Carrie Muskat has Ken Macha with an interesting comment about the Cubs’ bats:
“They’re good. I do a little statistical analysis on teams that helps in the preparation of how we pitch guys. As a team, [in terms of] first-pitch hitting, they’re [batting] average is way above average. The entire team hits way above average on the first pitch. Not only that, but the percentage of walks is very high.
“So they hit well on the first pitch and they have a large number of walks. That’s a deadly combination. So you have to make pitches. You can’t just lay it in and get ahead of guys … because they’ll tattoo you, but they’re also selective. As far as my statistical analysis goes, we’d better pitch pretty darn good when we’re going to play those guys.”
(the they’re/their error isn’t mine, but “[sic] [batting]” would look weird)
Macha is right. The Cubs were incredibly dangerous on the first pitch last year – they put up a .933 OPS on the first pitch, best in the division. And that was way above their team OPS of .797 (which was also best in the division and, I believe, the National League). But every team in the majors is better on the first pitch than on the subsequent ones, which renders Macha’s statement sort of meaningless.
And it turns out the Cubs were actually in the bottom half of the division as far as the jump their OPS saw on the first pitch:
That’s right. The Pittsburgh Pirates actually saw the biggest jump on the first pitch. Part of that’s not a surprise – their normal OPS is the worst of the bunch. But their first-pitch OPS is actually really good – pretty much right there with the Cubs’. So if there’s a team in the division you really want to look out for on the first pitch, it’s the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. Here’s the same data in graph form, sorted by first-pitch OPS:
So Ken’s right. You should absolutely make your first pitches against the Cubs. But they’re still pretty good at getting to you on the later ones. It’s the Pirates you need to really worry about that first pitch with.