Pirates Lose Divisional Race, While Questions Loom for Charlie Morton

PITTSBURGH — St. Louis jumped on Charlie Morton early, and Tyler Lyons stymied the Pirates’ offense as the Cardinals trounced the Pirates 11-1, earning a split of today’s day-night double-header and clinching the NL Central division title. The Pirates’ loss likely assured them of their third straight second-place finish.

The Cardinals’ offense needed little time to get things started as they were able to solve Morton early. Matt Carpenter led off the game with a triple, and later scored when Morton induced a groundball double play. The inning didn’t end there, as Jason Heyward ripped a single to right field and scored on a Matt Adams double off of the Clemente Wall to give the Cardinals an early 2-0 lead.

Morton’s struggles continued into the third inning. Carpenter doubled to lead off the inning, Jon Jay was then hit by a pitch for the second time in as many as bats, and Jhonny Peralta walked to load the bases with one out. With lefty Jason Heyward coming up to bat, Clint Hurdle wasted no time turning to his bullpen. The early hook to Morton did not stop the bleeding, however, as left reliever Bobby LaFromboise promptly gave up a grand slam to Heyward, extending the Cardinals lead to an insurmountable 6-0.

That was all the Cardinals would need on this night, as Cardinals’ starter Lyons easily navigated through seven scoreless innings. The Pirates’ bats produced just six hits and one insignificant run against the Cardinals tonight. The Cardinals added five more runs off of the trio of Arquimedes Caminero, Vance Worley and Rob Scahill to finish the night with 11 runs.

Morton Struggles Against Lefties Continue

Charlie Morton’s struggles against left-handed hitters continued tonight, as Cardinal lefties (not including pitcher Tyler Lyons) went 4-for-5 with a triple and two doubles. Morton also hit lefty Jon Jay twice, once with a back door curveball and the other with a sinker that sailed too far inside.

Morton’s inconsistencies this season have had a direct correlation to his effectiveness against left-handed hitters.

MortonvsLefties1

It is not uncommon for a sinkerball pitcher to have noticeable platoon splits against opposite-handed hitters, however Morton’s splits are especially alarming. Lefties have been feasting on his sinker more often than not this season. As seen in the graphic above, Morton’s most productive months came in May and August. It’s no coincidence that in those months, left-handers batted .250 and .286 off of his sinker, according to Brooks Baseball. During the months in which he’s struggled, however, lefties have crushed the offering. In September, lefties were hitting his sinker at a .347 clip going into tonight’s start.

What has been puzzling to Morton is that his command of his sinker has not always been the issue. Morton believes that lefties are recognizing the pitch out of his hand far too easily, leaving him with marginal room for error with his location.

“I think there is going to have to be some revisiting, because I’ve gotta buy myself some wiggle room,” a dejected Morton said after the game. “I can’t be coming back here and doubting myself over missing a spot by three inches, two inches. It can’t be like that, there has got to be something that I can buy myself the room with on my delivery.”

Whether it is adding another pitch to his repertoire that will make him more effective against left-handed batters, or if it is an adjustment to his delivery that will to add more deception, it’s an issue that Morton plans to address this off-season.

“[Ray Searage and I] already discussed incorporating a hard slider, a cutter – which I’ve done in the past,” Morton said. “I scrapped [the cutter] because, after Tommy John, I was more focused on my arm-action and my delivery, but there has got to be something.”

It is probable that tonight was Morton’s last start of the 2015 season. He is under contract with the Pirates through 2016, so it is likely that he will be back with the club next year. How Morton ultimately decides to combat left-handed hitters going into next season will be a story to watch.

No Changes to Weekends’ Rotation

The Pirates aspirations for a division title have officially come to an end, but they still have not clinched home field advantage for the Wild Card game against the Cubs on October 7th – their magic number to do so is two.

According to Hurdle, the rotation that he presented before tonight’s game for the final series against the Reds will not be changed despite tonight’s loss. Francisco Liriano will pitch Friday, A.J. Burnett will pitch Saturday, and J.A. Happ will close out the regular season schedule on Sunday afternoon.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    October 2, 2015 10:44 am

    There are no questions…its way past the time to let Morton go and move on. He will never be more than he is – which is not very good. If they bring him back (and/or Locke) to the rotation next year, that tells me a lot about this FO and management team.

