Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2015 starting rotation: four things to know

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Aug 10, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton (50) pitches against the San Diego Padres during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsbugh Pirates’ starters had the best Ground Ball rate in the majors in 2014.

Morton is known as “Ground Chuck” for his proclivity to induce ground balls, but a quick look at the rest of the Pirates’ staff shows that the philosophy is team-wide.  The Bucs led all of MLB in ground ball % rate by starting pitchers, coming in at 50.9%, almost three full percentage points against the second-place Colorado Rockies, who came in at 48%.  This amazing ability of all the Bucs’ starters to keep the ball on the carpet led to another major-league best in Groundball-to-Flyball ratio at 1.73.

It’s  well-documented for the past couple of years that the Pirates have embraced analytics in all phases of the game.  The complete approach to analytics from an organization level has allowed the starting pitching to pitch to their strengths, concentrating on developing pitches – two-seam fastballs, sinkerballs – that result in all of those ground balls.  For this approach to work, the starters had to buy-in completely, and although there were some who hesitated, the results speak for themselves.  In addition to the highest ground ball percentage in the majors, the Pirates also had the second-lowest line drive percentage in the majors at 19.7%.

One area in which the Bucs could improve when it comes to batted balls is Home Runs per Fly Ball percentage.  HR/FB% refers to the percentage of fly-balls that result in home runs.  In this metric, the Pirates are merely mediocre, ranking 20th overall in MLB at 10.3%  Some of this was inflated by Wandy Rodriguez allowing 10 home runs in his six starts in 2014, so this number should decrease.  Curiously enough, the Pirates were second-best in LEAST amount of total home runs allowed, at 85, only five more than the Chicago Cubs.

Of course, another factor in getting ground balls is pitching inside.  And believe me, the Pirates love to pitch inside.

Next: Just a bit inside