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A modest proposal: a plan for Harrison … Charlie Morton’s curveball


PNC PARK – Clint Hurdle‘s job is more difficult, in a good way, with his entire lineup healthy.

After receiving at least three plate appearances in 16 straight games, and starting 15 of those games, Josh Harrison was held out of the starting lineup Wednesday, with the right-handed Chase Anderson starting for the Diamondbacks.

The Marte-McCutchen-Polanco outfield is healthy and productive. Pedro Alvarez is going to start at third against right-handed pitchers even though he’s playing defensively like a future first baseman (way too many plays have become adventures). No one is talking about Neil Walker giving up switch-hitting with a .280 average against lefties and a 106 wRC+ this season.

There’s no obvious position for Harrison unless you really believe he should be the everyday third baseman. And to that camp, I say ‘slow down.’

Depth is a great thing. But it can be difficult to manage. Depth and flexibility has in part turned the Oakland A’s into a power house but managing it requires creativity. I don’t think Harrison is an all-star level talent. But I do believe he has raised his stock. ZiPs has Harrison finishing as a 2.5 WAR player, which means he deserves substantial playing time.

So here’s my modest proposal, a four-part plan to getting Harrison in the starting lineup more often than not.

*The easiest way to carve playing for Harrison is to platoon him with Pedro Alvarez against left-handed pitching. Alvarez has a career .601 OPS against LHP and a .579 OPS this season. I’m afraid this is what he is: a platoon player. The problem with this is the Pirates have only faced 12 left-handed starters this season in the right-handed heavy, NL Central. So let’s say there’s 12 starts here the rest of the season and 50ish plate appearances. (Another positive for Pirates? It will suppress Alvarez’s counting numbers some, and future arbitration earnings).

*This is the most unconventional part of the plan: start Harrison at shortstop against left-handed heavy hitting opponents. Why left-handed heavy opponents? My theory is against heavy left-handed hitting teams, Harrison will often be swung around in the shift to behind second base or to the right of second base, mitigating the defensive liabilities he possesses at short. The Cubs, Cardinals, Phillies and Diamondbacks have the most left-handed bats in the National League. Harrison could start at shortstop against these teams.  Remember, Harrison has played parts of 31 major league games at shortstop.  That’s 21 more starts (minus three for overlap with LHP) and 85ish plate appearances.

*The third leg is an outfield rotation. Harrison starts one game a week in the outfield  every week (unless there’s an injury) subbing in for McCutchen, Polanco, and Marte who get one rest day every three weeks. That’s 12 more starts.

*Harrison spells Walker five days the rest of the season.

That’s 50 starts in total, of the remaining 78 games. And including pinch-hitting opportunities, that’s probably about 250 plate appearances in the second half. That should be a target, imo.  You can see the challenges of managing this lineup if everyone’s healthy but Harrison does deserve regular at bats. The biggest question I have is can play shortstop for an extend period?



Charlie Morton‘s career-high, 11-strikeout performance in Tampa Bay caught our attention but really Morton had been evolving to become something of a strikeout artist in June when he averaged 10.97 Ks per nine innings. The spiked strikeout rate is tied to his curveball.

Curveball usage:

April: 23.8

May: 22.0

June: 26.8

The quality of Morton’s curveball is also improving as you can see in his whiff rate by month.

April: 11.4

May: 12.5

June: 26.2 !!!

According to PITCHf/x data at Baseball Prospectus, Morton has the most horizontal on his cuveball in baseball among starting pitchers. Morton is averaging -10.7 inches of vertical movement. This is a very for real pitch.

There’s another level for Morton to reach. There’s still growth potential here.

– TS



  1. Mike Kuhn says:

    I would love to see Harrison play short stop instead of .210 Barmes, and the slumping Mercer. I just don’t know how good he is defensively, but he has earned the right to play, most definitely.

    To think if we can get Cole and Liriano back on track for the second half, we might be able to make a run at this afterall. Locke and Worley have been a major boost to the rotation. Maybe I’m looking through rose colored glasses here :) Go Buc’s!

  2. dennis g. says:

    I don’t like it. I would rather see him try first base than all of the rest. (I don’t like this either.)

    BTW, Harrison is historically one of the worst pinch hitters around. Career .150 hitter coming into this year and worse this year at 2 for 17 or .117.

    If you don’t want to play him in one spot and I don’t blame you, let’s play Harrison at third against LHP’s and play Harrison at second and Walker at first the rest of the time. With appropriate rest breaks. I am sure you can find a number of RHP’s that Davis does not hit very well, start with those. I would not suggest this if Davis were remotely as good as advertised, but he isn’t. He is a liability defensively and all those walks do not make up for it.

