Charlie Morton has a fastball. He also has what’s been colorfully described as “filthy” stuff, pitches with strange spins and angles that are likely to confuse batters, due to body motions basically peculiar to him. So why isn’t he a winning pitcher?

One example came in the final game of the Mets series. He had gotten through three scoreless innings, and was struggling in the fourth. Lucas Duda, of all people, hit a two-run double.

The reason appears to be that Duda had “read” Morton’s pattern from his first at bat: changeup, fast ball, then another changeup.

On pitch three of the fourth inning, Duda knew what to look for, and took advantage of this knowledge, his generally low batting average notwithstanding. In essence, Morton had outsmarted himself.

A better mix might have been, fastball, fastball, changeup the first time, and changeup, fastball, fastball, the second.

In poker, a “bluff” (a bet made with a weak hand), is most effective if the play has a reputation for always having a strong hand when he bets. This allows the bluffer to “steal” a few hands he would otherwise not win.

Likewise, a tricky pitch such as a changeup is most likely to work if the pitcher has a reputation for pitching fastballs, meaning that the changeup comes a genuine surprise. With Morton, there’s no surprise factor.

Eventually, players may start to catch on to someone’s bluffing habits, and start to win by calling with any little thing. Then it’s up to the bluffer to switch back to betting with only good hands, to catch inferior ones.

So if even Morton uses his fancy stuff too much, batters will catch on and start hitting him. But unlike some other Pirates’ finesse pitchers (e.g. Zach Duke), Morton has a legitimate fastball. Which is say that he should use it more often to challenge batters, instead of trying to trick them all the time.

The fastball is the staple of most pitchers, because it is the hardest thing to hit, all other things being equal. The problem is, if a hurler has nothing but a fast ball, batters will catch on. That’s why a good pitcher keeps the tricky stuff in reserve.

Likewise, a poker player who bets with only a good hand will lose callers as they wise up, which is why a good one mixes it up with bluffs.

And in all, Morton did have a decent five inning, two run, no decision start against the Mets. He was eligible for a win that might have been obtained with better support.

Morton appears to have improved following his stint in the minors, at least relative to earlier this year. And the record from last year suggests that he can be good most of the time. The problem does not seem to be with mechanics. Meaning that it might not be corrected with a few more bullpen sessions.

Instead, Morton might be well advised to spend some time at a poker table, learning out to mix up his play.


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