It’s hard to believe that it was only about three weeks ago that I was arguing for Charlie Morton to stay in the rotation. At the time, Morton was coming off a horrible start where he gave up five runs on ten hits in six innings, sending the Pirates to a brutal loss against St. Louis. That outing raised his ERA to a 4.07 mark, which for some reason was completely unacceptable for some Pirates fans.
Morton bounced back in his next start, but people still wanted him gone, so I pointed out how Morton would start for almost every team in baseball today. A few things have happened since that article:
**Wandy Rodriguez suffered a setback, and will be visiting Dr. James Andrews.
**Gerrit Cole has started to fade and has passed his 2012 innings totals.
**Jeff Locke has been hit hard in his last two starts and is regressing.
**Charlie Morton continues to pitch well, putting up a 2.28 ERA in 27.2 innings over his last four starts.
All of that combined points to one thing: Charlie Morton is the best option to be the #3 starter in the playoff rotation. And that’s not a bad thing.
Sure, if you were one of the people three weeks ago that felt Morton shouldn’t even be on the team, you’ll think it’s a bad thing. Maybe you’re coming around on Morton, but don’t fully trust him yet. Maybe you’re hoping the Pirates had someone just like Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett for that third spot, and maybe even for the fourth spot. That would be great, but very few teams have that luxury.
Morton isn’t a bad option for that third spot. I don’t have any beliefs that he can be consistently as good as he has been in the last four outings. The key word there is “consistently”, because I think Morton has the stuff to dominate in any one of his starts. There’s a reason he gets the #ElectricStuff hashtag. His stuff is the stuff of a top of the rotation pitcher. But as I mentioned in those previous articles, if you don’t have consistency to go with that stuff, you won’t be a top of the rotation starter.
The question isn’t whether Morton is a top of the rotation starter. The question is whether he is one of the top three starters for the Pirates right now. I think he is, and once again, that’s not a bad thing. Morton’s stuff is living up to the “Electric Stuff” nickname. His sinker/curveball combo are un-hittable when they’re on. So far this year he has a 66% ground ball rate. That means two out of every three balls hit into play are on the ground. No other pitcher with 70+ innings is over 60%. Only 11 other pitchers are above 55%. It’s safe to say right now that Charlie Morton is the best ground ball pitcher in baseball. Combine that with the defensive shifts and the strong defense behind him, and he should continue to have regular success.
The problems for Morton last month were that he had lapses with his command. Over and over we heard that command was the last thing to come back following Tommy John surgery. It looks like his command is back in his recent starts. He doesn’t look like the pitcher that combined for 19 hits in 11 innings over two starts against Miami and St. Louis. His command of his pitches, and the movement and placement of those pitches in the last few starts has been excellent. Could all of this be due to the recovery from Tommy John, and the fact that he can finally command a few pitches that have a ton of movement and are extremely hard to command?
It’s hard to argue against Charlie Morton right now. He’s got top of the rotation stuff, he’s a ground ball machine, and the only thing keeping him from being a top of the rotation starter is that he hasn’t shown the consistency needed for that label. But anything can happen in one game. Morton might have a bad start, but he also might come out and dominate in any given game, just like his start tonight. It’s for that reason that he looks fine as a potential playoff starter for the Pirates. He doesn’t provide you with the comfort you’d get from Liriano or Burnett, but he has the chance to provide the Pirates with the same upside in one individual start.
Links and Notes
**The newest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast is up: P3 Episode 18: Prospect Talk With Pirates Farm Director Larry Broadway.