First Pitch Strikes Have Eluded Dodgers Pitchers This Season, Especially The Bullpen

Don Mattingly hasn't had very many productive options to choose from in the bullpen this season.

The Dodgers pitching staff, to put it mildly, has struggled this season. They are 24th out of 30 teams in runs allowed per game this season, and their 80 ERA+ is 28th (only the participants in the 1986 World Series have been worse this season).

Last April, I took a look at how the staff was doing in throwing first pitch strikes (it was not doing well). Let's see how the Dodgers are doing so far in 2011. We all know the importance of first pitch strikes, but just to drive the point home here is a look at the National League numbers this season:

Split BA/OBP/SLG
After 0-1 .232/.271/.345
After 1-0     .264/.385/.424

Even factoring in balls in play on the first pitch, the numbers are still overwhelmingly in favor of throwing a first pitch strike:

NL Split BA/OBP/SLG
1st pitch strike    
.251/.283/.373
1st pitch ball   
.264/.385/.424

For the Dodgers, the split has been even more extreme this season:

Dodgers Split BA/OBP/SLG
1st pitch strike    
.246/.277/.394
1st pitch ball   
.327/.430/.567

Yikes. The Dodgers are getting pummeled when delivering a ball on the first pitch. That would make it important for the Dodgers to make sure they throw first pitch strikes, right? Well, the Dodgers have been second worst in the NL this season in throwing first pitch strikes:

2011 National League First Pitch Thrown
Team Strikes Balls Balls in Play Strike %
Phillies 313 222 74 63.5%
Reds 321 260 83 60.8%
Astros 321 261 82 60.7%
Cardinals 307 247 72 60.5%
Cubs 297 246 80 60.5%
Rockies 324 268 72 59.6%
Padres 288 245 74 59.6%
Diamondbacks 273 244 84 59.4%
NL Average 304 259 74 59.3%
Nationals 283 241 65 59.1%
Marlins 265 232 70 59.1%
Giants 307 264 68 58.7%
Brewers 306 264 68 58.6%
Braves 310 271 65 58.0%
Mets 328 290 72 58.0%
Dodgers 323 293 80 57.9%
Pirates 295 297 71 55.2%

The Dodgers are second-to-last, but they are reasonably close to average (within one standard deviation of the 59.3% NL average; actually, the only teams outside one standard deviation both reside in Pennsylvania).

Here are the Dodgers' individual numbers on the first pitch:

2011 Dodgers First Pitch Thrown
Pitcher Strikes Balls Balls in Play Strike %
Lilly 51 30 16 69.1%
Garland 10 7 3 65.0%
Ely 15 9 1 64.0%
Billingsley 48 37 10 61.1%
Kuroda 48 49 14 55.9%
Kershaw 45 45 11 55.4%
Starters 217 177 55 60.6%
Hawksworth 20 13 8 68.3%
Guerrier 16 11 4 64.5%
MacDougal 9 13 6 53.6%
Jansen 24 21 0 53.3%
Broxton 14 18 2 47.1%
Troncoso 6 9 2 47.1%
Cormier 15 21 2 44.7%
Kuo 2 10 1 23.1%
Relievers 106 116 25 53.0%
Totals 323 293 80 57.9%

The bullpen has really stood out in their lack of first pitch strikes. Hong-Chih Kuo is the worst on the team, delivering a first-pitch strike to just three of 13 batters. Kuo threw a first-pitch strike to 63.8% of his batters faced last season. No wonder he was placed on the DL.

The Dodger bullpen is last in the NL in ERA (6.17), WHIP (1.704), home runs allowed (10), opponents' batting average (.298), on-base percentage (.378), and slugging percentage (.505); they are second-to-last in strikeouts per nine innings (6.50). The Dodger bullpen has even given up the most stolen bases in the league, too, as opposing runners have stolen nine bases in 10 attempts.

It's been brutal out there on the mound this season.

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