First Pitch: Morton Keeps the Pirates Trending in the Right Direction

The starting rotation as a whole hasn’t been a weakness for the Pittsburgh Pirates this year. Coming into the week, their rotation had a 3.22 ERA, which ranked second in baseball, and a 3.37 xFIP, which ranked fourth in the game. Their 8.46 K/9 ratio ranked fourth, and 51% ground ball rate came in third. As a whole, the rotation wasn’t a problem.

Breaking down the rotation, there were some individual problems. The biggest one was Vance Worley, who hasn’t looked anything like the pitcher he was last year. He had a 4.38 ERA and a 4.59 xFIP this season, while seeing his walk rate go up. Not too long ago I wrote about how swapping out Worley for Charlie Morton would help the Pirates. Today they completed that swap, bringing Morton in the rotation, and sending Worley to the bullpen at the expense of Radhames Liz.

Morton didn’t disappoint in his debut, throwing seven strong innings, and displaying an extreme 83.3% ground ball rate. As I noted several times during his rehab, he has looked a lot closer to the 2013 version than the version we saw in early Spring Training. And tonight he looked similar to that pitcher again, absolutely dominating the ground ball game.

The Pirates had a pitcher last year who looked to have found his form in Worley, but who looks like he lost it this year. They had a pitcher last year in Morton who lost his form due to injury, but seems to be back on track. Overall, the move is a big upgrade to an already strong rotation.

What’s even better is that this is coming at a time when the Pirates are starting to turn things around offensively. They rank 11th in baseball with a .316 wOBA in the month of May, and 10th with a wRC+ in the same span.

Furthermore, if Worley can find himself in the bullpen, then he could provide an additional upgrade over Radhames Liz, although neither pitcher was throwing in an important role, with both working in long-relief. The bullpen is the only segment of the team that isn’t trending upwards, and isn’t ranked in the top half of the game. Hopefully the move for Worley to replace Liz can help that.

The Pirates are on a four game winning streak, and find themselves back at .500 after tonight’s win. They’re a team that is much better than what we’ve seen so far, posting the third best run differential in the National League, despite having the seventh best record. The offense is starting to come around, and the rotation has been strong, and got an additional boost today with the addition of Morton. This is all coming at a perfect time, as 19 of their next 22 games will come against teams with records of .500 or lower. A strong performance during that stretch, much like the performance over the last four games, would be enough to get them back as top contenders, and possibly give them a realistic shot at the division.

**Prospect Watch: Stephen Tarpley Makes Debut, Big Day For Altoona Bats

**Pirates Activate Charlie Morton, DFA Radhames Liz

**Huntington on Blocked Prospects, Bell’s Power, Hanson, Diaz, Sanchez

**Injury Updates: Nick Kingham, Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon

**Minor Moves: West Virginia Shuffles Their Roster to Add Tarpley

**Morning Report: Morton, Tarpley and the Draft


  • Christopher B
    May 26, 2015 1:18 pm

    Morton only allowed one fly ball, and that fly ball was the Stanton home run. But I don’t expect him to have a 100% HR/FB% going forward, so if he keeps getting those ground balls, he’s going to be very good going forward.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    May 26, 2015 11:26 am

    Good start by Morton, although I was concerned when he gave up 2-3 hits and a run in that first inning. He settled down after that and was pretty efficient – he’s often his own worst enemy. I hope he can keep it up and nail down the #4 slot.

    Lets see if Locke can get it together tonight….

  • He’s not quite “vintage” Chuck yet. Didn’t hit anyone.

    • I noticed. I triple checked the box score as I assumed I had missed it during the game.

    • Sure did try his damnedest on a few of those curveballs leaking inside to righties, didn’t he.

      What impressed me about his start was that you visibly saw him improving has the game wore on. Less and less fastballs elevated, tighter break and better command of the breaking ball, and worse contact overall.

      This club could really make waves by grabbing one more above average starter to round out the rotation.

      • And he kept Stanton to a mere 380 ft home run. That’s all the proof of inducing poor contact I needed to see 🙂

        Was at the game last night and it was one of the very few times I agreed with Hurdle on taking out a starter who’d just thrown 3 strong innings with a sub-90 pitch count. He might’ve easily had another inning in him, but best to get Chuck out of there with the win and a big confidence builder.

        • Excellent point not letting him get to the “one too many” batters. Right now, his confidence is primary to his success.

  • Very disappointed in Morton! He only struck out three batters. We are used to double digit SO from our starters.

    • 😀

    • Bill: A little sarcasm in the ayem? I liked the outcome, but he was getting absolutely roped in the first few innings. His 2 seamer works best at 90/91, and throwing 93 elevated was almost his undoing. To his credit, he fought through it, and then started pitching very well. He can help this team.

      • For some reason I have always been a fan of Charlie. I met him a couple of times and he is a very astute bourbon drinker plus very cordial and engaging. I hope he continues to build from this start. This could be a game changer for this club.

        • I have as well, and I’ll admit a bit part of that has been a reaction to the internet neanderthals who can’t tell the difference between intelligence and mental weakness.

  • Hopefully morton can give the bottom of the rotation something it has not had all year, that is giving the team a chance to win by keeping the game close. Something the 4-5 spot has been sadly lacking this year and please don’t spout endless streams of numbers at me, losing is losing no matter the numbers.

  • 3rd best run differential says it all. Given time, this team will rise to the top. June needs to be a springboard month for this team.

  • Chuck steps in at the perfect time.

    Amazingly, too many of us were voting the wrong way when the final rotation spot was down to Locke, Worley or him.