By John Perrotto
Charlie Morton, in the estimation of one major-league general manager, is “a scout’s pitcher.”
“He’s one of those guys that the scouts love because he lights up the radar gun and has so much raw ability,” the GM said. “Put him in a game against major-league hitters, though, and he can’t get anyone out.”
That was certainly the case with the Pirates right-hander at the beginning of the season when he went 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA in 10 starts before being placed on the disabled list with what was described as shoulder fatigue then eventually being optioned to Indianapolis.
Of course, if either general manager Neal Huntington or manager John Russell was Pinocchio, their noses would have started growing when they tried to pass off Morton’s ailment as shoulder fatigue. He did not have an arm problem. Instead of spending time in the trainer’s room, Morton had extensive meetings with the team’s sport psychologists in an effort to rebuild his confidence.
As the GM who spoke under the condition of anonymity said,
Morton has plenty of natural ability. His fastball has averaged 92.8 mph in the major leagues this season and his slider has averaged 83.1. His curveball has a big break and his changeup is at least serviceable.
Yet hitters have been able to square up Morton’s pitches all season. Just barely less one-quarter of all batted balls off Morton, 24.9 percent to be exact, have been line drives.
Morton’s problems have stemmed from his inability to attack hitters and finish them off. He has retired just 54 percent of the first batters he has faced in an inning, well below the major-league average of 76 percent. Furthermore, he has retired just 65 percent of the hitters he has gotten to two strikes on, well below the 73 percent average.
Morton went a lackluster 4-4 with a 3.82 ERA in 14 starts with Indianapolis then looked worse than ever Sunday when he was recalled to take injured Ross Ohlendorf’s spot in the rotation and was hammered by the Brewers in an 8-4 loss at Milwaukee. Morton gave up eight runs, seven earned, on nine hits in 3 1/3 innings.
Morton threw first-pitch strikes to just eight of the 21 batters he faced and eight of the nine hits he allowed were considered well hit. He also got hitters to swing and miss on just three of 18 pitches when he was ahead in the count.
Considering the Pirates have so few options, they have no choice to keep Morton in the rotation. He will start again Saturday against the Washington Nationals at PNC Park.
—John Perrotto is editor-in-chief of BaseballProspectus.com and baseball columnist at the Beaver County Times—