Charlie Morton Looks Like He’s Back to His 2013 Form

Charlie Morton has battled injuries throughout his career that has made him as erratic as any of the players on the Pirates’ roster.

There have been moments in his career when his devastating sinker is consistently sitting down in the zone, frustrating opposing batters to no-end as they attempt to lift his pitches into the air.

There is no better example of this frustration than on June 10th when Morton threw seven shutout innings against Milwaukee. After that performance, the Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said that Morton had “the best sinker in baseball, no doubt.” High praise for a pitcher, especially when it comes from a guy who catches pitches for a living.

However, there have been other moments in his career that have been directly affected by injury problems. A torn UCL in late May of 2012 required Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss the rest of the 2012 season as well as the first two months of 2013.

Morton turned in his best season as a Pirate in 2013 after returning from Tommy John. In 116 innings, he had a 3.26 ERA and led the Major Leagues with a 62.9% ground ball rate.

2014 was the season in which Morton thought he was throwing the ball as well as he ever had in his career. He was as sharp as he’s ever been mechanically, and was commanding all of his pitches. He had a 3.29 ERA through the first two months of the season, but his success was impeded in June of that year when he tore the labrum in his right hip. He tried to pitch through the pain, however he was not the same pitcher during the remainder of the season. His mechanics became out of sync and lost his consistent command. After the 2014 season, Morton had surgery after the season to repair his hip.

Once he recovered from his off-season procedure, he came into Spring Training and struggled to throw strikes because he developed bad habits while pitching through the previous season’s pain.

“By the end of the year, I watched video and I was just a mess, and I never corrected it,” Morton explained. “Then I had surgery, and then I came to Spring Training and still never corrected it.”

His Spring Trainings struggles led to an extended stay on the Disabled List, and an extended stay down in Bradenton, where he worked with Pirates’ pitching guru Jim Benedict. Morton has benefited from working with Benedict by getting his mechanics in-tune, just as he did when working with Benedict after his Tommy John surgery in 2013.

And so far this season, Morton has mimicked the pitcher he was in his 2013 season. His 61.4% ground ball rate would rank him in the top five in baseball if he had enough innings to qualify, and he has gone six innings in all but two of his nine starts. His 4.15 ERA is deceiving, as it is artificially inflated by his 0.2 inning, nine earned run disaster against the Nationals in Washington. Take away the Washington outing, and his ERA would be 2.63. His xFIP after tonight’s outing is 3.82.

“I feel like I’m pitching way better than even in 2013 right now – I’ve gotten off to a better start,” Morton exclaimed when I asked him about he feels this season compared to 2013.  “I remember in 2013 I felt like I was throwing the ball okay, but I wasn’t really pitching. This year, I started pitching pretty well right out of the gate.”

His ability to be a pitcher and not just a thrower was evident in tonight’s start. Morton struggled with command of his sinker in the early innings of his outing, so he began to mix in more curve balls and change-ups, and was better able to pound the strike zone with the offerings.

“And that opened up room for my sinker, even though it wasn’t as good as it could be,” Morton said.

Without his best stuff, Morton was still able to complete six innings, while limiting the Padres to two earned runs and just five hits. He walked four batters, one intentionally, and struck out five.

Being able to trust and command his two off-speed pitches to go along with “the best sinker in baseball” will make Morton one of the more effective pitchers in the National League.

A healthy and mechanically in-tune Charlie Morton would go a long way for the Pirates in their quest to win the division. So far, the Pirates look like they are getting the 2013 version of Morton that helped them win 94 games.

  • Anyone whom thinks that his last 4 starts indicate he has returned to his 2013 form is delusional or really isn’t looking at anything but the statline. He has looked absolutely lost, having zero control over any of his pitches for long stretches. While he isn’t “giving in” to the big inning in all of them, this article seems to be about 3 weeks too late to have value in my opinion.

    • Did you watch the game after the 2nd inning last night? He had fine control after his start. Hell, he’s been typical. Good control for 3/4ths of the game, a few innings of no control with the big difference being his ability to limit damage. He had control for the majority of last night, had his control stayed as it was in 1-2 he wouldnt have done well at all.

      • Luke- no offense man, but zero consistency with his fastball command, it came and went as bad as what we used to see from Liriano with his changeup. Only problem is, he is a sinkerball pitcher, and throwing curveballs for strikes doesn’t work against teams that can actually hit when they know its coming.

    • What?

  • Maybe it’s just me, but I was expecting/hoping for a roster move or two today. Specifically bringing Tabby back up and dropping Lombo and maybe Decker for Gorkys. Our bench of Ish, Lombo and Gorkys has a combined BA of .000 for 2015. Not a positive going into Cards series. BucsDugout had a solid article on SRod and the bench today saying same thing.

