First Pitch: How Charlie Morton is Under-Rated, and Radhames Liz Contract Details

I had a different article planned for tonight, but needed one more thing for that, so I’m pushing it to the morning after I get to Pirate City. For now, here is a thought on Charlie Morton’s value, following his bullpen session today, and an update on Radhames Liz’s contract status.

**I’ve written before about how Charlie Morton is an under-rated pitcher. He gets graded on his entire career stats, which don’t tell the story about the current version of Morton. He underwent a massive overhaul to his game in 2011, and since then he has combined for a 3.74 ERA and a 3.89 xFIP in 495.1 innings. Those numbers would have been average or better in the NL in 2011-13, and slightly below-average in 2014.

As I wrote today, Morton continues to make adjustments to his game, aiming at further improvements. Considering he went from a pitcher that had no business in the majors, to a league average pitcher, I’m looking forward to seeing how he improves from here. He has shown a steady incline with his strikeouts, jumping to a career best 18.9% last year, topping his previous career best in 2013 at 17.2%.

The main concern with Morton is his health. He has dealt with a lot of injuries, to the point where he talked today about how he’s comfortable pitching on an odd schedule due to the amount of rehab he has done in his career.  He has made at least 20 starts in three of the last four years, and has pitched 150+ innings in three of those years (when you count his rehab work in the minors coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2013). A guy that has a good chance of giving you 150 innings with league average production would cost much more than $8 M per year, which is what Morton is currently receiving. And if the Pirates can find an adjustment to keep him healthy, or find a way to reach a new level, then his contract would look like a big value.

**I confirmed today that the Pirates will control Radhames Liz for his 0-6 years. Liz was signed to a one-year deal, but has just 0.133 days of service time in his major league career. That means the Pirates would control him for five more years beyond the 2015 season, assuming he can stick in the majors this time around and be an effective reliever. I talked to Liz yesterday, and wrote about why he chose the Pirates, and his thoughts on Jung-Ho Kang.

Links and Notes

**The top 20 prospects countdown started last week. It will resume next Monday, after mini-camp is complete. The full top 20, along with the rest of the top 50 and all 200+ profiles of Pirates’ minor league players, can be found in the 2015 Prospect Guide, which can be purchased on the products page of the site.

**Jung-Ho Kang is Confident He Can Outplay Jordy Mercer at Shortstop

**All 12 Arbitration Eligible Pirates Players File on Tuesday

**Charlie Morton’s Approach to Clean His Arm Action and Make His Delivery More Efficient

**The Pirates Have Almost No Position Battles Lined Up For Spring Training

  • Surprised in the battle of arguments, noone has brought up his salary, which will be $16M over the next 2 years. Is he really worth it? -.3 bWAR lifetime and .9 over the last 2 years. Injury prone and not an innings eater.

  • Charlie Morton has the worst winning percentage of any pitcher in the history of baseball with 100 decisions (I know he only has 97 decisions but even if he wins three more he’s still the worst, check it out). If I read one more article stating that even though he always loses he’s really good because his xFIP or BABIP is good I’m going to scream. Some guys know how to pitch just well enough to lose every time – that’s Morton’s real talent. Advanced metrics help explain anomalies or provide insight over a small sample. When I guy loses 60% of his starts you can keep the slide rule in your pocket

    • As marty says, winning % is debatable. I’m wondering if he is up for lifetime HBP/innings pitched though. He does have control of that and it impacts our hitters. Led the league the last 2 years, even though he only pitched 270 innings. With Locke and Burnett leading the league in walks, the Bucs are going to lead MLB in free passes by far.

    • The best “worst” pitcher I remember was Anthony Young in his Mets years. His 2-14 season included 13 starts, 15 saves and an xFIP of 3.38. He followed that with a 1-16 season with a 4-plus xFIP but a decent ERA. Along the way he lost 22 consecutive decisions, yet still compiled a 2.0 WAR over those two seasons. He didn’t last long enough to get 100 decisions, but in the 63 he did have, he went 15-48.

  • I’ve come to the conclusion the people who think Morton sucks are the people who remember his first two season as a Pirate, and ignore the last four. People who are idiotic enough to think W/L record is a good way to judge pitchers. Because, let’s be honest, if you think their W/L record is a good way to judge pitchers than either you think it’s still 1975 and ignore every other state or you’re a total and complete moron. I’ll guess the latter. Will enjoy watching Morton have yet another strong season this year, while people whine and cry about how much he sucks. Then I will laugh at the idiotness of those people.

