Succeeding & Struggling in the First Inning

Before taking the hill for the Red Sox last night in Colorado, Boston's Jon Lester was sitting near the top of the majors with the second-best first-inning slugging percentage-allowed (among starters with 30 first-inning plate appearances). His slugging percentage-allowed? A measly .114 in 51 plate appearances, with the first-inning OPS-allowed at only .329. He's given up six walks, two runs, and one extra-base hit while striking out 16 batters in first innings so far this year. When Jon Lester gets the start, Boston fans can feel pretty confident he won't be staking his opponents to any early leads.

On the flip side, when Chris Narveson took the hill last night in Milwaukee against the Twins, he was sitting near the bottom of the list, with the second-worst first-inning slugging percentage-allowed. In 51 first inning plate appearances so far this year, opponents are slugging .761 (with a 1.192 OPS) off of Narveson. He has given up 17 hits, including four home runs, and twelve runs while striking out only nine in 10 first innings. Including his first inning stats, Narveson's ERA this season is 5.79. If you remove the first inning, it drops to 4.87 - not good, but much more palatable. It's easy to see why Brewers fans are not nearly as confident in the team's early-inning chances when Chris Narveson gets the call.

So did these trends hold in their respective starts last night? 

In Colorado, Lester faced a couple of long at-bats, but got out of the inning unscathed on 17 pitches. A leadoff strikeout and a two-out single from Carlos Gonzalez were the only excitement Lester faced.

Narveson's first was a tad more exciting. It started with a hit-by-pitch to Denard Span. After back-to-back walks, Justin Morneau came up with the bases loaded and no outs. Three straight singles from Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, and Delmon Young would make it 3-0 with no outs and the bases loaded. Before it could get cover-your-eyes bad, though, Narveson was able to get out of the jam with no further damage.

For those counting, that's four batters-faced for Lester, with a single and a strikeout, and nine batters-faced for Narveson, with three singles, two walks, an HBP, and three runs scored, while striking out one. If that isn't staying true to form, I don't know what is.

Of course, if I knew how to pinpoint the difference between Jon Lester at the start of a game and Chris Narveson (besides their obvious difference in talent), I'd be making the big bucks running between the dugout and the mound while wearing a jacket on 90 degree days like Rick Peterson. Instead, all I can do is note the difference and ask everyone here for your thoughts on what these differences can be. Is it jitters? A lack of proper stretching and warming up before the game? Does he throw his pitches that much differently? Or maybe it's just dumb luck?

As for the rest of the league, according to David Pinto's Day-by-Day Database, the top five pitchers in first-inning slugging-allowed (through Monday) are Trevor Cahill (.088 SLG, .250 OPS), Lester, Doug Fister (.118 SLG, .307 OPS), Tim Hudson (.130 SLG, .330 OPS), and Scott Kazmir (.159 SLG, .455 OPS). The five worst are Greg Smith (.806 SLG, 1.306 OPS), Narveson, Carlos Monasterios (.741 SLG, 1.174 OPS), Max Sherzer (.717 SLG, 1.136 OPS), and Ian Snell (.686 SLG, 1.101 OPS).

If we can solve this problem for Rick Peterson, Bob Apodaca, Rick Honeycutt and the other pitching coaches around the league, fan bases from Milwaukee to Los Angeles to Miami will be that much happier. So what say you, what is going so wrong in the first inning for the Chris Narveson's of the world?

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