  3. phil says:

    Dumb idea i have…. Harrison can play of 3rd ss and 2nd… Thats 6 people 7 people counting harrison. Why not just give everyone a day off every week? Thay way when youre playing September ball everyones well rested.

  4. Steelkings says:

    Travis eliminates Travis?

    It may be a blessing and a curse, but This is only a subject because the Pirates are extremely healthy right now. I know that Liriano is on the DL but there is no doubt in my mind that someone will soon have to go who will definitely be claimed when they try and run him through waivers. If they DFA a starter, they will be claimed for sure. Same for the Short stop position. Even though the lessor of two evils may be hard to determine. Someone will claim Snider too. Perhaps in the next week or so, someone needs to take their turn on the DL.

    Q? – 2
    Where is the last place you would want to be if you were a minor league outfielder?

  5. Double Dee says:

    What Hurdle does here is going to have to bring some cohesion to the infield. Improvement in the infield that includes Josh getting into the game makes sense.

  6. steve d says:

    The Pirates need to put a respectable hitter behind McCutchen so they will pitch to him more. I love Walker, but i dont think he’s the answer or a threat more than Polanco is at this point.

  7. tomf says:

    the ‘slumping’ Mercer was batting close to .290 during the month of June

    with 5 HR … ( 2 more than Alvarez ?)

  8. Leo Walter says:

    Steel,Q 2 answer : the Pirates’ organization.

  9. Jim S. says:

    I like the creativity of your suggestion, Travis.

    I like Harrison subbing for Pedro vs. LHP.

    What we could really use is a SS who can hit RHP at some point. Jordy is a .300+ hitter again this year, with pretty good pop, vs. LHP. But, he struggles mightily against the 80% or so starting RHP we are facing. He’s a platoon SS, plain and simple, with that hitting limitation and the fact that he’s just an average fielder.

    Bravo to CH for finally setting things straight on JHay as an OF, defensively. He said that JHay has quickly made himself into an average defensive RF but nothing more. The notion that he is a plus defender in the OF, and everywhere else, was getting far too much traction in Pittsburgh, IMO. Please don’t misunderstand this as a criticism of JHay. I think he has made remarkable progress in a short amount of time, but you just don’t learn to be a plus RF in a month at this level. The great ones needed thousands of reps over hundreds of games. To say he is average out there is very fair. I will also say that his arm has come a long way in terms of accuracy and technique very quickly. He started out throwing lollipops to bases, and now he is making low, accurate throws. Can’t ask for anything more. The guy is the true definition of super sub! He’s a valuable asset for this team. 250-300 ABs seems about right to me, while keeping him in the lineup as much as possible when he’s going well.

    Snider has to be distantly related to Hurdle, Huntington or Nutting. Has to be.

  10. Botherhood of the Redus says:

    HAHA to the Snider comment…it is curious, but the fact of the matter is, the turkey gets pinch hits and get’s on base. He looks to be bulking up a bit (yes I know he’s the lunchbox), but like it or not, he is somehow a very tough out of the bench at times. Hurdle has to love that about him…every team needs a guy (or two) that can do that, and right now Gaby and Snider are guys that can.

  11. NMR says:

    Very common thought, steve, but let me ask you a follow-up…

    How many baseball players are out there that you would “fear” so much that you’d rather pitch to Andrew McCutchen, the reigning NL MVP?

  12. NMR says:

    -Major respect for innovative thinking, Travis, and I think you may be on to something. But 21 starts at shortstop? Three more than Harrison has ever started at this level, including none since 2012?

    Just asking for trouble.

    The far simpler solution is to just add first base to the mix. Seems highly illogical to me to have confidence in a guy playing out of position at the most difficult and important position in the infield, yet not at 1B. Brock Holt is well under 6′-0″ and started 7 games there in Mike Napoli’s absence. The world did not end.

    And let’s not forget – all this depends on Josh Harrison continuing to play like he has over the last two months and not like he had over the last three years.

    -Neat stuff on Charlie, but I can’t help but think a large part of this jump in K’s comes due to the fact that 4 of his 5 June starts were against teams ranked in the top 6 of most strikeouts in baseball.

  13. Jim S. says:

    I don’t know about that, Redus. Snider is hitting .228/.309/.338. I don’t think he really gets on base much. I know he has been better as a pinch hitter, but it is hard to say 35 ABs proves he has some special skill in those situations. His career PH line is .238/.292/.400, which is almost identical to his overall career stats.

    He’s not a good hitter this year. He’s not a good hitter in his career. He is not fast. He is not an above average OF. That slide last night was awful. Most of his body was past the base before his leg caught the base on a straight slide. I’m struggling to see what he brings that Tabata didn’t.