  • Hopefully this was the last time we see Morton pitch for the Pirates. I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear in another few weeks that he was pitching with another injury. With AJ retiring getting rid of Morton would free up $16 mil. Morton has never put together more than 2 months in any season.
    BTW Flacco reminds me of Wacha.

  • BallHeadWonder
    October 1, 2015 1:43 pm

    We are missing the Big Picture here!!! What we need to worry about is not LOSING UNCLE RAY!!!! That would be a Cat 5 Hurricane if he were to roll out. Nutting, Coonelly and Huntington need to back the Brinks Truck up for Uncle Ray and Jim Benedict. Priceless to this Organization!!

  • What a great opportunity last night to show he was a true competitor and he flopped! I’ve never like Morton because he’s done nothing and this just solidifies my position. He certainly can’t be on playoff roster or the Bucs in 2016.

    • Morton should have been pulled after 15 pitches in the first inning. He needed to be gone before he set up the grand slam for LaFramboise.

  • Interesting comments from Charlie. Before I even read that, I posted similar thoughts over on BD. He’s getting belted on some pretty good pitches, like the Carpenter triple, Heyward single and Adams double, all of which came from the same release point, had nice movement and were in excellent locations. So it’s not like he’s throwing crap out there, it really does seem like LH batters have to be seeing him exceptionally well.

    There’s still a lot of talent in that arm. Question is whether he’s lost the confidence of his teammates and coaching staff. If Searage thinks he can do something, I’d say let him try.

    • I am guessing with Morton signed through next year he will be back…but I would entertain dealing him if you get something ok back which I doubt. Should be plenty of options back next year. Sadler, cumpton, taillon, kingham…plus Locke still around. I don’t know, he’s probably better as first half insurance and then hopefully he has a lucky 3.50 era and they can deal him when taillon and Glasnow or kingham are ready.

  • I have very seldom criticized game condition management decisions, but to bring a AAAA reliever in a game in that situation was one of the most baffling moves I have seen in a long time. And this from a Manager that supposedly has little use for matchup relievers. Was he saving Bastardo ? Too early for Watson ? Everyone watching that game knew the game was on the line right there. Everyone but Hurdle. Still SMFH.

    • Well, he did only take 12 pitches to get three outs and only gave up one hit.

      /sarcasm

    • I turned off the game when Clint brought in LaFramboise – Should have been Watson at that point – get the left handed bat out with your best. Must win game calls for more than AAAA talent.

      • I’m with you brother ! I sent my brother a text that said ” this game could be over right now “. 1 pitch later my text said ” I told you “. Thinking about it even now has me SMH.

    • I’m with you here Walter- Hurdle never has the quick hook, i’m glad he did, but honestly if you are bringing in someone there, you bring in a ground ball pitcher- In this case that is Hughes, or you just go ahead and put in your long reliever Blanton right there. It wouldn’t have mattered either way, but its still not a good move

  • Morton just isn’t good. He never has been good. He doesn’t have the mental make up to succeed in big games as a pitcher. I wish he could locate his pitchers in time of need but he just can’t. What to do with him? Not sure at this point. I don’t see another pitch making a difference if he can’t locate that pitch any better then he locates his pitches now. If you start him every 5th day you are doing a disservice to the rest of the team. You will get nothing for him in a trade and would likely a have to eat a large portion of his salary. This is just one of those mistakes thats hard to get away from. To change the subject if WAR suggest Morton has value above replacement then their is a serious flaw in the calculations of WAR

  • All I can say is thank God we don’t have to watch another start from Charlie Morton or Jeff Locke for the rest of the season!

  • Still excited about this opportunity. It should be at PNC park and if the team plays to it’s potential then we’ll have another opportunity to beat the Cards. The team has all the opportunity still in front of them.

