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Rob Scahill adopting the 'Pirates way'

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Initial returns suggest that Rob Scahill is the latest pitcher to successfully adopt the Pirates unique pitching approach, i.e. "The Pirates Way." Over his first 21 innings with the club, the right-hander is posting a dramatically higher ground ball rate than his career average, and he is featuring his two-seam fastball over his four-seamer. The latter adjustment has contributed to the former result, as he's posted a 68 percent ground ball rate on his two-seamer.

Team GB% 2-Seam% 4-Seam%
Rockies 46.5 15.8 51.3
Pirates 66.2 44.1 13.8

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The increased ground ball rate, coupled with a spiking strikeout percentage, has led to an impressive 1.71 ERA and career low 3.28 SIERA.

"One of the things I told myself in the offseason when I was coming here was that, ‘I've good a good two-seamer, I've got to utilize it more,'" Scahill said. "A couple of friends who played and stuff, they all told me the same thing, ‘You've got to use it.' So I made a conscious effort that I was going throw a lot more two-seamers than I have in the past and I've been having success with it."

Emphasizing the two-seamer isn't too much of an adjustment for Scahill, as it only required him to return to his pitching roots.

"When I was in college all I did was throw two-seamers," Scahill said. "I never threw a four-seam until I got to pro-ball. Then, when I went to short-season they asked me if I threw one and I said, ‘no.' And so the Rockies asked me to start throwing one and so I started mixing it in and throwing harder with it and started falling in love with it. And the two-seam kind of fell by the wayside."

Perhaps as a consequence of concentrating on powering up with the four-seamer, Scahill started to have problems controlling the two-seamer in the majors.

"When I tried to throw sinkers over to my glove-side, I would miss and it would run way off the plate,"  Scahill said. "It would be a worthless pitch from what I was trying to do."

The table below shows that Scahill has begun to successfully rein in the two-seamer this season. The pitch is getting lost outside less often against left-handers, and it's not drifting as far inside vs. right-handers.

Scahill 2-Seam

What's changed?

According to Scahill, A.J. Burnett helped him make a "little mechanical adjustment" as well as change his mindset.

"Your mental thought, your mental process [is] to attack that side of the plate," Scahill said. "Just committing and going to it."

Ray Searage said that the biggest change Scahill had to make was holding his head still at release.

"He was pulling his head," Searage explained. "He pulls his head, so if he keeps his head on-line and his arm just works where it should be, then he gets the downhill on the sinker. You've got to keep your head right on your target."

Searage demonstrated how a pitcher's arm slot changes with head movement. The more the head drifts at release the lower the arm slot, which causes more horizontal fade. Holding his head still creates less of a horizontal arm-slot, which leads to more downhill trajectory with a desirable drop-fade as the pitch approaches the plate.

"When you pull your head, your ball will go east-to-west," Searage said. "Now, he's going north-to-south, so when [the head is steady] you have angle like this [moving his arm in a downhill plane that then drops and fades as it reaches the plate]. But if you go this way [lets his head drift and arm drop] the fastball goes flat and runs this way [makes motion of the ball fading horizontally, but not vertically]."

The proper delivery will result in the ball spending less time on a single plane, thus making it more difficult to square up. The more the pitch moves both vertically and horizontally, while remaining close to the strike zone, the more likely a hitter will hit over the top of ball.

Below we see that Scahill is, indeed, less horizontal at his release this season.

Horizontal release

And his sinker is showing more vertical movement from last season.

Scahill vertical

Throwing more sinkers and working on his mechanics aren't the only changes that Scahill is experiencing with the Pirates. He also learning what it is like to have a consistent feel for what his pitches are going to do on a nightly basis. Scahill explained that pitching for the Rockies is not only difficult because the high altitude leads to a more offensive game but, more importantly, and what is largely under appreciated, is that Rockies' pitchers have to constantly adjust to how changes in altitude affect the movement of each pitch.

"There is no consistency there," Scahill said. "Because when you're pitching in Denver you get used to your ball doing certain things at altitude. Then you go to sea level for a couple days and you try to pitch like you're still at altitude because that is what you are used to, and your ball tends to move more when you get back to sea level. So, you make that adjustment, and by the time you make that adjustment you're going back to Denver. So you're then trying to throw like you are at sea level and your pitches aren't moving."

Given the challenges that Colorado presents to pitchers, one would think young pitchers would be less-than-thrilled to be drafted by the organization. But that is not the case, Scahill said. Like any young person breaking into a profession, all you can ask for is a chance. And with the Rockies, every young pitcher knows they're going to have an opportunity to move quickly through the system if they perform well.

"You know you're going to get an opportunity to pitch there because pitching is something they need a lot of," he explained. "If you do well there, you're going to get an opportunity. They are always looking to find that guy. I mean look at how many roster moves they've made the last few years pitching-wise. There is a lot of turnover there so you get the opportunity to get your feet wet at the major-league level there. And then you've got to deal with adversity, so you really learn who you are as a person by playing for Colorado."

Scahill got an opportunity in Colorado, and now he is getting another one in Pittsburgh. Unlike his time with the Rockies, however, with the Pirates Scahill is being asked to return to the type of pitcher he was when he was first drafted. The Pirates like pitchers who are able to throw a good two-seam fastball and induce ground balls. By returning to his past, Scahill is adopting the 'Pirates Way' and, thus far, it's led good results for both parties.