 4.

Last night was the fourth time this season that Lynn left a game with a lead, only to watch his bullpen give it up.

For the game, Lance didn’t throw a lot of first-pitch strikes.  He threw ball one to four of the first five batters he faced, and ended his evening missing with the first pitch to each of the last six batters he faced.  At the end of the evening, only 9 of the 21 batters he faced saw strike one.  But when he did throw that first pitch strike, those batters finished 0-for-8 with 4 strikeouts and 1 walk.

Throughout this month, Lance has only thrown first-pitch strikes to 61 of the 114 batters he’s faced (54%).  But when he does get that first pitch in, he has held batters to a .138 average (8 for 58).

Over the last 14 games, batters getting a first-pitch strike from a Cardinal pitcher have gone on to hit just .199 (56 for 281).

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist pitched for the second consecutive day for the first time since he came off the disabled list.  That might be a reason he wasn’t quite as dominant as he had been in his first four games (he walked a batter and got no strikeouts).

He was plenty good enough though, considering the situation.  Kevin came on in the seventh, with Rockies at second and third and no one out while clinging to a precarious 2-0 lead.  One run scored on a fly ball, but Kevin successfully de-fused what could have been a damaging inning.  Siegrist has thrown 4.2 innings since his return and has allowed only one hit.

Matthew Bowman

It wouldn’t be a Cardinal game without a blown save.  The honors, last night, fell to Matthew Bowman.  Recently, Matthew had pitched 11 straight games without allowing a run.  After serving up the game tying home run to Trevor Story in the eighth inning (lately the blown save has come in the eighth inning, instead of the ninth), Bowman has now allowed runs in both of his last two games, getting blown saves in both of them.

For the month of July, batters facing Bowman are 6 for 20 (.300) in the at bat if Matthew throws them a first-pitch strike.  Story’s home run came on such an at bat.

Trevor Rosenthal

Yes, I admit it.  When Colorado blooped two hits with two out in the ninth inning against Trevor Rosenthal – working his second inning – I pretty much assumed that all was lost.  That’s just the way it’s gone lately.  But this time, Rosenthal wrote a happier ending by striking out Story to end the inning.

Trevor was in a little trouble there, but again, no walks from Rosenthal.  That seems to be the key.  As long as he is forcing them to hit the ball to beat him, Trevor does all right.

And, his lapse against Chicago aside, Trevor has been throwing the ball much better.  His July shows 9.1 innings with a 1.93 ERA and 13 strikeouts.

Don’t Fall Behind the Cardinal Hitters

Colorado pitchers did a better job of throwing first-pitch strikes to the Cardinal hitters.  Twenty-two of the thirty-six Cardinal batsmen saw strike one.  It didn’t bother them too much – those 22 went on to go 7 for 20 (.350) with 2 sacrifice hits.  But the 14 batters who saw ball one had an even better time.  They went 5 for 13 (.385).  For the month of July, the Cards are hitting .307/.418/.582 when the opposing pitcher starts them off with ball one.

Paul DeJong

The runs didn’t hold up, but Paul DeJong got the offense started with a two-run, first-inning homer – his thirteenth in just 178 big league at bats.  Paul added a single later.  DeJong has now put together a five-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .381 (8 for 21) and slugging .857 (1 double & 3 home runs).  Paul has driven in at least one run in all five games, and has 7 for the streak.  Paul also has two hits in each of the last 3 games.

For the month of July, DeJong’s average has risen to .312 (24 or 77) and his slugging percentage to .688 (8 doubles and 7 home runs).

His home run came on the first pitch thrown him by Rockie starter Jon Gray.  His single cam in an at bat that began with Paul fouling off the first pitch.  The two times that he took the first pitch for a ball, he struck out and flied out.

I suspect that pretty soon pitchers will stop challenging him with first-pitch strikes.  For the season, Paul is a .311 hitter (33 for 106) and a .613 slugger (5 doubles and 9 of his 13 home runs) when pitchers throw him first-pitch strikes.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina added two hits for the second straight game.  He is now up to .275 (19 for 69) for the month.

Kolten Wong

Although neither hit made it through the infield, Kolten Wong pushed his season average back up to .303 with a 2 for 4 night.  With his second consecutive two-hit game, Kolten is now up to .313 (10 for 32) since returning from the disabled list.

The only time Wong saw a first-pitch strike last night, he fell behind Gray 0-2 in the fourth.  He ended up with an infield hit.  For the season, Kolten hits .324 (36 for 111) when he is thrown a first-pitch strike.

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