After Game 1 of the 2017 World Series, winning pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers said something interesting: because the opposing pitcher, Houston’s Dallas Keuchel, pitched well, that helped him pitch well.
Because Keuchel faced the minimum number of batters in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings, Kershaw never had to wait that long to get back out to the mound and that that helped Kershaw stay in rhythm.
But what if Keuchel had pitched poorly?
One of the reasons a pitcher might have a worse road ERA
What Kershaw said after Game 1 took me back to a conversation I once had with former Royals pitchers Wade Davis and Chris Young.
Davis and Young talked about the disadvantage a starting pitcher has on the road. Both starting pitchers warm up before the game, but then the pitcher for the home team gets to go the mound while the pitcher for the visiting team has to sit in the dugout.
If the pitcher for the home team gets lit up and has a long top of the first inning, the pitcher for the visiting team might be affected; after his long wait in the dugout he might go to the mound and also have a bad inning.
One bad performance can lead to another.
The decisive pitch might be the one before the homer
After Jason Vargas gave up a home run in a spring training game, he said he wasn’t upset about the home run pitch; it was the pitch before the home run pitch that got him into trouble.
If a pitcher has a batter in a 1-1 count and executes a good pitch, the count moves to 1-2 and then the pitcher can throw pitches just out of the zone and hope the hitter chases one. If the pitcher doesn’t execute that 1-1 pitch, the count moves to 2-1 and the pitcher has to come into the zone to avoid a 3-1 count.
Over Jason Vargas’ career, after hitters went 1-2, they hit .187 and slugged .284; after hitters went 2-1 they hit .269 and slugged .421. Even if the batter didn’t swing, the 1-1 pitch changed those at-bats.
Pay attention to what happened before the big moment
When Wade Davis was still a starting pitcher he talked about having a runner on third base with less than two outs and because it was an early inning, conceding that run. Wade said he could dig down, throw pitches with just a bit more velocity and spin and hope for a couple strikeouts, but the energy he expended in that early inning would catch up to him later.
So a pitcher can get into a third-inning jam, pitch out of it, and then get hammered in the fourth or fifth inning because of what happened back in the third.
Wade said if he had a runner on third base and less than two outs in the sixth or seventh inning, he’d empty the tank. His outing was almost over and there was no need to conserve energy.
We pay attention when something big happens, but the key to understanding that big moment might be paying attention to what happened before the big moment.
Some stuff to look for
One of the reasons pitchers don’t like too many mound visits is it breaks their rhythm. If a pitcher’s pitching poorly his rhythm isn’t helping, so a mound visit might give him a chance to pull himself back together and get on track. But if a pitcher is dealing, leave him alone.
2-0 mound visits are better than 0-2 mound visits.
Anytime there’s a delay in a pitcher delivering his next pitch, pay attention; injury delays, poorly-timed mound visits or cats running on the field can lead to a poorly executed pitch and a ball hit a long way.
And if a starting pitcher has a long inning, pay attention to how the leadoff batter in the next half inning approaches his plate appearance. The leadoff batter should be taking his time and taking pitches, which allows his pitcher to catch his breath. If the leadoff batter swings at the first pitch and the next two guys also have quick at bats, the pitcher didn’t get any time to rest and might scuffle in the next half inning.
Unfortunately, paying attention to what happens before the big moments means paying attention all the time, but it’s the only way to understand how one thing leads to another.
Like how Dallas Keuchel helped Clayton Kershaw pitch a gem.