The overwhelming reaction I noticed tonight, following another horrible start from Charlie Morton, was a call for him to be sent down. Yes, Morton has one option remaining. That’s irrelevant though, as Neal Huntington already said he wouldn’t be demoted. And that’s the right call to make.
It’s clear that Morton has been bad to start the season. He allowed eight runs in 3.1 innings in his first start. His next outing saw six runs in six innings. This time around he didn’t even record an out in the second inning, allowing five earned runs in one inning. That’s just bad.
That’s still no excuse to make irrational snap-judgement decisions, like sending Morton down. Let’s review this plan for a minute. First, who replaces Morton? Donald Veal? Kevin Hart? Both players have had their struggles in the majors, mostly with control in each case. Hart has only pitched 10.1 innings this year, and while he looked good in the last start, I’m not comfortable promoting him just yet. Veal has pitched 15.2 innings this year, but isn’t exactly dominating the AAA level. He has a 9:5 K/BB ratio, which is great for Veal, but nothing that screams “guaranteed improvement” over Morton.
It’s not that I don’t like those two players. It’s just that we’ve seen what Morton is capable of, and we’ve seen his talent. Morton obviously isn’t a guarantee, but the Pirates don’t have an alternative with his upside at the moment. They’d be better off hoping he turns things around, rather than going with an unknown commodity.
One thing this bad start does is brings us back to the “one bad start in Chicago” theory. Morton’s season was excellent last year, outside of that bad start. That raised a question: was the start a fluke, or just something that could happen with Morton? The early results this season would indicate that it’s something that could just happen with Morton.
Looking deeper in to this start, Morton’s numbers were actually very good in the first two starts. He had an 8.68 K/9 ratio (up from his 5.75 K/9 last year). He had an 0.96 BB/9 ratio, down from a 3.71 last year. You can’t make a season out of two games, but those two ratios don’t usually lead to a 13.50 ERA. His big problem is a 3.86 HR/9 ratio, thanks to four homers in 9.1 innings.
Morton’s fly ball percentage in his first two games wasn’t out of the ordinary. However, his HR/FB% spiked, and his line drive percentage almost doubled from his 2009 total, ending up at 34.3%. Last year Morton was getting a ton of ground balls. This year the ground balls are turning in to line drives, plus he’s allowing more homers. His BABIP is a ridiculous .429, which is either extremely unlucky, or presents a problem.
Could the problem be that he is tipping his pitches? That would explain why he’s being hit so hard. That would also be encouraging, because it’s something that could be worked on with a quick adjustment, hopefully in time for his next start.
Above all, I don’t agree with making quick decisions like this based on a few games in April. Morton isn’t the only one who I feel this way about. Daniel McCutchen has a 14.73 ERA after his first two starts. Garrett Jones may have gone 3-for-9 with 3 homers in his first two games, but he is 6-for-34 (.176) with no homers since that time. Ryan Doumit has started the season hitting for a .200 average, with a .304 OBP and a .300 SLG. Jeff Clement’s .401 OPS wouldn’t even be satisfactory as his slugging percentage alone.
So why single out Morton? There are key players all over this team who are struggling. Who’s to say that Ryan Doumit will rebound? How do we know Jeff Clement won’t suddenly go on a tear, mashing the ball and making this look like an early season funk? Take out the first two games by Garrett Jones and we’d be calling for his head right now. You can’t just pick and choose who you’re going to send down after two weeks of games. If you’re going to give Doumit, McCutchen, Clement, and Jones a chance, then it only makes sense to give Morton a chance to turn things around as well.
Sending Morton to the minors brings no guarantee. The appeal there is the unknown. The idea that maybe someone can come up and be a big surprise. Sure, there’s that chance, but there’s also the chance that Morton does a 180 and excels the rest of the way. Either way you’re basing the decision on hopes, rather than making a proper decision based on facts. The facts are that we’ve seen good results from Morton in the past. We haven’t seen much of that from Veal or Hart. I’d say the chances of Morton turning things around are much better than Hart or Veal coming up and surprising everyone this early in the season.