A lot has been made about Freddy Peralta’s problems in the first inning, to the point where Peralta is now trying to do extra pre-game work in the weight room before games in an attempt to shake the rust off.
That didn’t quite work on Friday night, as Peralta gave up 2 more runs in the first inning against the Cardinals before once again righting the ship and turning in a decent start, allowing just 1 more run in the next 5 innings.
Peralta isn’t the only pitcher who struggles in the first inning — in fact, just about every pitcher in the Brewers rotation has, and it’s not uncommon across baseball — but the issue isn’t a tendency to “start slow.” The problem is more who he’s facing and what he’s throwing.
Baseball teams typically put their best hitters at the top of the lineup (this is in-depth #analysis you can only get at Brew Crew Ball). It actually makes sense that when you look at a starter’s splits by inning, many do worse in the first inning than they do in the second or third because they’re facing the Matt Carpenters and Jose Martinezes of the world instead of guys like Kolten Wong.
The difference for Peralta is just so glaring because he’s largely excellent every where else. Here’s how he breaks down per-inning after Friday night’s start:
Freddy Peralta By Inning
Notice the spike that also happens in the fourth inning — when he’s most likely to be facing the top of an opponent’s lineup again — before appearing to “settle down” again in the 5th and 6th inning (or, again faces worse hitters).
His numbers broken down by spot in the batting order bear that out, too. After mostly navigating through the first two batters in the lineup without much of a problem (a combined .164/.333/.236 line for opponents hitting #1 or #2 in the batting order), the meat of the order — spots 3 through 6 — are hitting .225/.304/.461 against him, totaling a .765 OPS. The bottom third of the order (excluding pitchers) goes back to hitting just .114/.291/.250 against him.
Again, this probably shouldn’t be surprising. That’s where most quality hitters in the league live, and they’re going to get theirs most nights regardless of who’s on the mound. They’re especially going to have success when they can either wait for a 22-year-old with shaky command to walk them or give them a fastball in the middle of the zone.
Wade Miley has had similar struggles in the 1st (.269/.367/.423, .790 OPS) and 4th (.296/.406/.407, .814 OPS) innings, while Jhoulys Chacin’s problems are more with the top two spots in the order (.299/.361/.431, .792 OPS) but he also struggles in the 4th when those spots tend to come up again (.247/.317/.462, .780 OPS — his worst inning by far). Chase Anderson has been worse than Peralta in the 1st inning with half of the attention, allowing a .908 OPS, and Junior Guerra is also allowing an .857 OPS in the first inning.
This is where you might say all we’ve done is show the Brewers’ rotation as a whole isn’t very good. And while that’s probably the case, even guys like Max Scherzer are worse in the 1st and 4th innings. It’s just with Scherzer, those numbers (.563 OPS in the 1st, .526 in the 2nd, .350 in the 3rd, .764 in the 4th) are just lower across the board.
Peralta can try all the different warmup routines he wants, but most hitters are likely sitting on fastballs in their first at-bats of the game until they can see what a pitcher’s breaking stuff looks like. When Peralta is throwing a fastball 77.2% of the time with iffy-at-best command, the best hitters in baseball are going to hit well.
Unless there’s a workout routine that can give Peralta (and really, most of the Brewers’ starters) better command of a curveball, clean first innings are probably going to continue to be unlikely, and it’ll also be a case when those hitters come up again a second time.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs