Everybody knows the story of the Pittsburgh Pirates has been starting pitching this year. The rotation has performed exponentially better than anybody expected, a complete 180 from 2010 when they had the worst ERA in the National League. What I want to do with this post is take a look at what changed from last year to this year in each pitchers "stuff", and see if the improvement in statistics correlates with it. This is going to be gruesome, let's get to it.

For each pitcher, I am going to post their 2010 and 2011 basic numbers a long with some more advanced ones. I will have <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batting_average_on_balls_in_play>BABIP (batting average on balls in play)</a>, <a href=http://www.fangraphs.com/library/index.php/pitching/lob/>LOB% (left on-base percentage)</a>, and GB% (ground ball percentage – simply the percentage of balls batters put in play on the ground off a pitcher).

On my original blog post, I had images of the pitchers charts for the pitches they throw and the movement and velocity on them, however they won't show up on this post, but if you want to read the full post with the images, <a href=http://www.mceffect.com/2011/07/what-to-expect-from-rotation-in-2nd.html>click here</a>.

Basically what we are looking for is change in stuff. If there is no change in stuff, then you have to take into consideration that luck could be a factor in the improvement we have seen. It's not logical to stay the same pitcher and get different results, although it certainly can happen because of the randomness of baseball. Let's see what we can come up with.

Jeff Karstens:

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2010: 26 G, 19 GS, 4.92 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 10.7 H/9, 2.0 BB/9, 5.3 K/9, .309 BABIP, 71% LOB, 42% GB
2011: 19 G, 15 GS, 2.55 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 8.0 H/9, 1.6 BB/9, 5.3 K/9, .240 BABIP, 88% LOB, 44% GB

Karstens has easily been the biggest surprise of any Pittsburgh Pirate this year. However, in my opinion, he is the most likely to disappoint in the second half of the season. I wrote more extensively about this last week, <a href=http://www.mceffect.com/2011/07/bad-news-about-jeff-karstens.html target=_new>check it out here</a>.Let's face it, the luck numbers are just too alarming. The 88% left on-base percentage is not sustainable, and his BABIP is extremely low for a pitch-to-contact guy. Team that with the fact that he has the same stuff as last year, and your head is left spinning. People say he's been so good this year because his control has been so great and he's mixing his pitches well. I can that his control isn't that much better than last year, because he has only 0.4 less walks per 9 and the same amount of strikeouts as 2010.

The only big difference in pitch selection seems to be that more of his fastballs have been registered as "sinkers", which probably just means a 2-seamer. He's throwing less curveballs this year and his velocity is the same across the board. His 2011 arsenal is too similar to what he had in 2010 to calm my fears, and it just seems to be too much good fortune. Needless to say, I'm worried about Karstens.

Paul Maholm:

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2010: 32 GS, 5.10 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 11.1 H/9, 3.0 BB/9, 5.0 K/9, .327 BABIP, 65% LOB, 51% GB
2011: 19 GS, 2.96 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.5 H/9, 3.1 BB/9, 5.5 K/9, .252 BABIP, 75% LOB, 59% GB

Maholm had a very unlucky 2010 season, which makes this year's performance less surprising to me. However, it's still taken most people by surprise. He is striking batters out a little more frequently this year, but it's not substantial. The big thing is that he has been getting more ground balls and has been better with runners on base this year. His BABIP is really low thus far, so he too has been fortunate, but not to the level of Karstens.

His velocity is actually down a little bit while his control numbers are pretty much the same as last year. He's throwing more changeups, which has helped him keep hitters off balance. You can't see it from these numbers, but Maholm has used the inside part of the plate much more this year, which has been huge for him in keeping batters from sitting on pitches. Maholm's improvement seems legitimate, although some regression is likely because of the BABIP and LOB%.