  • I don’t seel how this team doesn’t resign Happ and go after another starter in the offseason with Morton and Locke needing to be in the rotation to start the year. We have talent but these two give us almost no chance to win night in and night out. Morton even had extra rest coming into tonight and didn’t give us a shot from the start. Disgusting performance.

  • Polanco needs to be traded now as he is in my mind a huge disappointment .250 BA 9 HR and has cost the Pirates at least 5 games with his horrible base running and bone headed fielding errors. He is always going to be clumsy with his gangly body and I can see him costing this team in big games. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if he does something in the field or on the bases to cause them to lose the wild card game. Here’s hoping that I’m very wrong about that.

    • Rediculous post. Polanco is one of the primary reasons the team is in this position today, even as his statistics in his first full year are average he has been consistently one of the more clutch players on the team. His fielding will progress, his baserunning may be something the team needs to work on with him in the offseason. For that matter I can think of several other players who need work on that aspect.

      • Though I agree with most of your comment Brian, I might point out that Polanco is the leading base runner by far on a team that is the 6th best base running team in MLB.

      • The Pirate coaching staff needs to tell Polanco to let his base coaches do their job. Everytime he’s on the base paths, he looking for the ball and not his coaches. They have to get the kid to watch his coaches.

        • Which is literally the opposite of what coaches teach kids in fundamental baserunning. No, you dont blindly pick up the coach at all times and defer to them. If the play is in front of you and you can see the ball, its the runners call. Base coach wouldnt be needed if the runner could see every play in front of him.

          I dont know a single coach i played for or coached with that ever was happy when a player just blindly deferred to a base coach if the player could see the ball still. Base coach is there for helping a player know where the ball is and when a ball isnt in sight, not to always be making the call.

          • Not to mention, Sofield isn’t exactly a guy I would be deferring to if I’m a base runner. How bout the play with Morse last night? Absurd. “Go, Stop, Go, no wait Stop. Oh shit you should have gone, my bad.”

          • Funny that’s the exact opposite of what i learned…..no wonder we always argue luke. Where exactly did you play baseball again?

          • when the ball is behind you, you pick up you coach. Looking back half way to third is bad base running.

    • You might be a lot better off worrying whether Andrew McCutchen will make any positive contribution in the WC game, whether it be offensively or defensively. It looks to me like both he and Marte could show up in a positive context sometime soon.

      • Cutch is just as likely or more likely currently to K 3 times than Pedro is, the way he’s looked at the plate lately, and Cutch sure as hell isn’t going to ever beat out a ground ball, at least when Marte is struggling he still gets infield hits and steals bases

    • I can think of many instances of Polanco winning the Pirates games as well. He’s starting to figure it out now. He hit .278 with 28 RBI from the leadoff spot in the second half. Yes, he still has issues. But he’s 24 years old in his first full season. Give the kid a break.

    • If comments sections existed in 1957, you would have advocated trading the Pirates young outfielder who just hit .253/288/348 . Bobby something…as I recall

      • That’s dumb. Since its before the advent of free agency and multi million dollar deals, the subject matter would be limited.

        Sorry I hate posts like these. Ignores too many variables.

    • We would lose that great arm in right field which has thrown out runners attempting to score. He is still young and will improve running bases. His hitting will improve with drag bunting. Be patient.

    • wth are you even talking about? He is awkward and clumsy unfortunately….and i think he always will be, but that’s not a big issue. It’s a rash on a supermodel. Get over it.

    • “Polanco needs to be traded now”

      Did anybody read anymore than this? Its amazing how clueless people are.

  • the Pirates lost the division on the first series of the year in Cinci and then with the first series after the all star break against the lowly Brewers 0-6 in those games. So 2 bad starts did them in.

  • I say trade Chah-lie this offseason. He’s a likeable guy and I’ve rooted for him but a contender can’t keep running him out there. I think the Bucs should bring back Happ and sign an under the radar guy (Samardzija on a 1yr/$14MM deal? Hey, a guy can dream right…) and then use the 5 spot for a guy within the organization (Locke/Worley/Taillon?).

