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.