    I couldn’t care less what size he is. Is it just that he is considered good in the clubhouse?

  14. PetroSteel says:

    Big decision when Frankie comes off the DL. I love Harrison and everything he brings but this is such a small sample and that’s my concern.
    Walker will get hot again. He could be your number 5 but not number 4 hitter. Ike is good but I don’t think he is the answer long term due to lack of HR’s…Unless of course he hits .290 with lots of doubles.
    We need a strong defensive SS that can hit around .245. Mercer could still be that guy and I like his HR potential.
    Would hate to see Snyder go because you just don’t know. But, it looks like he is the odd man out.
    Pedro will get hot again and we will all stop complaining about him. That’s what he does. He’s quite and we complain and then he goes on a strong run. That’s what we will get from him…It should be quite obvious by now to all of us.
    What a player we have in RF!!! He is making everyone on that team better!
    Go Bucs!!!

  15. Jim S. says:

    I wonder that as well about Charlie. But, his curveball seems so much more nasty this year to me, and as the year goes on he seems to be hitting less batters. Plus, he is doing so much better vs. lefty hitters. He could be just in a hot stretch, but maybe now that he is healthy again for a full year he is taking his game to a new, higher level.

    He did strike out a ton of Rays, and I think they are in the bottom 1/4 or so of MLB teams in strikeouts against.

    I want to believe.

  16. steve d says:

    agreed, there is no answer to this in Pittsburgh right now.

  17. NMR says:

    Oh I certainly don’t think all of it is due to competition. Those are still major league hitters, and that curveball’s movement is undeniable.

    But more strikeouts means more pitches, and more pitches means greater chance for walks. I don’t know if I trust the former will outweigh the latter in the long run, given his control.

    Regardless, you nailed what will really take him to the next level, and that is getting lefties out. GREAT sign so far.

  18. Botherhood of the Redus says:

    I knew that slide would be mentioned ha….he seriously did look like a fat guy on a slip and slide at a party this weekend. I think what he brings (and this is just for me personally) is the possibility of “solid” contact that Tabata just wasn’t bringing…I was on the side that Snider should have been the one out the door. my reasoning was that Tabata always seemed to put the ball in play…but as a professional hitter, it shouldn’t be enough to simply make contact. When you bring a guy off the bench to pinch hit, you want to dramatically change the direction of the game…I think if it was all about setting the table…Tabata is your man, but when it comes to getting up with guys on, Snider gives you a better chance of finding a gap or going yard (Tabata and his high choppers could become double play balls as easily as infield hits). That, and Snider seems to have a bit of drive…a little fire. That spark that you want from a guy not involved every inning. A guy that can get himself up before the situation passes and the window closes…

    I should have been clearer that it’s not just about what he does to get on base maybe…it’s hard to explain

  19. Jim S. says:

    I like the “fat guy on a slip and slide at a party” line.

  20. Jim S. says:

    This is not a response to Steve’s or your comment, NMR. Just a totally different direction on Cutch. I am amazed at the number of people on these Trib blogs who just don’t really appreciate Cutch. It feels like more time is spent downgrading his defense, or saying he isn’t a “clutch” hitter than recognizing his continued and growing brilliance as a hitting force. He is having another killer season, just destroyed the league in June, and still a lot of people have complaints about his production. Not only is he having a killer season, but I would really like to see what his stats would look like if he played somewhere like, say, Milwaukee. I feel like has hit a dozen warning track flyouts this season already, and a bunch of them would have left several other parks.

    I just shake my head because I thought by now there would be universal acclaim in our city for how great of a hitter he has become.

  21. Andrew says:

    It is certainly funny how a player who is right now ranked as the fifth best hitter in baseball can be taken for granted. The guy is 12 for 12 on steals, only Bautista has a better walk rate among batters with a .200 ISO or better.

    His bad defense is literally four plays, two errors and two misplays on balls judged to made 60-100% of the time. Yes, his arm was never of Jeff Francouer quality, but I think he is adequate in center field.

  22. Patrick(RI) says:

    I do not care where he plays (JHay), but it would be really stupid to sit him too long. like 2 games?

  23. Patrick(RI) says:

    my clock says 6:27???

  24. Andrew says:

    This blog is run out of the UK.

  25. Travis Sawchik says:

    Yep. 221 B Baker St. London

  26. Creighton Rabs says:

    I saw that Barmes is on the DL (retroactive to 6/30) according to an ESPN alert I got earlier this morning. I hope Michael Martinez (the player being called up from Indy) likes riding the pine, because I have a feeling we might see Harrison playing a little more shortstop.

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