By John Perrotto
The Pirates pitching hasn’t provided many reasons for optimism this season. Their 5.22 ERA ranks 29th among the 30 major-league clubs, ahead of only the Arizona Diamondbacks (5.38).
However, rookie right-hander Brad Lincoln offered a ray of hope on Wednesday afternoon as he pitched seven strong innings in combining with Joel Hanrahan and Octavio Dotel on a shutout as the Pirates beat the Cubs 2-0 at Chicago.
Lincoln allowed just four hits while walking one and striking out six for his first major-league victory in his fifth start.
Lincoln pitched his gem on the strength of an outstanding curveball. He threw 25 of his 36 hooks for strikes (69 percent) and the Cubs went just 1-for-10 (.100) against the pitch.
Lincoln won on a day when his fastball command wasn’t good.
He threw just 31 of 52 heaters for strikes (60 percent), though the pitch averaged 91 mph and topped out at 95. His changeup wasn’t a factor as he threw it just five times and only once for a strike.
Lincoln induced the Cubs to chase a whopping 48 percent of his off-speed pitches that were out of the strike zone and got them to swing and miss at 23 percent of his strikes, well above the major-league average of 15 percent.
While five starts and 31 innings isn’t a very representative sample size, the early returns are that it is the curveball that has a chance to separate Lincoln from average major-league starters. Opponents are hitting just .182 against the curve and he is using it as a put-away pitch by throwing it 38 percent of the time when he is ahead in the count and 40 percent of the time when he has two strikes. Conversely, the league is hitting .348 against his fastball, so Lincoln needs some work there.
John Perrotto is the editor-in-chief of BaseballProspectus.com and baseball columnist at the Beaver County Times.