    • I am not a huge Morton fan. I always hear that he has electric stuff in his bullpens. Well my stuff looks great also when there isn’t someone trying to hit it. I am all for trading him, the thing that no thinks of who is going to want him. NH can’t call up a team and say ” I have a bag of Manure will you give me a bag of gold.” No GM is going to be like oh let me give you our number 2 for him. The Pirates also can’t afford to eat $14 mill. We are stuck with him he just needs to be a 5. The Locke would be easier to trade due to low salary and some success.

      • His contract is $7MM next year. Worse pitchers are paid more. I bet a pitching poor team will trade away a C Prospect to get him. One of my co-workers asked me why Worley wasn’t pitching instead. I said because they have less confidence in him. Morton has good stuff but bad command. Worley has decent command but bad stuff. Combined they’d make a decent pitcher. I think the thing with Worley is that he has a higher floor but both Morton and Locke are more talented. I think Locke will end up having the best career of the 3 when it’s all said and done. I could see him having a Kyle Lohse or Ted Lilly late career renaissance.

        • Guys crying about Morton’s contract apparently haven’t been paying much attention to cost escalation over the last decade or so.

          • Well said. If they want to move Morton to make room for another arm (and get some salary relief while doing so or in order to do so) they could easily move Morton for a low level prospect. He’s not great, but if PGH pays 2-3 million of his deal another team would take Morton level WAR for 4-5 million.

    • There is not much likeable about Morton, on or off the field. He can’t lay down a gadarn bunt to help himself, can’t hit, can’t express himself vocally, can’t pitch under any pressure, i just don’t like him….at all. I like him less when he pitches poorly

  • I’m sure some will disagree with this statement but its just my opinion…

    Do not overpay for Happ because of Locke and Mortons shortcomings.

    • I don’t think they’ll need to overpay Happ. The Pirates are a proven contender and he’s having success here that he didn’t have elsewhere.

      • I think Happ will be overpayed by someone.

        • A first time FA age 31 journeyman pitcher is a very long shot to be overpaid by any organization.

          • What about Brandon McCarthy, Ervin Santana, and James Shields?

            • You mean actual good pitchers?

              • No, I mean they are overpaid.

                • James Shields is/was in no way a “journeyman” pitcher

                  • Where did I say he was a journeyman? The question was teams don’t overpay 1st time 31 year old free agents. That’s BS with a capital B.

                    • arthur, that comment specifically said journeyman 1st time 31 year old free agents, you might want to re-read it.

              • I guess my stance is, I dont want them to go 4 years into 40 millon dollar territory or more, and then have buyers remorse with a guy who has a career 4.2 FIP.

                In the name of Robert Smizik, thank god Travis Snider wasnt a UFA in 2014. 🙂

                • Right, but the *reason* those guys got what they did was because they were actually good at one time or another.

                  • Don’t see why you don’t see the glass as half full with Happ. His performance with t he Pirates has been fine. Didn’t Arrieta put up marginal perfomance for awhile before becomING exceptional? Note that I am not comparing their stuff, just the step change in results. Maybe Happ has figured something out. With the Pirates he was getting people out by throwing strikes and pitching. No reason he can’t do it again in 2016.

              • Ervin Santana might be the furthest thing from a good pitcher in all of baseball

              • Why am I getting the sneaking suspicion that you’re gonna be all-in for signing Mat Latos?

            • Track record of those 3 vs. Happ’s ????

              • Right now? Or when they hit the market?

                Which is my whole point.

                • Their career track record. That’s how and why FA pitchers get paid maybe ? I am starting to wonder what your whole point is.

                  • I said I think Happ will be overpaid. You said 31, 32 year old free agent pitchers don’t get overpaid. I cited three examples of guys that age who were overpaid this past offseason.

                    Let’s just call it day and see what they do with Happ.

    • What do you consider an “overpay”? Happ v Morton past 3 years: 5.1 WAR vs 4.0 WAR. Past 5 years: 7.0 vs 6.1.

      So let’s say Happ is worth 1.4-1.7 WAR to the Pirates. Under current valuations, that’s $9-$10 million/year minimum. Considering Locke is Locke and none of Taillon/Glasnow/Kingham is a LHP, there seems to be pretty solid rationale for signing Happ to something like 3/$27, maybe 3/$30, IMO.