    • I dont think you move our Lombo for an OFer, since that’d leave the bench without an IFer if someone went down/got thrown out. You’ve got Walker-Harrison-Mercer-SRod for middle IF+3B options. If one goes down, you have to move SRod in which doesnt leave much for Hurdle to play with and forces a bench player into the OF.

      I dont like Lombo, but if he goes down id want someone who can play at least 2B to be up.

      • Fine. But at least Tabby for Gorkys.
        I liked the idea of acquiring Lombo, but he’s been useless. And Hurdle seems reluctant to use him. If Walker goes down, Hanson is up. If it’s Mercer or Kang, then I guess Lombo gets to play by default, although I still think Clint would play SRod in the IF before going to Lombo.

        • I think SRod before Lombo for sure. I have no problem with Tabby up, but its gotta be made clear that he’s there to hit and not used a ton of defense. Really want to limit his time spent in the OF and let him hit singles.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 9, 2015 11:58 am

    Morton has been fairly solid this year starts – although he has benefited from pitching against some pretty weak hitting teams. By today’s standards, he has 6 quality starts out of 9 – although I don’t agree that giving up 3 runs in 6 innings is a quality start – that is a mediocre start in my opinion.

    He’s 6-2? ERA around 4.00 – which is what I would expect. He is still maddeningly inconsistent. Looks like an all start for 3-4 innings or for a start or two, then looks horrendous like he did in Washington. He is what he is….a mediocre major league pitcher. I will not make the same mistake and have any higher expectations than that.

    • ERA to judge a pitcher, i’ll give ya credit you are consistent is using dated methods to judge the entire value of a player (batting average).

      Im genuinely curious, going on a numbered list what would you consider the line between above mediocre and mediocre? At what point of a list of pitching stats ranked would you go “anyone not at that number or higher is clearly mediocre?” If i showed you a list of FIP, xFIP, and SIERA numbers without names at what number would you point and go “thats where mediocre starts”.

      • If you know how to read those “dated stats” it’s fairly easy to see what players are good or not. While xfip and babip ect. are accurate they are overkill for anybody but scouts and organizations to use. There is a reason why the “dated stats” have been and will continue to be relevent, they are easy accurate ways for the average fan to evaluate players. I’m not saying your advanced metrics are wrong, I’m saying they make for some darn boring baseball on and off the field. Should we use advanced metrics, yes. Should they supplant “dated stats”, no. Should both be used by any who wish to use them without being whipped for it,yes.

        • I mean no disrespect to your opinion or you, but thats stupid. Easiest way to put it. No, ERA isnt accurate in terms of showing how well a pitcher actually did or how well he is likely to do moving forward.

          Just like batting average being a stupid way to evaluate the worth of a hitter. Its misleading, doesnt show even half the story, and is used by those who just go “thats the way its always been so it works”. Being easy doesnt make it accurate, nor even smart.

          ERA does not show you accurately the worth of a pitcher, it gives you a very basic insight into the real picture or any outlier issue that absolutely matter.

          • Like I said, why can’t you accept that the “dated stats” and advanced metrics can and should be used together or apart by whomever chooses to use them. Advanced metrics are a nice addition to existing stats not a replacement once again I will reiterate that if you know how to read them the dated stats as you call them are an easy accurate way for the average fan to look at a player. The advanced stats are a nice adendum for those who want to get more indepth. Frankly your close minded approach is not only offensive to me but as you said stupid. Open your mind a bit and let in some light, I have with the metrics you hold dear to your heart. Why can’t you with metrics others choose to use? Neither is wrong it’s simply a choice we as individuals make.

            • Why cant i accept that ERA is useful? Because it largely isnt. Doesnt tell you what caused that outcome, is dependent on defense and other factors. You can pitch poorly, and have an okay ERA. You can awful some games and have a good ERA. It is not indicative of the actual performance a pitcher.

              Its not open minded to continue to cling to methods that arent effective, thats inherently backwards. Its not seeing the light to think ERA is useful, its clinging to something for the sole reason that “we have used it forever, so its useful to some degree” no, its really not. We have more effective and useful ways to judge a pitcher, use them.

              We could still use a typewriter in newsrooms, but its not effective and largely an antique due to having clearly more efficient methods.Its not close minded to avoid use of antiquated methods.

              • Nice thing is your allowed to be wrong, era combined with k/w ratio, win loss record opponents ba. against innings pitched and team record is all you need to know. If you want to use all the extra stats then by all means do so, it’s your perogative. You do it your way I’ll do it mine, your way is boring to most folks,my way is not. That I think is the biggest problem with advanced and or sabre, it’s as boring as watching paint dry. If you enjoy that by all means use it, just don’t pee on my cornflakes and call it milk and I won’t do it to you.

                • Im gladly not agreeing with you, because thats scary flawed. Yeah, i can find out all i need to know about how a pitcher is by his teams record, his wins, his ERA, his innings, and opponent BA. That’ll tell me how great a pitcher is easy.

