Pirates Notebook: Morton needs to lay off the curveball

I was looking over Charlie Morton’s numbers on his FanGraphs page, and noticed a major difference between 2009 and 2010.  No, not the ERA, something else.

I was looking at his pitch selection, and saw that he went from throwing his fastball 64.3% of the time in 2009 to just 58.4% of the time in 2010 heading in to tonight’s game.  So I decided to keep a running tally of Morton’s pitches tonight, looking at how many of each pitch he threw, the outcome of the at-bat, and whether each pitch was a strike, ball, foul, hit, out, or error.  I kept a stat which I simply called “Good Result” (and which I’ll refer to as GR% or GR ratio from here on out), which measured how often a particular pitch had a Good Result (strike, foul, out, error).  I included error in there because the result was good in regards to what we expect from Morton.  Obviously an error is a bad result, but that’s not Morton’s fault.

I started to notice a trend.  Morton had some trouble in the first inning.  In that inning he threw 12 fastballs, 9 curveballs, and one changeup.  He allowed two runs.  The next inning he threw 10 fastballs, 1 curveball, and 1 changeup.  He had an easy inning.  In the third inning he threw 14 fastballs, 8 curveballs, and 2 changeups.  He allowed three runs, although that was partly due to errors.  I should note that the errors were hit off of fastballs, and the only hit and home run of the inning came off of curveballs.

At that point I started looking back through Morton’s starts to see if he had a similar result.  The result I was looking for was success when he stuck with the fastball, and problems when he went away from the fastball.  To determine this, I used a 60% cutoff ratio.

Morton had 8 innings where he threw 60% or more fastballs.  Out of those 8 innings, he only allowed runs in 2 innings.  Morton had 13 innings where he threw less than 60% fastballs.  Out of those 13 innings, he allowed runs in 9 innings.

Then there’s the curveballs.  Out of 21 innings he’s pitched in this year, Morton has only had 5 innings where he’s thrown less than 20% curveballs.  He’s only allowed a run in one of those innings.  Meanwhile, he’s allowed a run in 10 of 16 innings where he’s thrown 20% or more curveballs in the inning.  He’s allowed at least one run in 7 of 10 innings where he’s thrown 30% or more curveballs.

There’s probably a reason for that.  According to GameDay, Morton has thrown 57.5% fastballs this season after tonight’s game.  He’s thrown 27.7% curveballs, 12.6% changeups, and 2.2% of pitches were either unknown, or intentional balls.  Here is the breakdown of how effective his pitches have been this season:

*Outs represent outs hit in to play

Note that the fastball is the only pitch that has ended in a good result over 50% of the time.  It’s also the only pitch that Morton throws for more strikes than balls (foul balls included in that count).  Now as far as I know, I just made those stats up.  However, they seem pretty simple, and to the point.  You want your pitcher either getting strikes, outs, or plays that should have been outs.  You don’t want hits and balls.  Therefore, you want a good GR%.

Morton’s curveball is his least effective pitch this season.  His fastball is his most effective.  Just think how much better he might be if he throws fewer curveballs and more fastballs?  Or what if he worked mostly with his fastball, made his changeup the secondary pitch, and rarely used the curveball?  That would make sense, since that’s the order of his pitch effectiveness this year.

Tonight, Morton’s fastball had a 63.8% GR ratio.  His changeup had a 69.2% GR ratio.  His curveball had a 46.7% GR ratio.  13 of his 18 outs tonight came on fastballs.  He looked good, although there were times he fell apart.  Like the first inning, where he threw 40.9% curveballs, with three of them for strikes, and six for balls.  Or maybe the third inning, where he threw a third of his pitches for curveballs, with two strikes, four balls, one hit, and one out.

Morton had some success last year when he relied a little more on his fastball.  I’m not sure how effective his fastball or curveball were last year (didn’t go through to look), but I think it’s clear why Morton has yet to have a single good outing this year.  Bottom line, Morton needs to work heavily with his fastball, and if possible, avoid the curveball and throw more changeups in its place.

Goats of the Game
The bottom five players of the game, according to FanGraphs.  WPA stands for “Win Probability Added” and represents the impact the player had on his team’s chances of winning.  It’s based off of percentages, with each team starting the game with a 50% chance to win.  It is presented in decimal form, so .152 would equal 15.2%, meaning the player in question would have increased his team’s chances of winning by 15.2%.
1. Charlie Morton: -.351 WPA
2. Ryan Church: -.096 WPA
3. Andy LaRoche: -.072 WPA
4. Bobby Crosby: -.054 WPA
5. Jeff Clement: -.043 WPA
Other Stuff
-Some good news from earlier: Starting pitcher Michael Crotta was promoted from Altoona to Indianapolis.

-Some bad news from earlier: Starting pitcher Kevin Hart has a torn labrum.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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