Monday, April 11, 2016

Beware the First Inning Run

       Sunday was another game with another first inning run allowed by a Red Sox starter ultimately culminating with another loss. While Stephen Wright settled down and ended up twirling a quality start with a good line (6.2IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K), the first inning runs (one unearned via an error by Dustin Pedroia) were too much to overcome in a 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays.

Red Sox starters have now allowed first-inning runs in their last four consecutive games. As I stated in my reactions post after game two, it seemed like the 2015 Red Sox played the entire month of April from behind, and this troubling trend seems to be continuing in 2016. So I decided to dive into the numbers for the first 35 games of the 2015 season and see if I could confirm that this was a problem early on for the 2015 Red Sox and not just a figment of my imagination. I also wanted to find out what effect if any allowing first inning runs had on win/loss record, and see if I could discover any other trends or observations. Here’s what I found:

Boston Red Sox 2015 - 1st 35 Games
Date Runs in 1st Starting Pitcher W/L Final Score
4/6         0 Buchholz W 8-0
4/8          0 Porcello         L 4-2
4/9         0 Masterson W 6-2
4/10 0 Wright           W 6-5
4/11 0 Kelly W 8-4
4/12  7 Buchholz L 14-4
4/13  0 Porcello         W 9-4
4/14   0 Masterson W 8-7
4/15 2 Miley L 10-5
4/17   0 Kelly W 3-2
4/18   0 Buchholz L 4-1
4/19   2 Porcello          L 8-3
4/20 0 Masterson W 7-1
4/21        0 Miley W 1-0
4/22 1 Kelly L 7-5
4/23 0 Buchholz L 2-1
4/24 0 Porcello        W 7-5 (10-7, 1st place in AL East)
4/25 2 Masterson L 5-4
4/26 0 Miley L 18-7
4/27 3 Kelly W 6-5
4/28 0 Buchholz L 11-8
4/29  0 Porcello        W 4-1
5/1         1 Masterson L 3-2
5/2         0 Miley L 4-2
5/3         2 Kelly L 8-5
5/4         2 Buchholz L 5-1 (12-14, last place AL East)
5/5         0 Porcello         W 2-0
5/6         0 Masterson L 5-3
5/8         1 Miley L 7-0
5/9         1 Kelly L 7-1
5/10 0 Buchholz W 6-3
5/11 0 Porcello         W 5-4
5/12 3 Masterson L 9-2
5/13 0 Miley W 2-0
5/14 0 Kelly W 2-1

The 2015 Red Sox allowed first-inning runs in 12 of their first 35 games, or 34.3%. This number is actually lower than I thought it was going to be, but allowing first-inning runs in one out of every three games is not the ideal recipe for success. Especially where in 8 of those 12 games, the Sox allowed multiple first-inning runs, capped off (or crapped off) with Buchholz allowing 7 on April 12. And here’s where it really gets painful: the Red Sox’ record in those 12 games where they allowed first-inning runs? Try 1-11. Ouch. I suppose it makes sense that the team to score first wins most major league games, but I would think teams could mount a comeback more than 9% of the time. 

Okay, raise your hand if you remember that the 2015 Red Sox were in first place when we woke up on the morning of April 25. Anyone? If you do, you have a better memory than me. Although I do have two kids under five and haven’t had a full night of sleep in almost a year, so that probably isn’t saying much. I only remember 2015 as a crap-filled canoe paddling down a stream of sewage. But anyway, heading into the game on April 25th of last year, the Red Sox were in first place and to that point our starters had only allowed first-inning runs in 4 out of 17 (23.5%) games. And then the crap hit the fan. Between April 25 and May 4, the Red Sox went 2-7, and their starters allowed first-inning runs in 5 of those 9 (55.5%) games. By the time we woke up on May 5, the Sox had gone from first to worst and that was about all she wrote (yes, the Sox had a little run in late June/early July) for 2015.

Before we move on, I think it’s worth noting who the primary offenders were in the Red Sox rotation. Here are the culprits, by number of outings with first-inning runs allowed in the first 35 games of 2015:
A few reactions to these numbers: First, there was plenty of blame to go around in the 2015 crap sandwich that was the Red Sox rotation. Second, it is very concerning that Joe Kelly tops this list considering he also gave up a first-inning run on Friday night to the Blue Jays and had to be pulled by the 4th inning. Also, cheers for not having to watch Justin Masterson or Wade Miley pitch in a Red Sox uniform ever again! Hip hip hooray!