                  • Don’t forget his k/w ratio, glad to see a little light falling into your mind even in jest. I have hope for you luke, we’ ll make a well rounded baseball guy out of you yet. As a test, make a list of pitchers, one with w/l, k/w, innings pitched, ba. against and team record. On the other put xfip,babip and siera. I bet without looking at names until the end you come up with a pretty comparable list.

          • Darkstone42
            July 9, 2015 8:19 pm

            ERA is useful in appropriate context, and FIP, xFIP, and SIERA are also. I think ERA is a fair measure of past results (which correlates somewhat to performance), but xFIP is probably the best estimate of what a pitcher will do moving forward, assuming the same approach.

            Relying on ERA and W/L, though, is precisely why MLB is in the absurd position of not having the reigning Cy Young winners and NL MVP in the All-Star game this year, even though a close examination of the numbers demonstrates pretty definitively that both have been top-5 pitchers in all of baseball this year.

  • Just in general, I’ve been very impressed by the staff’s ability to hang in games where they didn’t have their best stuff

    • I very much agree. Look at Cole early on Sunday, Liriano on Tuesday and Morton yesterday. I got a little frustrated early but when they were done all their performances kept the teams in the game and the offense chipped away and that was that. And even though Cole and Liriano had better stats than Morton – all in all he still gave them 6 innings of 2 run ball.

  • Wabbit_Season
    July 9, 2015 10:17 am

    I think the worm is starting to turn. If you look at how close the early season games were where the Cards beat us in extra innings and then look at the comparative injury situations, I think the Bucs are in a good place right now.

    Sure, we lost JHay for the next 7 weeks and Marte is trying to stay off the DL right now. But the Cards have lost Matt Adams until the playoffs and he hurts us on a consistent basis. They’re also down Matt Belisle, Jamie Garcia, Adam Wainright, Jordan Walden, Jon Jay and Kolten Wong.

    It amazes me that the Cards can keep on the way they are, but you can see it is impossible for them to keep playing .700 baseball the way they started the season.

    This series is big AND we’re catching the Cards while they’re scuffling and we’re hot. The timing is right to send a message.
    “You mean HIM? Against ME? There’ll be no more mutiny K-9! Mutiny makes me VERY angry!”

  • Darkstone42
    July 9, 2015 10:07 am

    Washington disaster aside, this is the best work I’ve seen him do when he’s not “on” in his career. 2013 was awesome because he was on more often than not, but he let some starts get away from him. Not because he was mentally weak, as I’ve seen many suggest, but because of exactly what he said in your article, he threw instead of pitching. He didn’t have a plan to adjust when hitters were on his fastball. Now that he does, he’s better at the damage control component of being a starting pitcher.

    His start before last night’s (against the Indians, I think?) was a good example, I think. 6 innings and 3 runs isn’t great, but it gives the team a chance to win, but he got there by making adjustments throughout the game. It was pretty clear to me his front foot was slipping on him, and he was landing uncomfortably. I suspect that’s why his fastball kept getting elevated. But he adjusted and kept the Bucs in the game, despite the difficulty.

  • Good article Pete, but I do take issue with the assertion Ground Chuck is the most erratic Pirate. This distinction most certainly belongs to Jeff Locke. I probably could make an argument that Pedro is more up and down than Morton, too.

    Otherwise, glad Ground Chuck is healthy. He generally is an above average SP when he feels right.

    • Thank you.

      “As erratic as any other Pirates’ player”

      I said that because of guys like Locke, liriano, etc.

  • Would be nice to see more efficiency from Chuck along with a reliable chase pitch. Averaging 15.4 pitches/inning. Seven 3-ball counts last night. Several batters with extended ABs.

    • bucs: Excellent points; he was up over the plate and away on a regular basis through the first two innings. Very fortunate to only give up 2, but SD is a team struggling to score. He seemed to go with the curve more often after the visit by Ray Searage, and that pitch was being thrown with pin-point precision. Third straight quality start without a W for the SP?

      Cashner was tough, but the Pirates stayed after him putting the ball in play – Walker, Kang, Cervelli, ‘Cutch, and Polanco almost make us forget we are playing without two very important contributors in Starling Marte and Josh Harrison. Teamwork.

      • Pirates were fortunate they were playing against a team whose Manager has no idea how to manage his pitching staff. Gave them first game of series and last night’s, too.

        Cashner would’ve been pulled after he walked Ishikawa for a lefty to face Polanco by virtually every other Manager in the game.

    • 15 pitches per inning is a sold six to seven innings worth of work. I will take that every day of the week from a team’s #4/5 starter. He was not burning the bullpen.

      • He’s averaging 15.4 for the season. Last night was 17.33. And IMO, an extra inning of work would’ve been valuable.

