In World Series Game 3, St. Louis Cardinals Starter Joe Kelly Won the Battle of the First Pitch

Eileen Blass-USA TODAY

Joe Kelly came out aggressively firing strikes against the Red Sox.

Yesterday, we looked at the importance of throwing first-pitch strikes for St. Louis Cardinals starter Joe Kelly in World Series Game 3. The Boston Red Sox are a much more dangerous lineup after getting ahead 1-0 in the count as opposed to when they fall behind 0-1. Kelly entered Game 3 with a less-than-average first-pitch strike percentage, so the first pitch would be an important one for the bespectacled righty and the Sox.

I tracked Kelly's first pitches during World Series Game 3. If you follow me on Twitter, I clogged your feed with a tweet after each first pitch. I kept track of what type of pitch Kelly threw on each first offering, whether the batter swung or not, what the result of the pitch was, and what the ultimate result of the plate appearance was. The following chart contains this information for each of the 21 Boston batsmen Kelly faced in Game 3. White rows signify called first-pitch strikes, red rows are called first-pitch balls, and yellow rows mean the Red Sox batter swung at Kelly's initial offering.

JOE KELLY'S WORLD SERIES GAME 3 FIRST PITCHES

Batter #

Batter

Pitch Type

Pitch Result

PA Result

1

Ellsbury

2-Seamer

Called Strike

K (L)

2

Victorino

2-Seamer

Called Strike

GO

3

Pedroia

2-Seamer

Called Strike

GO

4

Ortiz

2-Seamer

Called Strike

GO

5

Nava

2-Seamer

Called Ball

GO

6

Bogaerts

Slider

Called Strike

GO

7

Saltalamacchia

2-Seamer

Called Strike

K (S)

8

Drew

2-Seamer

Called Strike

K (S)

9

Peavy

2-Seamer

Grounder

GO

10

Ellsbury

2-Seamer

Grounder

Single

11

Victorino

2-Seamer

Infield Popup

FO

12

Pedroia

2-Seamer

Called Strike

FO

13

Ortiz

2-Seamer

Called Ball

BB

14

Nava

2-Seamer

Foul Ball

K (S)

15

Bogaerts

Curveball

Called Ball

Triple

16

Saltalamacchia

2-Seamer

Called Ball

BB

17

Drew

2-Seamer

Foul Ball

K (S)

18

Carp (PH)

2-Seamer

Called Ball

GO (FC)

19

Ellsbury

2-Seamer

Called Ball

K (S)

20

Victorino

2-Seamer

Called Strike

BB

21

Pedroia

2-Seamer

Called Strike

LO

Kelly came out like a ball of fire, riffling first-pitch strikes to the Red Sox, one after another. The Red Sox did not swing at any of his first eight first pitches. Seven of those eight initial tosses were called a strike. One was called a ball.

Five of the next nine Boston hitters swung at Kelly's first pitch to them. Of the 21 total batters Kelly faced, these five were the only ones to swing at the first pitch. They were not particularly successful, going 1-for-5 with a single and a pair of strikeouts.

Through four innings, Kelly faced 14 Red Sox. Kelly threw a first-pitch strike--a called strike, swinging strike, or ball in play--to 12 of those 14 hitters. Not surprisingly, this made Kelly extremely efficient in his first four innings. Kelly threw a total of 51 pitches, for an average of 12.75 pitches per inning (P/IP). (Kelly had averaged 16.04 P/IP during the postseason entering World Series Game 3.) Kelly also average 3.64 pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) through four innings against Boston. (The Red Sox averaged 4.03 P/PA during the regular season.) Kelly's aggressive strike-throwing proved too much for Boston.

In the fifth inning, the control Kelly showed during the first four innings abandoned him. Kelly started the inning with a ball to Bogaertz, who then laced Kelly's next offering for extra-bases. Kelly then started Saltalamacchia off with a ball and ultimately walked the catcher. Drew hacked at Kelly's first pitch, fouling it off, and then K'd. Carp took a called first-pitch ball before ultimately grounding into a fielder's choice that plated a run. The last batter of the inning, Ellsbury, took a ball before striking out on a foul tip.

It was if a different pitcher had taken the mound in the fifth. Kelly faced five Red Sox and threw a first-pitch strike to just one. That single first-pitch strike occurred when Drew swung and fouled the ball off. After posting a, 85.7% first-pitch strike rate in the first four innings, Kelly threw a first-pitch strike to 10% of the batters he faced in the fifth.

Kelly first first-pitch strikes to the two Boston batters he faced in the sixth before giving way to LOOGY extraordinaire Randy Choate. Because Choate and Maness conspired to allow one of the runners Kelly had allowed to reach to score, the starter wound up allowing two runs on two hits and three walks while notching an impressive six strikeouts.

The following chart compares Kelly's rate stats from World Series Game 3 to those during his prior three postseason starts and the regular season.

Joe Kelly 2013

1stStr%

K%

BB%

HR/FB

LOB%

BABIP

ERA

FIP

xFIP

Regular Season

55.3%

14.9%

8.3%

8.9%

82.4%

.289

2.69

4.01

4.19

NLDS & NLCS

61.1%

18.1%

8.3%

16.7%

72.1%

.325

4.41

4.49

3.90

World Series Game 3

85.7%

28.6%

14.3%

0.0%

60.0%

.167

3.38

2.49

--

Kelly pitched lights-out for the first part of Game 3 and then ran into trouble. His overall performance was an impressive one. Kelly overcame a bloated walk rate (BB%) with an excellent 28.6% strikeout rate (K%). Kelly's increased strikeout rate (K%) correlates with him throwing more first-pitch strikes. This allowed him to overcome an lower-than-average strand rate (LOB%).

While Kelly's first-pitch strikes led to early efficiency, his middle-inning troubles also sapped his efficiency. That is, the Red Sox' approach eventually took effect. Kelly wound up throwing 89 pitches against 21 Boston batters over his 5 2/3 innings. Kelly finished the game with an average of 4.24 P/PA and 16.69 P/IP. Nonetheless, Kelly's early high level of efficiency meant he was more efficient in terms of P/IP than either Adam Wainwright or Michael Wacha, who both average 19.0 P/IP in their World Series starts. Kelly's 4.24 P/PA was better than Wacha's in Game 2 (4.75) but not Wainwright's in Game 1 (3.75).

The bottom line is Kelly defeated the Red Sox in the battle of the first pitch. Because of this, Kelly was very effective on the mound in Game 3. Hopefully Cardinals pitchers will continue to attack the zone with their first pitches to Red Sox batters just as Kelly did early on in Game 3.

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