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Dodgers Singing The First Pitch Blues

The Dodgers desperately need a good pitching performance tonight, in the finale of their series with the Diamondbacks.  Luckily, in Hiroki Kuroda, they might just have the perfect man to deliver.  After last night's grinder of a loss, Ned Colletti expressed frustration aimed at his pitching staff.  Per Tony Jackson of ESPN LA:

"Our pitching staff has been upside down with walks and falling behind hitters," Colletti said. "You can't continue to pitch behind in the count at this level and expect to get away with it. If you look at rallies late in games, almost always, at the beginning or in the middle of them, there is a walk. I'm not big on statistics, but if you look at 1-0 (counts) versus 0-1, I'm pretty sure you will see a dramatic difference in what hitters do. I'm hopeful that it's just the early part of the season putting us in that position. But it needs to get better, sooner rather than later.''

This reminded me of the 2009 Dodger Thoughts Night at Dodger Stadium, when assistant general manager Kim Ng spoke to us for several minutes.  Someone asked her what her favorite pitch was.  Within a nanosecond, Ng replied, "strike one," and went on to explain how the numbers swung dramatically based on that crucial first pitch.  Here are the numbers in the National League this season:

After 0-1 .221/.264/.352
After 1-0     .284/.414/.483

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

1st pitch strike    
1st pitch ball   

So you can see why Colletti and Ng, and most everyone in baseball would like their pitchers to throw first pitch strikes.  In the early going -- all of eight games, or roughly five percent of the season -- Dodger pitchers have not been throwing first pitch strikes:

2010 National League First Pitch Thrown
Team Strikes Balls Balls in Play Strike %
Rockies 164 117 39 63.4%
Astros 147 118 38 61.1%
Diamondbacks 165 124 26 60.6%
Reds 189 147 34 60.3%
Cardinals 139 115 33 59.9%
Marlins 185 149 37 59.8%
Mets 152 133 38 58.8%
Padres 142 127 38 58.6%
Braves 149 128 30 58.3%
Brewers 137 130 43 58.1%
NL Average 154 136 35 58.0%
Nationals 146 146 43 56.4%
Cubs 139 129 26 56.1%
Phillies 136 134 33 55.8%
Giants 164 156 29 55.3%
Pirates 165 163 33 54.8%
Dodgers 139 162 35 51.8%

The Dodgers are dead last in the National League in throwing first pitch strikes, after finishing an above-average sixth in the league last season, throwing first pitch strikes 59.4% of the time.  No wonder Colletti is angry.

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

2010 Dodgers First Pitch Thrown
Pitcher Strikes Balls Balls in Play Strike %
Weaver 9 5 3 70.6%
Broxton 5 5 3 61.5%
Kuroda 14 12 5 61.3%
Ra.Ortiz 11 9 2 59.1%
Padilla 19 21 6 54.3%
Billingsley  23 24 5 53.8%
Kershaw 22 25 3 50.0%
Sherrill 8 9 1 50.0%
Haeger 14 17 1 46.9%
Monasterios    4 7 2 46.2%
Troncoso 6 11 3 45.0%
Ru. Ortiz 4 17 1 22.7%
Totals 139 162 35 51.8%

Russ Ortiz really sticks out like a sore thumb here.  He has thrown a first pitch ball to 17 of the 22 batters he has faced.  Ouch.

Other Notes

  • There is one first pitch we won't care whether it's a ball or strike, and that is the one thrown by Don Newcombe before tonight's game.  Newcombe, a teammate of Jackie Robinson with the Dodgers for six seasons, will throw out a ceremonial first pitch, and Matt Kemp will (presumably) catch it (too soon?)
  • Tonight will be the 10th time Dan Haren has faced the Dodgers since joining the Diamondbacks before the 2008 season.  In the previous nine starts, Haren has put up a 3.70 ERA with 15 walks against 50 strikeouts in 56 innings.  Yet somehow the Dodgers have won five of those games.
  • Each member of the starting outfield all have at least a .982 OPS against Haren in their careers, with Manny Ramirez leading the way.  Manny has 15 hits in 26 at-bats against Haren, including three homers, and is hitting a robust .577/.656/1.077 against the Arizona ace
  • White noticing the oddity of Blake DeWitt having a .429 on-base percentage despite a .200 batting average (and slugging percentage) in the early going, I feel compelled to point out the lowest batting average by a Dodger with a .400 on-base percentage in a single season (minimum 300 plate appearances) was Jimmy Wynn's .248 (with a .403 OBP) in 1974.
  • In addition to Newcombe, former Dodgers Tommy Lasorda, Tommy Davis and Sweet Lou Johnson, and former Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will be introduced on the field before the game for Jackie Robinson Night, as will the Jackie Robinson Team 42 Scholars.
  • Jeffrey Osbourne, no doubt tuning up for the Laker playoffs, will sing both the national anthem and God Bless America tonight.

Xeifrank's simulation of today's game is here.

Game Time:  7:10pm

TV:  Prime Ticket

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