  • Give me Lirian,Cole,A.J,Worley all day over Morton. I’d almost rather have Locke in there at home in a lefty pitchers park. But when Taillon or Kingham get there.Thise really no valid argument to have him in that rotation other than injury

  • If Morton is our 5th Starter, then fine. He has enough upside and good enough numbers to stick at the back of the rotation but there are 4 better starters on this team, He does have good stuff but it’s all soft. I’ve seen Morton hit the mid 90’s with his fastball but he has a hard time repeating his delivery . He has to take a lot off of it. His fastball last year was the lowest ts been in a long time . A number of games I saw him in the high 80’s. Guys are just sitting on the soft stuff. He has frustrating control issue’s. All those breaking alls that hit the batter make you just want to scream. It was ridiculous how many guys he hit. I know from experience, When Morton’s having one of those innings . It frustrates his defense to. Those innings he seems to have every start whether it blows up or not can change the atmosphere of a game in a negative way.

    • When was he it the high 80s? He lost some velocity in mid June which coincided with the hip injury.

      http://www.brooksbaseball.net/velo.php?player=450203&b_hand=-1&gFilt=&pFilt=FA|SI|FC|CU|SL|CS|KN|CH|FS|SB&time=game&minmax=ci&var=mph&s_type=2&startDate=01/01/2014&endDate=01/01/2015

      Morton is effectively a two pitch starter with bad platoon splits, that is the definition of volatile. I get why he is frustrating to watch, but since the arm slot change he is effectively league average.

      • The perception of him having the “one bad inning” mental problem in all actuality is due to exactly what you just said. His issue is that he’s a fastball-curveball righty from a low arm slot, not that he’s mentally weak. Literally a textbook platoon pitcher. Teams load up their lineups with lefties, meaning he has to be darn near perfect against righties or things can get ugly quick.

        Regardless, the arm slot change and pitch combo is exactly what turned him from the worst starter in baseball during 2010 to a league average starter, which is a trade any sane mind would gladly make.

  • IMO, Morton can pitch like a 1 or a 5, never quite sure which one is going to show up, but if you look at his bad games, one would get the idea that if the pitching coach would get out of the dugout a little earlier than he does that those big innings might not happen, so many times Searage has come out of the dugout and straightened Morton out, unfortunately too late. When Morton starts down the wrong road, he rarely fixes the problem himself.

  • Monsoon Harvard
    January 14, 2015 11:13 am

    That makes the Radhames Liz deal an incredible bargain if he is any kind of the pitcher he was in KBO.
    As for Morton, he wears down too much in a full season. That’s why I prefer they hold him out the first month like they did for his last hip surgery in 2013. He was at his best that season and the extra month off made him way more effective down the stretch run.

  • Do does that mean Liz comes with minor league options? If so that would give the bullpen great flexibility with all of these out of options pitchers.

  • Lee Foo Young
    January 14, 2015 8:37 am

    Hopefully, Liz becomes a viable piece in the ‘pen, since we control him for 6 years.

    And hopefully, Clay Richard can come back from his thoracic surgery and be a viable LH pitcher in the ‘pen (I don’t want him starting).

    It would be GREAT to have Richard and Liz together…… (again?)

    (sorry….)

  • Scott Kliesen
    January 14, 2015 5:23 am

    Hoping the work he’s doing w Benedict is going to reduce stress on his body and help keep him upright all season. But to me he really needs help w his mental approach. Last season especially, his game would come unglued at the first sign of trouble. Can someone be taught to bear down in times of trouble? Or is it either there or not?

    • It was reported that he was getting mental therapy in-season a couple of years ago for the mound meltdowns. Wonder if that is on-going and how they’re going about it. Would be an interesting article for Tim. IMO, his head is his real problem and may be incurable.

  • 1 word. Inconsistent.. The reason why he has league average number is because he’s good for a handful of innings and then implodes the next inning or the next start. I’ve never seen a pitcher be so good one inning and the next inning he looks lost The Pirates have cheaper.better options for the 4 or 5 spot. Unfortunately. He will continue to pitch because of his contract. In my opinion he’s barely holding onto the 5 spot , Battling it out with Jeff Locke.if things go as planned with Kingham and Taillon he should be out of a job

    • Why does it matter if a player has a 4 ERA via 100 3 ERA innings and 100 5 ERA innings vs 200 4 ERA innings?

