Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Charlie Morton: Time To Mix It Up

Charlie Morton, the come-back kid of April, takes the hill tonight against the Fish. After last year's disaster, he's off to a 2-0, 1.64 ERA, 1.136 WHIP start in the first days of 2011.

There's been a lot made of the change in Morton's arm slot and his new-found awesome ground ball rate. But so far this season, Charlie has become a one-trick pony; 88% of his pitches are fastballs (he used it 59% of the time last year). The slider, which he used effectively last year, has been almost entirely forgotten; he throws it 1% of the time.

Listen, anyone can see that his sizzling start is a perfect storm of good fortune, as stat after stat shows.

His BABIP is .164, his strand rate is 90%, he's striking out 2.45 batters per nine while walking 4.91, and hitters make contact with 94% of the balls they swing at. Morton's ERA is 1.64 while his xFIP is 4.95. He's been dodging a lot of bullets.

But he can buffer the eventual return to earth by returning his other pitches to the mix. He'll need to work his slider/curve arsenal, pitches he threw 30% of the time in 2010, back into his pitching playlist.

MLB batters and pitchers engage in a constant cat-and-mouse game; the hitters will look for and adjust to his sinking fastball, and CM will have to counter with stuff that breaks rather than sinks.

We hope that eventually he'll learn to use his number one to set up the rest of the repertoire. Dialing his fastball down to 67% of his pitch count should make it more effective, and still be thrown enough to provide a security blanket. The breaking balls then should keep guys off balance and generate a few more swings-and-misses.

If his confidence in the heater carries over to his other pitches, he can become the complete pitcher that the Pirates hoped he would become, and one who can sustain his performance over the long haul.

(The numbers came from Fangraphs)

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