      • I think he gets better than 3/30. And simply put, because there is a ton of money in the game right now, and as always, not enough good pitching to go around.

        And this version of Happ, has literally never existed before this year. Sorry, but my gut tells me the yinzer math on this is all wrong. “We need Happ because Morton and Locke suck, AJs retiring and none of our AAA arms are ready.” My gut tells me what he will cost, what everyone expects and how he will actually pitch will be three different things. Hopefully you’re right and im wrong.

        • I have to say that as impressed as I was with Happ on Monday (and still pissed off Hurdle took him out), having Tyler F’n Lyons do pretty much the same to the Bucs last night took some of the sheen off Happ’s night. It’s Tyler F’n Lyons. He’s not that good.

          • No argument there, brother. The approach against some rookies and journeymen arms this year has been frustrating. And the Reds bring a bunch of kids in here Friday.

  • Morton was a very solid performer in 2013/14 for the most part. He’s been awful the last 2 months. For some reason I’m not optimistic he returns to form next year.

    • Morton had a solid second half of 2013, and the Pirates signed him for 3 yr/$21 mil. Still waiting for that type of performance. Morton & Locke are always mentioned together, but Morton is making $8 mil while Locke is making $500K. This franchise cannot justify that. It sounds like after 2014 and 2015, he is still guessing

      • $8M for Morton isn’t justifiable at all…we will need that money elsewhere with raises some players will get. Morton needs gone and Locke, while not expensive, does not give a very talented team a chance to win very often.

        • Locke doesn’t give a very talented team a chance to win very often? What is your description of “chance to win very often. I went through a game log and found 13 starts where he didn’t give us a chance to win, I used an arbitrary amount of at least 5 innings and no more than 3 runs, or 4 runs if 7 innings or more. He gave us a chance to win 17 out of 30 games. He only had 11 quality starts, but he had 3 more where he didn’t make it through 6, but only allowed 1 or 0 runs, so you certainly CAN’T say those didn’t give us the chance to win. If you want to quibble, he gives us a reasonably decent chance of winning about half the time……for 500K, you aren’t going to do better

      • I couldn’t agree more
        I didn’t think that contract was warranted then and definitely not now. How nice does Volquez contract look today after another fine performance last night and a quality season?
        We were the ones that “fixed” him for God’s sake !

  • I hate to say this but I am afraid that there are deeper questions for Morton and the Pirates to contend with than whether he should be “adding a cutter”. As I am sure he would be the first to admit, he has been “maddeningly inconsistent”, with probably better “stuff” than his record would suggest. However this inconsistency has been going on for years now. And I was not surprised to see that he literally got “bombed” in a critical game (the Pirates were still in it, small as the “chance” might have been). Compare outings by JA Happ and Cole – the comparison comes just from writing the sentence! One has to wonder how much longer the Pirates can “live” with the kind of inconsistency they had from Morton and Locke this year. Their bad outings alone could be considered the difference between a 3rd straight year in second place and the WC. If I were NH, I would be considering what returns I might get for Morton, Locke & Worley (probably not a lot for any, if Worley isn’t a FA which he may be (??). I also do not like the idea of starting 2016 with Morse as the primary option at 1b (I would be looking at trade options with teams like Texas that have long term fixtures at 1b or maybe going outside the box & getting Bell up early on an extension.. So the 2016 rotation looks to me like Cole (ace), Liriano (fantastic when he’s on) and hopefully they re-sign Happ – and beyond that, ??? marks!

  • I’ve always liked Morton, but he just doesn’t seem to be able to get it together. With the Pirates facing the loss of AJ, the only strong starters going into next season are Frankie and Cole. Small market teams can’t afford to turn over 3/5 of their rotation…even 2/5 is rough…so, who gets the nod out of camp next season? Locke or Morton?

    Heck, even picking one of them means the other two spots are…maybe Happ? (and, before you say…yeah! Happ! just remember how everyone was excited about) Worley (this time last year)? Liz? A reclamation project? A rookie?

    The Bucs have turned wonders with their rotation the last three seasons…next year might be the most challenging.

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