Morton Deserves Another Shot

Morton deserves one more shot in the rotation.

This time last year there was a common phrase going around: Charlie Morton had great numbers outside of that one bad start in Chicago.  Morton posted a 4.55 ERA in 18 starts with the Pittsburgh Pirates, after coming over in the Nate McLouth trade.  That one start was a one inning, ten run outing against the Cubs.  Outside of that start, Morton had a 3.66 ERA in 17 starts, spanning 96 innings.

A year later, Morton is coming off a disastrous season in which he posted a 7.57 ERA in 17 starts.  Morton also was demoted to AAA, where he didn’t exactly light up the minors, posting a 3.82 ERA in 80 innings, mostly due to a late season surge.  Ironically enough, this time Morton finished the season strong, with a 4.09 ERA in the month of September, including a strong 6.0 K/9 and a 2.44 K/BB ratio.

Morton was unlucky this year, with a .361 BABIP, well above the norm for starters, which is around the .300 mark.  Even his September numbers were unlucky, with a .337 BABIP.  His strand rate was 53.2%, well below the average for starters, which falls around 70%.  The worst part was his HR/FB ratio, normally around 10% for starters, but 18.1% for Morton. All of that combined says one of two things: either Morton was extremely unlucky, or there was something wrong with his approach, and I think anyone who watched this year would lean more towards there being something wrong.

It’s easy to forget, but Morton had success in 2009 with the Pirates.  It’s easy to look back at that one start, plus the majority of his 2010 season, and suggest that he’s just a bad pitcher.  However, you don’t do what Morton did in those other 17 starts in 2009 unless you’ve got the talent to make it in the majors.  Is Morton the potential top of the rotation starter with electric stuff that people thought he could become?  Probably not.  At this point, a number three starter might be optimistic.  That said, it might not be out of the question to assume Morton can still be a reliable starter in the majors.

Lets turn the clock back two years to a similar situation.  Tom Gorzelanny had a horrible 2008 season, putting up a 6.66 ERA in 105.1 innings, with a horrible 67:70 K/BB ratio.  In 2009 he had a 5.19 ERA in nine relief appearances, and spent most of the season in AAA.  The Pirates gave up on him too early, and this year he responded with a 4.09 ERA in 136.1 innings with the Cubs, including an improved 119:68 K/BB ratio.

I look at Morton and I see a similar situation.  Morton doesn’t have the success that Gorzelanny had in 2006 and 2007, but he does have some success: the 2009 season.  I also look at the pitching staff and I see a possible problem that could have affected Morton: Joe Kerrigan.  It seems that Kerrigan wasn’t fully involved this season, and Morton wasn’t the only one who struggled.  Brad Lincoln struggled, and was demoted due to a mechanical change Kerrigan made which went wrong.  Paul Maholm had a horrible season.  Zach Duke was extremely bad.  Things were so bad that a 4.88 ERA from Jeff Karstens was seen as a bright spot.  I don’t want to blame it all on Kerrigan, but you could make a strong argument that he wasn’t helping the pitching staff this year.

Morton and Maholm each improved at the end of the year.  Duke never bounced back, and there wasn’t enough to tell if Lincoln got over his issues.  I don’t think there would be an argument with giving Maholm or Lincoln a second chance, and because of that, I think Morton deserves another shot.  The Pirates only have three starters who have locked down a spot next year: Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, and James McDonald.  I’d like to see them add an external option, but with the other remaining spot I’d like to see Morton get another chance.  The last thing the Pirates can afford to do is have another Gorzelanny situation, where they give up on a pitcher who obviously has the talent to compete in the majors and realizes that talent at his next destination.

I think Morton could end up similar to Gorzelanny: an ERA in the low four range, which would be good enough to be a #4-5 starter in a good rotation.  The Pirates don’t exactly have the starting depth at the start of the 2011 to just cast Morton away.  If Morton doesn’t work out, they can move to the group of 2010 AA starters who will likely be reaching the majors by June 2011.  That scenario isn’t as bad as the scenario of the Pirates getting rid of Morton, only to find themselves in a Tom Gorzelanny 2.0 situation.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Anonymous

    No disrespect intended, but can anyone remember a star falling so rapidly as Kerrigan’s in less than a season? Lots of credit for him in ’09, mostly none in his short season ’10.

  • Tim Williams

    King of reading between the lines here with all that was said, but it seemed to me that Kerrigan didn’t really care in 2010 like he did in 2009. Last off-season he wasn’t even sure he wanted to return. He agreed to return, but one condition was that they add an assistant pitching coach to eventually take over.

    That kind of seems to me like Kerrigan saying he’s only here for one more year, aka, a lame duck. If he was hesitant to come back last off-season, and he was planning on being replaced, then I can’t see how he would have given it 100% this year, especially after the staff got off to a horrible start and the team looked destined to be one of the worst in the majors.

  • white angus

    very well said, Tim. I also noticed 2 things about Morton this season: 1. pitched much better with Snyder behind the plate. This is not a slam against Doumit or Jaramillo in any way. 2. Pitched much better when he was told not to shake off signs…. “dont think. you’ll only hurt the team”.

  • Anonymous

    There is no problem here. Morton will continue to get another chance and another chance after that so long as he is at the league minimum. That is unless there is some other player they want to salary dump (Doumit, Duke, Maholm) and they have to throw in Morton in order to get the other team to take the dumpees salary.

  • white angus

    salary dump??? just stop already. just… stop…

  • Anonymous

    Morton is going to get a chance regardless of last season because of his last month’s performance. I am not convinced his problems are fixed since the team as a whole played better against teams that had nothing to play for.

    Hopefully, he is really fixed, but he isn’t ever going to reach the lofty expectations Neal set us up for with his post trade comments. By lofty expectations, I mean he wasn’t supposed to be another 4/5 pitcher that we already have plenty of. I guess we will find out in ST.

  • Anonymous

    The very reason that Morton exists is because these cheapskates had to dump a salary that they didn’t want to pay for.

  • Tim Williams

    I don’t know about that. I’d say the reason Morton exists is probably because one night his parents came home, opened a nice bottle of wine, lit some candles, put on some slow jams, and let the mood take over. But I could be wrong. I don’t know how Papa Morton gets down. I just don’t think the Pirates’ management group had anything to do with Charlie Morton’s existence.

  • Charlie Conley

    I don’t disagree that Morton deserves another chance, but I always have to raise an eyebrow over the “unlucky” stuff. A counter argument could be that Morton was unlucky because he was throwing meatballs. The issue with him has always seemed to be $10 million arm, 10 cent head. He has the stuff to dominate, but so far has not shown the will nor the mental approach to make that happen. But he certainly deserves another opportunity. It’s not like anyone else is breaking down the door.

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