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Entries in Pittsburgh Pirates (35)


Karstens Gets that Sinking Feeling

Jeff Karstens of the Pittsburgh Pirates starts the week with the second best ERA in the National League.  His pitching improvement helped put the Pirates in contention in the NL Central.  Karstens changed his pitching philosophy in 2011.  In the past, he threw mostly fastballs:


Totals 0.348 100
Fastball 0.381 46
Change Up 0.306 15
Curveball 0.249 16
Slider 0.343 15
Cutter 0.564 2
Sinker 0.402 6


Let me point out that PITCHf/x classifies that last pitch as a sinker, but given the velocity and spin, the pitch is more likely a two-seam fastball.  In 2011, Jeff features that as his main pitch:


Totals 0.290 100
Fastball 0.318 23
Change Up 0.299 12
Curveball 0.176 14
Slider 0.266 17
Cutter 0.000 0
Sinker 0.319 34


Note that the fastball and hard sinker still present batters with the best chance for offense.  Batters are no longer able to sit on the fastball; Karstens has them guessing more.  In addition, Karstens uses the pitches in different situations.  In hitters counts, Jeff goes to the fastball.  During previous seasons, he would also feature the fastball in pitchers counts, but this season, he features the sinker when he's ahead.

Karstens isn't throwing his pitches any differently.  My changing the mix, however, he's forcing batters to learn new patterns, and while that happens Jeff thrives on the mound.



Pitchers Respecting 'Cutch's Power

No player better embodies the Pittsburgh Pirates' new brand of dynamic, youthful baseball than center fielder Andrew McCutchen. The first-time All-Star is a legitimate MVP candidate, trailing just Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes among position players in Wins Above Replacement. Still just 24 years old, 'Cutch is turning in his best season yet by adding home run power to his game. And that ability to clear the fence has pitchers treading more cautiously.

McCutchen is slugging .505 and has popped 14 home runs this year, leaving him just two shy of tying his career-best HR mark set in 2010. While the Pirates' first-round pick in the '05 draft is listed at 5-10, 190 pounds, McCutchen uses arguably the quickest wrists this side of Gary Sheffield to produce surprising pop. In particular, he's crushing high pitches and stuff thrown low-and-inside:

McCutchen's in-play slugging percentage by location in 2011

The biggest reason for McCutchen's power surge is his improvement against high pitches. He slugged .327 and hit two home runs versus high offerings last year, but he's got a .581 slugging percentage and seven homers against high stuff in 2011.

Pitchers have responded to McCutchen's increased thump by giving him fewer pitches to hit within the strike zone. His percentage of in-zone pitches seen has decreased sharply as the season has progressed:

McCutchen's 2011 Zone%, by month

April: 53.5%

May: 52.9%

June: 49.3%

July: 47.6%

For reference, the league average for pitches seen within the zone is 48-49 percent for non-pitchers. McCutchen isn't the sort of antsy hitter who goes after those off-the-plate pitches, either: his 21 percent chase rate is one of the 15 lowest marks among qualified big league batters.

Patience, speed and now power -- Pittsburgh hasn't seen a player as well-rounded as Andrew McCutchen since Barry Bonds left town nearly two decades ago.



Transforming Morton

The following video made the rounds in the baseball blogosphere on Friday.  It compares the way Charlie Morton of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies throw the two-seam fastball.

Morton worked on copying Halladay's delivery during the off-season.  His pitching stats certainly have improved.

The two seam fastball is supposed to sink.  In 2010, it didn't sink all the time:

Charlie Morton, fastball movement, 2010.In 2011, Morton puts more of the density below the X-axis:

Charlie Morton, fastball movement, 2011.That more closely matches what Roy Halladay throws:

Roy Halladay, fastball movement, 2010-2011.There is one big difference that remains between the two, however.  Roy works both sides of the plate with his fastball, Morton works middle-in to righties, middle-out to lefites.  He doesn't throw to the catcher's right hand:

Charlie Morton, fastball pitch frequency, 2011.Morton gets the same movement as Halladay, but can throw it to multiple locations yet.  That may be the lesson for next winter.