      I just always see that argument made about morton and 1) I’m not sure if he does or doesn’t implode more often than others and 2)I don’t understand why it matters if he does as long as the overall ERA is the same.

      • Jay… technically you’re right and it shouldn’t matter. Here is how I see it: I don’t expect much from Locke. If he has a great outing, I’m chalking that up to his ability to nibble and a favorable strike zone/ump that particular outing coupled with good framing.

        In Morton’s case, when he’s “on”, he can make batters look stupid. The “electric stuff” label. His pitch movement can be absurd. He can look like an ace for 3-4 innings. He simply has more talent than Locke. But when he loses it, his history has been to really lose it – seemingly not just getting hit or losing control, but losing composure/confidence or whatever.

        With Morton, it just seems like there’s always been a hump he just needed to get over to be a top of the rotation guy. And he hasn’t gotten over that hump in his time here. With Locke, you kinda feel that if he gives you a great start, that’s a bonus, like it would’ve been for Correia or Cumpton or any other 4/5 guy the Bucs have employed.

        So while Morton might be a league average pitcher, there’s always been the tantalizing promise that he could be much, much more.

        • I agree that there is so much talent there. Morton is a #4 with the talent of a #2/3, and that Locke is a #5/6 with the talent of a #4.

          I don’t see why the glimpses at greatness and occasional implosions make it “unfortunate” that he will “continue to pitch because of his contract,” as Chris put it. If anything, the glimpses of greatness make him all the more good to have around, IMO.

          The tantalizing promise that he could be much much more isn’t a bad thing. it’s a good thing. it might be a little frustrating for fans i guess, but i think some people might be confusing frustration with actual player bad-ness.

    • What you’re describing — a guy who is consistently good and never has a bad start — is a top of the rotation pitcher.

      Who do the Pirates have as better options for the #4 and 5 spots? Who has shown they can put up league average numbers consistently (and that’s nothing to dismiss)?

      • Tim: All pitchers have bad starts whether they are No. 1’s or No. 5’s. In 2014 Morton was 6-12, 3.72 ERA in 26 Starts, 157 IP meaning 6 IP per start. His K/W of 126/57 is not that impressive and even worse when you toss in 19 HBP, and then Hits and you end up wondering how he was able to achieve an ERA as low as 3.72 – we expected much more from Charlie Morton. This year he will be paid $8 mil – it is time to see if he can be the type of consistent leader we thought he could become when we signed him for 3 years and $21 mil. The Pirates will need him to step up this year and be the No. 3 or No. 4 guy in the Rotation. And, I think he has the talent to be a No. 2, but he has to post it and then validate it.

        • but why does he have to “step up” to be the #4? Doesn’t his performance already indicate he’s a #4?

          • The fact that he has posted league average numbers indicates that he’s a number 3 starter, or probably a number 4 in a contending rotation.

            • that’s what i’m saying.

              One could argue that his DURABILITY is a concern, and is preventing the #3 pitcher status. I’d be totally okay with that, because i agree with that. But innings are the only thing he’s missing IMO.

              But the “consistency” and “leadership” and “stepping up” arguments i’m seeing about Morton just aren’t holding up in my eyes. You don’t HAVE to be consistent or a leader to be worth your contract. You don’t HAVE to step up when you’re already pretty good and getting paid as such. That’d all be nice and dandy, but he doesn’t have to be something that he isn’t.

              Why can’t people just accept that he’s a decent mid-to-high-3’s ERA pitcher?

        • He doesn’t have to have a K/BB ratio that’s especially impressive because he’s among the most extreme ground ball pitchers in the game, which means he consistently outpitches his peripherals. He does a really good job of limiting home runs, as well. So even though he’s roughly average as a K/BB guy, he’s a bit better than average at keeping the ball in the park and elite at generating ground balls, and the whole thing (once you factor in his HBP problem) makes him a roughly average Major Leauge pitcher, more or less a #3.

        • You’re leaving out the most important thing about Morton — he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher. He has good enough strikeout numbers, and decent walk rates. What you say would be a problem if you ignored all of the easy outs he gets via ground balls. The fact that he gets those grounders is what leads to his 3.72 ERA.

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