First Pitch: Charlie Morton is Jeff Locke With Regression

Charlie Morton

Charlie Morton always seems like the unluckiest pitcher on the staff.

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.

**Please Welcome New Beat Writer Nate Barnes to the Pirates Prospects Staff.

**McKenry Has a Career Night at the Plate, But Also Tweaks Knee

**Minor League Schedule: Heredia Headlines Sunday’s Probables

**Prospect Watch: Strong Pitching From Dickson, Dodson and Johnson

**Minor Moves: Hollingsworth and Bromberg Promoted To Indianapolis

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Draw 17 Walks In Win Over Braves

Tim Williams

Author: 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 AccuScore.com, 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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  • http://@gwbicster gwbicster

    Barmes needs to start when Morton pitches. This is so obvious to us all but apparently not to Hurdle. Mercer is probably above average defensively but not at Barmes’ level.

    • eldon94

      I agree with mercer not being at the defensive level as Barmes, but Barmes does not have the consistent offensive that mercer has. I believe that barmes plays well when he is not under pressure like he was when he played ss when walker was injured he plays better, but when he spot starts at ss he pressures himself to much to perform well. This is just my opinion, but barmes has the experience and he knows what he is doing and capable of.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      I was surprised when I saw Mercer in the lineup.

  • eldon94

    The past couple of years our pitching has been our downfall, but this year it is our strong point and if we get consistent defense and a better batting average when runners are in scoring position and less strikeouts. They have amazed me this year that they can still win on a consistent basis with these problems affecting them.

  • jamminjoe66

    I guess you haven’t watched Barmas either. His error total has been saved by Jones & Sanchez digging around 30 throws out of the dirt. Not to mention he can’t execute a run down any better than a 10 year old. I can’t wait to next year when he’s not an option for Hurdle any more.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      I’m still upset about that rundown play. I’ve seen softball SS’s do a better job.

      Note to Clint: You NEVER run a batter towards the NEXT base. NEVER!

      Foo

      • jamminjoe66

        He butchered a run down against Philly earlier this that cost them the game also

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

    I don’t think Morton was sharp last night. Not like his previous start, he was lights out.
    .
    Locke was probably lucky he was playing the Marlins, giving up 8 hits and 6 walks against a good team will result in a lot of runs.
    .
    Both will have to be on their game against St. Louis.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.sweetnich Joe Sweetnich

    I think it would be SO sweet if Locke non-regresses into a Cy Young Award. Then perhaps all this nonsense would stop…

  • jon6er

    If the offense was just in the middle of the league statistic wise instead of the bottom we wouldn’t have half of the discussions we have about pitching and defense.

    • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

      The Bucs are 7th in the NL in wRC+, they should have an average offense. The reason they are 12th in runs is almost entirely based on bad RISP luck (.222 dead last among 30 teams). They have been the anti-Cardinals who have a ridiculous .337 RISP that won’t last, it is 47 points higher than any other MLB team.

  • buster09

    jalcorn : I have been watching the Cardinals the last couple of nights,and it looks to me like their hitters have started to return to earth. This hasn’t affected their RISP though,as they have had very few opportunities. Lets hope the regression continues for about the next 4 or 5 days !

  • Curtis

    I don’t believe that BABIP is completely random. Hitters are trying not only to make the bat hit the ball, but to hit it where they ain’t. Just like it is easier to get the bat on the ball against some pitchers, it is easier to aim that ball against some pitchers. Morton’s been consistent in that way (.324 BABIP), if Locke proves to be consistent in the other direction over time then perhaps we have a good example of extremes on the same team.

  • leadoff

    Regression is not a word either one of these pitchers should be connected with at this stage of their careers, one only in his first full year and the other coming off of Tommy John surgery. Morton struggling with consistency, Locke a pitcher that is a total corner pitcher that will be subject greatly from game to game by umpires and the ability to hit an exact spot.
    If you ask one sabermetric geek if he would bet his house on Locke or Morton regressing, I doubt they would do it, why? because these guys are not robots, Locke is thin legged, he may tire, IMO I don’t know if he is strong enough for the long haul, Morton still can’t command the inside part of the plate to left handers, if gets that part of his game down, he will become the dominant pitcher he can be.