In World Series Game 3, St. Louis Cardinals Starter Joe Kelly's First Pitches to the Red Sox Will Be Important

Stephen Dunn

Given Boston's plate approach and Kelly's tendencies, the Cardinals' starter will need to get ahead early.

The Boston Red Sox are one of the most patient lineups in all of baseball. St. Louis Cardinals starter Joe Kelly walked more batters than the average National League starter during the regular season. Consequently, Kelly will need to throw his first pitch for strikes with great regularity.

Before the World Series began, we looked generally at Boston's patient plate approach. The Red Sox batters swung at the first pitch of a plate appearance 1,302 times and took it 5,080 times. To put it another way, he Red Sox swung at the first pitch 20.4% of the time.

It's the 80% of Red Sox plate appearances in which their batsmen didn't swing that I want to focus on. The two potential outcomes in such plate appearances represent two very different paths a pitcher facing Boston can take: (1) Plate appearances that end after a first-pitch ball ("After 1-0"); and (2) Plate appearances that end after a first-pitch strike ("After 0-1").

Per Baseball Reference, the Red Sox team stats for these splits are found in the following chart.

Split

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

tOPS+

After 1-0

2629

.295

.412

.503

.915

131

Overall

6382

.277

.349

.446

.795

100

After 0-1

3239

.251

.295

.382

.677

70

As you can see, the Red Sox are a dangerous team when they get up 1-0 in the count. They reach base over 41% of the time. For comparison, the American League's average OBP in 2013 was .320. Boston also hits for power after getting up 1-0.  Their post-1-0 Isolated Power (ISO) is .208; the AL average ISO was .156 this year. This is why the Red Sox hit 31 percentage points better by OPS after getting up 1-0 than their overall OPS this season.

Not surprisingly, the Red Sox are a much different team production-wise when falling behind 0-1 in the count. Their on-base percentage falls to a well below-average .295 (meaning they make an out in 70.5% of such plate appearances). Boston's power output also drops to a below-average .131. By OPS, the Red Sox bat 30 percentage points below their overall OPS after the opposing pitcher gets ahead with a first-pitch strike.

Kelly has struggled with his control this season. Kelly's 8.3% walk rate was above the National League starting pitcher average walk rate of 7.8%. Given Kelly's higher-than-average walk
rate
, it's not surprising that he threw first pitch strikes at a less-than-average rate.


Starter

1st-Pitch Strike %

BB%

Joe Kelly

55.3%

8.3%

National League Average

60.8%

7.8%

Kelly-NL Difference

-5.5%

+0.5%


Kelly has been below-average at throwing his first pitch for a strike this year. The Red Sox offense has thrived when the opposing pitcher throws the first pitch of a plate appearance for a ball. World Series Game 3 could very hinge on the first pitches Kelly throws to Red Sox batters.

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