The evolution of the Pirates' pitching philosophy is documented in Ray Searage's notepad. Searage, the team's pitching coach, recites sequences from its pages during each of his starters' side sessions in the bullpen, and one pitch has been featured more prominently than ever before: four-seam fastballs high in the strike zone.
Major League Baseball has changed since Searage's pitch-to-contact plan was a pillar of the Pirates' three consecutive playoff seasons. The launch angle revolution has hitters focused on pitches thrown to the bottom of the strike zone, forcing those who relied on low fastballs to find a different method for survival.
Searage's pitching staff, following a league-wide trend, has used the top of the zone to punch back. Entering Sunday, the Pirates ranked fifth in the majors in four-seam fastballs thrown high in the strike zone, according to Statcast, and the pitch has served as a foundation for the rotation's 3.31 ERA since July 11, the sixth-best mark in the majors during that span.
"It’s mixing it up," Searage told DKPittsburghSports.com. "It’s also using a weapon that hasn’t been really brought to the forefront until all the analytical stuff now. We’re making adjustments, and they’re making adjustments. Now they have another weapon with the fastball — obviously to both sides of the plate and in, but also the top of the zone."