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Wednesday
Aug032011

"Ground Chuck" Getting Pounded

In April and May, Charlie "Ground Chuck" Morton used a sinker-centric approach to induce weak chopper after weak chopper. Opponents hit a collective .252, got on base at a .329 clip and slugged just .315 against Morton.

Since the calendar flipped to June, however, hitters have put Ground Chuck through the meat grinder. Morton has turned every hitter into Dustin Pedroia out there, allowing a .335/.410/.473 triple-slash over the past two months.

There doesn't seem to be much difference in the location of Morton's sinker:

 Morton's sinker location, April-May 2011

Morton's sinker location, June-July 2011

But hitters are making louder contact:

In-play opponent slugging percentage vs. Morton's sinker, April-May 2011

In-play opponent slugging percentage vs. Morton's sinker, June-July 2011

To be sure, some of the drastic change in Morton's performance is due to poor luck -- he had a .286 batting average in April and May, but his BABIP since is .382. But it's also true that batters are doing more extra-base damage.

Opponents had a paltry .063 Isolated Power (slugging minus batting average) over the first two months, and a .138 ISO in June and July. That June-July ISO is right around the league average, which is a problem considering that Morton doesn't strike out many hitters and has so-so control. He needs to limit doubles, triples and homers to make up for his other shortcomings.

Perhaps with ample video and advance scouting reports on Morton's new delivery and pitching approach now available, batters have simply become more accustomed to the fact that he throws sinkers so often. Seven or eight times out of ten, a batter is going to guess right if he thinks he's going to get a low-90s pitch that tails to Morton's arm side.

Morton's best hope at turning his season around and doing something to avoid being a bunching bag to left-handed hitters (they have a .380/.458/.542 triple-slash in 2011) might be a little more variety. In particular, he has shown a promising high-70s curveball with plenty of break. Curveballs tend to have less of a platoon split than other pitches (sinkers have the largest split), and if thrown more often, the breaking ball would keep hitters from waiting for a sinker in that one spot.

Check out the pitch break and velocity of Morton's curve (blue), compared to his sinker (orange):

 Release velocity and pitch break of Morton's curveball and sinker

Hitters aren't just passive zombies at the plate -- they make adjustments based on the information at hand. The word has gotten out on Morton's sinker. Now, it's time for him to make an adjustment of his own by being less predictable on the mound.

Wednesday
Aug032011

Phil Hughes' Location (briefly)

(Click to enlarge)(Click to enlarge)

Although it came in a rain-shortened victory for the New York Yankees, Phil Hughes' pitch location last night was the best it has been in his somewhat short 2011 season.  He kept the ball away from both lefties and righties consistently, throwing just 8 total pitches on the inside part of the plate.  Of those eight inside pitches, he recorded 5 outs and no hits, with one strikeout of A. J. Pierzynski in the second inning.  He also allowed no line drives in his 6 innings of work.

Wednesday
Aug032011

Ackley Owns the Strike Zone

The Seattle Mariners rank dead last in the American League in runs scored for a third straight season, but no one can blame rookie second baseman Dustin Ackley.

The second overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft began the year at Triple-A Tacoma, where he batted .303/.421/.487 and posted a 55-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has continued to show superb plate discipline since his big league promotion in mid-June. Ackley has a .312/.377/.565 line in 154 plate appearances, drawing 15 walks and punching out just 20 times.

The key to Ackley's early success has been his willingness to lay off pitches thrown out of the strike zone and his ability to make contact. The 23-year-old exhibits the plate approach of a wise veteran:

 Ackley's swing rate by pitch location

League average swing rate by pitch location

Ackley has chased a little over 18 percent of pitches thrown out of the zone, compared to the 28 percent league average. That's the twelfth-lowest chase rate among MLB batters with 150+ plate appearances.

And when Ackley does swing, he rarely misses:

Ackley's contact rate by pitch location League average contact rate by pitch location

The lefty has missed slightly less than 14 percent of the pitches that he has swung at, well south of the 20 percent league average.

According to Baseball-Reference, Ackley's bat has already produced 12 runs compared to that of an average hitter. The rest of Seattle's hitters have a collective -105 batting runs. Talk about a one man show.