Pittsburgh Pirates Wake Up Call: Square pegs, round holes?

In our daily Wake-Up Call, we get you ready for the day with a complete look at all things Pittsburgh Pirates.

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.

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?

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Jason Rollison

Jason Rollison has been analyzing baseball and the Pirates in one way or another for 4+ years.

Jason’s previous stops include rumbunter.com, Pittsburgh Sporting News, Call To The Pen and several print publications. He also covers the State College Spikes for the Centre County Gazette (State College, PA)

When it comes to analyzing baseball, he likes to take a middle-of-the-road approach, with one foot on the analytics side of the fence and the other on the old-school side. Having said that, he is a sucker for pitchf/x. Jason has appeared as a phone-in and in-studio guests in numerous outlets, including Trib Live Radio and 93.7 The Fan (CBS Sports Radio)

  • redrage97

    What ‘ground chuck’ has been doing in Houston is not much different than what he did as a pirate. the biggest differences are his GB rate is down a bit and his k/9 is up by a similar amount along with walks as well. The end result is not A LOT different with about the same QS rating but a little more consistent with not as many out of control starts and/or better managed ones.

    The biggest reason charlie appears so much better is that he has a better supporting cast both offensively and defensively, his mistakes are less costly in Houston so he can afford to be more aggressive.

    His turn to more strike outs started with the Phills but he got injured before we could really see the effect. Could be as simple as another coach seeing him throw and saying hey try this.

    Now tell me something.. I can’t be the only one thinking Ray’s pixie dust is a myth we tell people to trick them into signing here? That kind of stuff happens with other teams too.. maybe its just all we get to talk about cause we don’t often have good things to say? 🙂

    • leadoff

      Ray uses pixie dust? Blastphamy! Everyone knows that Ray is a pitching God! Well, maybe not you and me. Actually I think he does his job well for the most part, he has his successes and his failures.

      • redrage97

        oh yeah, i dont’ think he is bad at his job or anything but just over stated.

        • Bobby Ewing

          Agreed with you both

  • leadoff

    IMO, older pitchers are not controlled by management near as much as younger pitchers. I would not be afraid to bet Morton can pitch pretty much the way he wants to at a this point in his career. Look at the mess management has made out of Glasnow. Pitch to contact, don’t walk anyone, use your 2 seemer more and on and on. Glasnow is going to end up being an ace pitching for someone else. Some guys need coached up all the time and some guys need left alone and heaven knows the Pirates have a bunch of guys that really need coached up.