While these numbers are interesting on their own, and I think they say a lot about the failures of the early 2015 season, I thought it would be beneficial to put them in some context. So for comparison purposes, I also pulled the results from the Kansas City Royals’ first 35 games of the 2015 season to see how the World Series champions fared in the first inning. Here are the numbers:

Kansas City Royals 2015 - first 35 games
Date Runs in 1st Starting Pitcher W/L Score
4/6         0 Ventura W 10-1
4/8         0 Duffy         W 7-5
4/9         0 Volquez W 4-1
4/10 0 Vargas W 4-2
4/11 1 Guthrie W 6-4
4/12 1 Ventura W 9-2
4/13 1 Duffy         W 12-3
4/15 1 Volquez L 3-1
4/16 0 Vargas L 8-5
4/17 0 Guthrie W 6-4
4/18 0 Ventura L 5-0
4/19 0 Duffy W 4-2
4/20 0 Volquez W 7-1
4/21 0 Vargas W 6-5
4/22 3 Guthrie L 3-0
4/23 0 Ventura W 3-2
4/24 0 Duffy L 3-2
4/26 0 Volquez L 5-3
4/27 0 Vargas W 6-2
4/28 0 Guthrie W 11-5
4/29 0 Ventura L 7-5
4/30 0 Duffy W 8-1
5/1         0 Young W 4-1
5/2         0 Volquez L 2-1
5/3         0 Guthrie L 6-4
5/5         2 Vargas W 5-3
5/6         1 Duffy L 10-3
5/7         0 Volquez W 7-4
5/8         0 Ventura L 6-5
5/9         0 Guthrie W 6-2
5/10 0 Young W 2-1
5/11 0 Duffy           L 8-2
5/12 1 Volquez W 7-6
5/13 2 Ventura L 5-2
5/14  0 Guthrie W 6-3

Kansas City allowed first-inning runs in 9 of their first 35 games last year, or 25.7%. In the 9 games that the Royals allowed first-inning runs, their overall win/loss record was 5-4 (55.6%). That’s right, the Royals actually had a winning record in games in which they allowed first-inning runs. Also, out of the 9 games where they allowed first inning runs, they allowed multiple runs in only 3 of them. Did I mention that the Royals had a record of 22-13 after their first 35 games last year? 

So are there any lessons in these numbers? Well, the difference here between a team that ended up finishing in last place and a team that ended up winning the World Series was three-fold: one, they only allowed first-inning runs in one out of every four games as opposed to one out of every three. Two, when they did allow first-inning runs, they found a way to limit the damage to one run. And finally, when they fell behind in the first inning, the Royals found a way to rally back and still win some of these games. 

Why do I bring this up now? Well, because of this:

Boston Red Sox 2016 - 5 games
Date 1st Inning Runs Starting Pitcher W/L Score
4/5         0 Price W 6-2
4/6         4 Buchholz L 7-6
4/8         1 Kelly W 8-7
4/9         2 Porcello      W 8-4
4/10 2 Wright         L 3-0

They’re at it again. And I’m worried. It is encouraging that this year’s team already has won one more game when allowing a first-inning run than the 2015 team did in their first 35 games. But allowing first-inning runs in 80% of your games is probably not the best approach.

So what is the difference between a Royals rotation that only allowed first-inning runs in 25% of their games and a Red Sox rotation that allowed them in 34%? Because I don’t see a huge disparity in talent. You can’t tell me that Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas, and Danny Duffy are any better than Joe Kelly, Rick Porcello, and Wade Miley. So how can these Royals pitchers bear down and get out of the first inning unscathed?

Is it mental preparation? Do they need to look at what that night’s starting pitcher does in the clubhouse beforehand? Is it physical? Are our pitchers warming up too much or not enough or too early or too late? Is it the fault of preparation? Are our scouting reports and game plans to go after the top of the order not being made in an effective manner? Are we being too cautious in the first - nibbling at the corners too much, or working our secondary pitches too much? Are we being overly hittable - are we just getting pitches over early and grooving too many meatballs? 

If the Red Sox can figure it out, it will go a long ways towards getting 2016 off on the right foot. This lineup is explosive, but it doesn’t need to be playing from behind in 80% of their games.


  1. Price so far is 2 for 2 in not giving up a first inning run.

  2. Buchholz made it out of the first inning without giving up a run last night (barely). I'm starting to think that this is just about bad pitching. Which, I understand, is no revelation. Giving up runs in the first inning is not a recipe for winning games, and neither is giving up too many runs. The Red Sox pitchers just are not good enough right now or last season. Whether they are giving up runs in the first inning, third inning or any inning they're just giving up too many.

    With that being said. Here's a message to Red Sox Nation: DO NOT GIVE UP ON THIS TEAM JUST YET. They are doing a lot of things better than they were last year and if they can clean up their game just a little they can go on a winning streak soon. Soon enough to save John Farrell's job? Not so sure about that, but I do like this team. They have fight, the lineup looks deep, their young core seems to have taken a step forward from a maturity stand point and they still have an ace and an ace reliever. They're going to be OK. A win tonight to go to 4-4 will go a long way to keeping stability in the short term, but they're going to be alright in the long run too.