Charlie Morton‘s career thus far has been a series of fits and starts. It took him almost 4 years to find any kind of sustained success. A revamped delivery led to what appeared to be a breakthrough season in 2011. But then the dreaded UCL tear to the elbow and Tommy John Surgery in early 2012 followed. Give the Pirates some credit here. They refused to give up on the guy. Despite the injury they resigned Morton last offseason with the hopes he could rehab the injury and help the team by midseason. It worked out exactly as planned. Morton returned in June of 2013 and gave the Pirates’ rotation a lift that it desperately needed while A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez were on the shelf due to injuries. Morton was stellar in August and September. For the season he posted a 7-4 record in 20 starts with a very solid 3.26 ERA. The Pirates rewarded Morton in December with a 3 year contract extension worth $20 million.
Charlie Morton has evolved into an extreme ground ball pitcher over the last three seasons. He leads all starting pitchers in that time with a 59.6% ground ball rate. He has earned the nickname “Ground Chuck”. Charlie is a perfect fit to pitch in front of a Pirates defense that implements a lot of infield over shifts. So adept at generating ground balls is Morton that it even influences the makeup of the Pirates’ lineup on the days he starts. When Ground Chuck is on the hill SS Jordy Mercer tends to sit in favor of Clint Barmes, a superior defender but much lesser hitter.
There are two issues I’m concerned about with Charlie Morton. First is durability. The Pirates really could use an innings eater, but Morton does not appear to be that guy. Only once has he thrown more than 160 innings in a season. He doesn’t go deep into games either. In his career he has averaged just 89 pitches per start and has exceeded 100 pitches in only 22% of his outings. The second problem with Morton is his struggles against left-handed hitters. Lefties have mashed him to the tune of an .907 OPS over his career, though he did makes some strides in that department last year. Morton lacks an out pitch against lefties. He must pitch inside against to lefties to have any chance of backing them off of his sinker. Last year Morton led the league with 16 hit batters. 13 of those HBPs were against left-handed hitters, so it appears Morton has developed the willingness to attack the inner half of the plate that is needed for him to be successful against southpaw hitters.
Perhaps 2013 was the year Morton turned the corner. Maybe now we will see a more consistent Ground Chuck, one that can be respectable against lefties and pitch into the 7th inning more frequently. The Pirates are going to need that from Morton to get a return on their investment. If Morton pitches as well as he did last year the extension the Pirates gave him will end up being a great bargain.
Without further ado, here are the projected stats I am using as inputs for Wahoo’s on First Simple WAR Calculator For Pitchers to estimate the 2014 WAR for Charlie Morton:
Innings – 178
ERA/FIP/xFIP – 3.71
K/9 – 6.30
BB/9 – 3.00
Note: Using League ERA adjusted for Park Factors of 3.80
And the verdict for Charlie Morton’s 2014 WAR is… 2.7