Surprising 'Starts' to 2011 season

Wednesday Night’s action features some intriguing pitchers to watch. No, we’re not talking about Cliff Lee going against the Milwaukee Brewers, or even Jered Weaver looking to open the season 5-0 facing the Texas Rangers.

Instead we advise you to take a look at two of the more surprising starting pitchers around the majors:

Justin Masterson

Justin Masterson

MastersonFor the upstart Cleveland Indians, Masterson is 3-0 and has pitched into the seventh inning in all three of his starts. He has only given up three runs in 20⅓ innings while striking out 12 and walking only four batters.

A big reason why Masterson is off to such a hot start is his ability to induce weak contact with his sinking fastball, a pitch he has struggled to control throughout his career.

According to Inside Edge, Masterson has thrown 299 pitches this year. Of those 299 pitches, 42 percent have been hitter’s strikes compared to a 23 percent league average. Despite the extremely high percentage of pitches in the zone, hitters are not faring well.

According to Inside Edge, of those 126 hitter’s strikes, only 13 have been well-hit, for a .103 average. That’s well below the league average.

The reason hitters cannot seem to make solid contact on Masterson’s pitches in the zone is the heavy sink that he generates on his fastball.

Last year, Masterson finished second in the league in groundball percent with 59.9 percent. Masterson’s inducing groundballs at a rate of 65 percent so far this year.

Charlie Morton

Charlie Morton

MortonAfter a nightmarish 2010, Morton has already matched his win total from last season in his first three starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

One of the main pieces in the Nate McLouth trade, Morton struggled to a 2-12 record and a 7.57 ERA in 17 starts.

But 2011 has been a complete turnaround for Morton. In each of his three starts, he’s allowed two or fewer earned runs. This past Friday, he threw the best game of his career, a complete game five-hitter against Cincinnati.

What’s changed? For one, Morton has reincorporated his sinker into his repertoire, causing him to generate more ground balls than any other pitcher in baseball. As a result, he’s limited batters to just three extra base hits in 22 innings (two home runs, one double).

Morton has faced some of the most potent offenses in baseball in his three starts (St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies, and Cincinnati Reds). While his current 1.64 ERA probably will not last, the 2011 version of Charlie Morton should remain vastly improved over the 2010 incarnation.