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Former Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton enjoyed a fine start in Game four of the 2017 World Series. Pitching 6.1 innings of three-hit, one-run ball, Morton did not get the win but did etch another mark in the “Morton’s transformation is for real” column.
That column is growing larger with each outing, and it is wonderful to see from Morton, who by all accounts was a fine citizen and teammate during his time with Pittsburgh.
Many Pittsburgh Pirates fans are wondering why Morton could not replicate this level of consistency during his time with the club. It was a quote from Morton gleaned through a Travis Sawchik tweet that may hold part of the answer.
Charlie Morton in his transformation: pic.twitter.com/S21hB3ovrg
— Travis Sawchik (@Travis_Sawchik) October 29, 2017
This quote as told to Sawchik carries a ton of weight, as Morton was one of the central figures in Big Data Baseball, Sawchik’s book recounting the Pirates’ rise back into contention, which was fueled heavily by pitching to contact and defensive shifting.
Did Morton simply tire of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ approach towards pitching to contact?
To be sure, Morton’s renaissance has a lot more to do with than just dropping — or at least de-emphasizing — the philosophy that prevailed over his work on the mound so heavily. There were the requisite mechanical adjustments, not to mention that he enjoyed a full offseason that led to hitting Spring Training with a clean bill of health.
However, Morton’s quotes coupled with his spike in velocity may show that the Pittsburgh Pirates had been forcing a square peg into a round hole. Did the club over-emphasize pitching to contact? Are they still doing so?
It’s tough to say for certain. As a team, the Pirates induced ground balls at a 45.6 percent rate in 2017, down from their 52.3 percent heyday in 2013. Even that statistic may not tell us much, as the club has seen consistent contact rates throughout the last five years.
A deep dive into this pool of thought will have to wait for another day, but for now it is absolutely fair to wonder if the Pittsburgh Pirates are/were forcing square pegs into round holes.
Perhaps the next great leap forward in pitching development and analytics will be to just let pitchers pitch?
Baseball Talk on the Web
- Sawchik takes a deep dive into the decision making in Game Four.
- Our friends over at Jays from the Couch have a fantastic interview with
Pirates northToronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro.
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