Kevin Correia:

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2010: 26 GS, 5.40 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 9.4 H/9, 4.0 BB/9, 7.1 K/9, .302 BABIP, 68% LOB, 49% GB
2011: 19 GS, 4.01 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 9.5 H/9, 2.0 BB/9, 4.6 K/9, .283 BABIP, 69% LOB, 46% GB

The newest Pirate starter has been very good this year at winning ball games. That ability took him to the all-star game. However, when you look at the numbers you see that he is not only not one of the best pitchers in the league, he's not even one of the best on his team. Correia's biggest improvement in 2011 has been the control, reducing his walk average by 2 per 9 innings. However, his strikeouts have come down substantially with that. The BABIP isn't alarming at .283 and neither is the LOB%. However, he is still quite a fly ball pitcher, which doesn't bode well for him over the long haul in the NL Central. He got away with volumes of fly balls in Petco Park, but there's a chance they will start biting him playing in PNC Park. That isn't a huge concern for me, but worth mentioning.

He is throwing sliders a lot less this year than he did last year, which may be affecting his strikeout numbers. The velocity is on track with last year and there isn't much more to say on the stuff side of things. Correia has been very good this year and it seems that 2010 was more unlucky than 2011 has been lucky. I expect to see the same Correia for the rest of the year, if not a better one.

Charlie Morton:

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2010: 17 GS, 7.57 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 12.7 H/9, 2.9 BB/9, 6.7 K/9, .353 BABIP, 53% LOB, 47% GB
2011: 16 GS, 3.80 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 9.9 H/9, 3.5 BB/9, 5.3 K/9, .318 BABIP, 70% LOB, 61% GS

Morton is probably the toughest guy to figure out in the bunch. He was awful last year, stellar in the month and a half, and then really shaky in his last 4 starts of the first half. You can tell from the numbers above that he has improved a ton in ERA and WHIP, but his walks are up and strikeouts down. The strikeout reduction isn't a surprise, as they were a cost of bringing his ground ball percentage way up, which has helped him a ton. 61% is a really big number for Morton, but not surprising with the sinker he throws. I'd expect that number to be lower than that at the end of the year, but not much. The BABIP is still on the unlucky side despite being a lot better than last year. You have to worry a little bit about the 70% LOB%, but the fact that he keeps the ball on the ground so much only means good things.

As for his stuff, it's all about the 2-seamer. He's throwing it a ridiculous rate but it has ridiculous movement and it's been his key to success. Hitters may be adjusting to it however, so he is going to have to continue to throw other pitches more often. The curveball looks better than last year in terms of movement, so that's a good sign. He has lost some velocity on his 4-seamer, but that's not a concern for me. I don't see Morton being the top of the rotation starter that he looked like for awhile this year, but I do expect him to have no trouble staying in the big leagues and being successful this year, unless there is something more to this arm fatigue thing. <br><br>

James McDonald:

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2010: 11 GS, 3.52 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 8.3 H/9, 3.4 BB/9, 8.6 K/9, .322 BABIP, 72% LOB, 30% GB
2011: 18 GS, 4.42 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 9.6 H/9, 4.5 BB/9, 7.2 K/9, .313 BABIP, 76% LOB, 39% GB

McDonald is the simplest Pirates starter, and is my favorite of the bunch. He was a big story last year and was expected (by me at least) to lead this rotation. He hasn't done that, in fact he's been the worst one. However, I think he'll be the Pirates best starter in the 2nd half. The problem with J-Mac has been the walks. He is walking more than a batter more per game this year than last, and is striking out a batter and a half less. The BABIP is still high and nothing else is too frightening there. He has got lucky with runners on base and has been saved by his bullpen a few times, but there seems to be more things looking up than down.

The fastball looks very similar to last year, although he is relying on it a little more this year (probably because he has been behind in the count so often). The changeup really hasn't been a significant part of his repertoire this year, and I think he could benefit from throwing it more often. If his control gets better, he will have more freedom to use these pitches and have more wiggle room to speak them around the strike zone, which will bring him closer to the dominant pitcher he showed signs of last year. It all starts with control and efficiency though, that's the key.

So when all is said and done, the story is positive. I have serious worries about Jeff Karstens, but I am confident with the rest of the staff. There has certainly been luck involved in some way with all of these guys, but I see a lot of things that can still be improved as the year progresses. Let me throw in to that there is no doubt that this staff has been helped by improved defense behind them, that cannot be discounted. The Pirates pitching staff has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball, but it's going to stop surprising people eventually in the second half because they are just going to keep on being consistent and winning baseball games.

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