The Importance of First-Pitch Strikes

Matt Torra, the starting pitcher for Durham in last night’s 4-2 win over the Bulls, pitched seven innings. In the first, second, third, fourth, and sixth, he retired the Tides in order; in the seventh, he got two outs, hit Ryan Adams with a pitch, and then struck out Steve Tolleson. Unfortunately, he gave up four hits and an error in the fifth, which led to the four Tides’ runs and the Bulls’ defeat.

For each of the twelve batters he faced through the fourth inning, Torra’s first pitch was a strike — ten called strikes, one foul, and one ball put in play. The first pitch to the first batter of the fifth inning — Joe Mahoney — was a ball. While it’s amusing to point out that as soon as Torra didn’t throw the first pitch to a batter over the plate, he fell apart — giving up the four runs — that’s really too far a stretch.

But what isn’t a stretch is to notice Torra’s performance. He faced 27 batters in his seven innings. The first pitch to 22 of them was a strike, and exactly two of those 22 batters reached base. The first pitch was a ball to the other five, and three of those five batters reached base. Color commentators are fond of noting the importance of first-pitch strikes — although I really doubt the difference is as great as Torra’s performance last night would suggest.

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