Last night Jeff Locke put 13 batters on base. Only one of those batters scored.
Tonight Charlie Morton put 9 batters on base. Four of those batters scored.
Locke was bailed out by his defense and balls being hit to the right spot. Starling Marte threw out a runner at home. With the bases loaded and one out a liner was hit directly to Gaby Sanchez who had shifted away from the first base bag. That prevented two runs from scoring, while putting runners at first and third with one out.
Tonight Morton was the opposite. He didn’t get help from his fielders, with a few errors that led to some additional runs. He didn’t get the benefit of fortunate positioning, as a few balls either found their way through a hole, or were hard to handle for his fielders.
Morton also didn’t have the best command, which led to a lot of those hits, and led to a few harder hit balls that went for singles instead of outs. But it’s not like Locke had the best command last night, with six walks. Yet Locke escaped with minimal damage, while Morton gave up four runs in five innings.
That has been the story all year for each player.
You expect ground balls to find their way through for Morton, more so than other pitchers. Morton gives up the most grounders, so the law of probability says that he’ll have more grounders through the hole. That was the reasoning Clint Hurdle gave on why it seems like this happens to Morton more than other players.
“He’s got the best ground ball ratio on the staff, and when you get more of them there’s an opportunity for a couple of them to slide through,” Hurdle said. “We’ve got all his history. We’ve got our defensive set ups. We’ve actually been positioning very, very well this year. So I think it’s more ground balls are finding holes than anything.”
But it seems like it’s more than that with Morton. Tonight there were back to back errors by Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte that allowed runners to advance into scoring position. There were balls that found holes, balls that died in the infield, and a ball that ate up Jordy Mercer. That’s almost the Charlie Morton hat trick if you focus only on the grounders, or the Charlie Morton cycle if you include the defensive struggles.
On the season there’s nothing odd about Morton’s numbers. He has a 3.59 ERA in 42.2 innings. He has a .305 BABIP, a 69.6% strand rate, and a really high 18.5% HR/FB ratio. The BABIP and strand rates are both league average, while the AB/HR ratio is unlucky. But it just seems like this type of stuff happens to him way more often than anyone else. Just like A.J. Burnett not getting any run or defensive support in his starts, and Jeff Locke always working his way out of jams in his outings. It’s almost like Jeff Locke is passing his regression off to Morton, and if you average things out, they all end up as they should be.
The thing about Morton is that he’s got good stuff this year, and is putting up good numbers. He’s not dominating, but if you look at the xFIP numbers, he’s the same value or better than Locke. I think a lot of people would say Locke is better, mostly because the ERA has been better this year. I don’t want to get too deep in the “Will Jeff Locke regress” discussion right now, but I will point out that where Locke should be is the same place Morton should be, based on their advanced metrics. In either case you’ve got a pitcher who posts numbers that should be around league average.
The strange thing is that Locke’s numbers signal a huge regression, yet there’s debate over whether he will actually regress. Morton’s numbers are good, and there’s indication of a potential slight regression. I feel most people would accept the fact that Morton is going to regress. Maybe that’s because Morton’s career numbers are poor, and most don’t give him credit for the changes he made in 2011. He converted to a sinker ball pitcher that year, and had success. Last year he dealt with injuries, which took away his two best pitches and led to another horrible year. His stuff is now back, and he is putting up numbers similar to the numbers he put up in 2011. His numbers are also close to his advanced metrics, so while there might be some regression, there’s not going to be that much.
It might be frustrating to watch Morton at times because it seems like he gets more bad breaks than anyone on the staff. Some of that might be his fault due to a lack of command, and some of that might be due to poor luck. The truth is that Morton isn’t going to be a top of the rotation guy. He’s going to look like he has top of the rotation stuff at times, but that inconsistent performance will keep him around league average in the long-run, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Links and Notes
**Check out the newest episode of the Pirates Prospects podcast: P3 Episode 14: Previewing the Trade Deadline For the Pirates.