        • If Morton goes 7 most nights, he isnt a 4th option he’s a solid #3 pitcher pitching 4th because our rotation is insane. I think expecting your 4th rotation arm to go 7 most nights is a good goal, but lofty. If the 1-3 limits bullpen usage to 1-2 innings most of the time, and the 4th man goes 6 regularly all is well.

          • 15.4 per inning would be OK. My original post wasn’t constructed/worded well – I had meant to note that he went way over that last night. Cole is at 15.4 (Locke 16.6, Frankie 15.1, AJ 14.7). But 17.33 would lead all of MLB in inefficiency.

            • Yeah he was struggling early on and it was obvious. Not his best, but im rather impressed he was able to limit damage and gut out 6.

          • We are paying him as a #3- regardless of the fact that he’s a #4 in our rotation

            • He’s been throwing out value of a #3, and i question if we are even paying him as a #3. He makes 8-9 million per year over the next 3 years. Thats cheap for a 1.5 WAR type pitcher. If one assume 1 WAR=6-7 million, he’s at worst fair value.

              Edinson Volquez made 5 million after being awful, and worked the market to make more than Charlie after that. We, imo, are getting Charlie at below market value and getting more production than his cost.

              • Pittsburgh is paying him the amount that Pittsburgh can afford to pay a #3 pitcher. I wasn’t aware I needed to be that specific, but I should have known better…… I don’t give a damn what the Yankees or Cubs pay their #3, for a small market team, he is being paid as a #3 starter.

                • By that logic, either AJ Burnett was paid 7 million to be a 4th SP or you are being stubborn and trying to fit logic where it isnt there.

                  • No…..Morton is being PAID like a #3 based on what we can afford to pay a #3 starter, we are paying AJ like a #2 to be our #3 pitcher, and we are paying LIriano like a #1 starter (again based on our ability to pay players) Cole isn’t paid like any starter, because he’s under team control and its irrelevant

                    • I think thats some mental gymnastics that is tough to even understand for you. I dont think what they paid Liriano is what they would pay any #1 starter, i dont see any reason for that. Thats total assumption

                    • They paid Liriano what they can afford to pay a top free agent pitcher, hence he is being paid as our #1. I can understand it, if you can’t…….just don’t reply. I dont think you are legally or morally bound to have a comeback for everything I say. This isn’t really a complicated concept

                  • You just aren’t following me…your assumptions regarding my line of logic are incorrect. If you look at his salary as a % of the team salary vs. actual dollar figures then it makes perfect sense when compared to what other teams play equal value players

            • Yeah, in 2015 an $8m/yr pitcher absolutely, positively is not a #3.

  • Gotta say it looks like ground chuck is finding his stride, so glad to see that as it stabilizes the bottom of the rotation, something any contender needs to get them to october. A true early test for the pirates is gonna come in the four game set against the cards. The bucs have to win three of four a split or series loss just won’t cut it, they need very much to play better againsts the central. (For the sabre guys that means a w on the left side of the box score, the only stat that really matters)

    • Disagree 2-2 split this weekend is the minimal goal as 4.5 out with 76 to go is readily achievable. Gaining ground would be great but not necessary.

    • 2-2 absolutely would be fine, considering we gained a ton of ground this last series. Being 3-4 back at the break isnt ideal but its well within striking range. You wanna win 3, but not losing the series should be considered okay. I’ve said many times that if we somehow manage to be within 4-5 at the break its amazing with STL playing 105 win pace baseball.

      • I would agree with you luke, except for this reason. The pirates have got to do better against the central, more specifically the cardinals if they want to have a chance to win the division. I’ve said many times you can’t win your division if you can’t beat your division.

        • Expecting us to take 3 of 4 with Harrison and Marte out is not really realistic, but its possible since the Cards have been on a bit of a slide.

          • STL also has their own injury issues, with no Waino-Holliday-fat dude at 1B-and possible a few games of no Wong this series.

            • Valid point Luke- Wainright is irrelevant as they have been playing without him all season, but Holliday and Wong does even it out somewhat

        • Which is neat and said by every rando announcer ever, but we continually play STL well. Splitting would just further go to prove that. Yes, you gotta win in the division. Because you gotta win games to win. This team has the talent to be fine in the division.

          • Big diff between playing well and winning. At the end of the year the only stat that matters is the won/lost line. Yes they have the talent to be fine in the division, actual results however to this point have not been very good.

            • Difference between playing well and winning against STL has been extras, so quiet literally 1 play per game going differently. Please argue that that proves anything. Yeah, im sure STL winning 3 straight walk offs proves how they are better than us, OR that we are two insanely close teams and they got a bit of fortune to win 3 straight in that fashion. They are one game better than us head to head, look out!

              • Did not say they are a better team than the pirates except in one very important area they won those games and we lost. Like I’ve said before the only stat that really matters is who won and who lost.