Pirates re-sign Morton, non-tender Karstens

The tender/non-tender deadline was Friday at midnight, and the Bucs had decisions to make on several players. They dealt Chris Resop, who was a non-tender candidate, and Yamaico Navarro earlier in the evening.

It surfaced yesterday afternoon that the club was going to non-tender Jeff Karstens. This one was a bit confusing as he’s a pretty reliable pitcher, despite a few injuries. Regardless, the Bucs decided to cut ties with him after five seasons. The longest-tenured player is now Andrew McCutchen, who debuted in June of 2009.

The team also re-signed Charlie Morton to a one year, $2 million deal. Morton, who went 2-6 with a 4.65 ERA before hitting the disabled list, will be out until midseason. He made $2.445 million last season, so he is taking a bit of a pay cut to remain with the team.

Finally, the Pirates tendered contracts to five other players: Neil Walker, James McDonald, Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones, and Gaby Sanchez.

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MLBTR: Pirates Arbitration Eligibles

MLB Trade Rumors takes a look at the Pirates arbitration eligible players. The article is to-the-point and informative; here it is in full length:

“The Pirates are next in our 2013 Arbitration Eligibles series.  Matt Swartz’s salary projections are below.

Hanrahan remains an asset for the Pirates, though this year’s return to a big-time strikeout rate came with the unwanted side effects of a high walk rate and a lot of flyballs.  On the surface, the Bucs have a guy who’s converted 76 of 84 save opportunities the last two years with a 2.24 ERA and two All-Star game appearances.  Hanrahan will be entering his walk year.  With draft pick compensation for relievers mostly a thing of the past, GM Neal Huntington has to decide whether to trade Hanrahan or extend him in the neighborhood of $10MM per free agent year.

Elsewhere in the bullpen there’s Resop, who added groundballs this year at the expense of strikeouts.  The 29-year-old is hittable yet serviceable, and he’s not terribly expensive.

The Pirates have three arbitration eligible starting pitchers.  McDonald’s ERA sat at 2.37 after a July 7th win; through 110 innings it seemed as if he’d turned a corner.  He was brutal over his next 13 outings, with a 7.52 ERA in 61 frames.  It was an odd season, but McDonald is expected to begin next year back in the Pirates’ rotation.  Now is not the time to consider trading or extending him.

Morton had hip surgery a year ago, but was able to make his season debut in mid-April.  He lasted only nine starts before succumbing to Tommy John surgery.  He has to be considered a non-tender candidate, as otherwise the Pirates would have to pay him a projected $2.6MM in 2012 to pitch at most three months.  Huntington must decide the value of the chance to control Morton for the 2014 season.  The GM was noncommittal on the subject of Karstens, who had an injury-shortened 2012 as well.  Since Karstens finished the season healthy, he might be on firmer ground than Morton.

Jones needs a platoon partner, but he did hit .289/.332/.556 with 25 home runs in 434 plate appearances against right-handed pitching.  I think he’s safe, though this could be the last raise the Pirates are willing to give him.  Walker had another nice year, and the Pirates have flirted with extending the Pittsburgh native before.  In March, I suggested five years and $27MM for the Super Two second baseman.

The Pirates acquired Sanchez from the Marlins at the July trade deadline.  The 29-year-old was better for the Bucs, but still fell well short of the production of a typical starting first baseman.  There’s a decent chance he’s non-tendered.

If only Hanrahan, Jones, Karstens, McDonald, Walker, and Resop are retained, the Pirates would be looking at an estimated $22.3MM for six arbitration eligible players.

Matt Swartz’s arbitration projections are available exclusively at MLB Trade Rumors.  To read more about his projection model, check out this series of posts.

For more, visit MLB Trade Rumors.

What’s Wrong With Charlie Morton?

Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton is off to a slow start in 2012, and has now been placed on the disabled list. Many believe that Morton is not actually hurt, since the Pirates want him to get time in Indianapolis, but he has no options remaining. Nevertheless, “Ground Chuck” is struggling to get batters out this season. His “electric stuff” is nowhere to be found.

After an abysmal 2010 season, in which Morton went 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA, pitching coach Ray Searage came onto the scene and reconfigured Charlie’s pitching to the point where he was drawing comparisons to Roy Halladay:

He came back last season and went 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA. Although he performed well in many starts, he also had some rough outings, including a 10-3 loss to the one and only Roy Halladay. To start the 2012 season, he is just 2-6 with a 4.65 ERA in 9 starts.

Here’s a breakdown of Morton’s pitch selection over the last three seasons:

2010
Morton featured six different pitches: fourseam, sinker, cutter, slider, curveball, and changeup. His frequency of those pitches in 2010:
fourseam – 32%
sinker – 27%
cutter – 3%
slider – 9%
curveball – 18%
changeup – 10%

2011
Morton eliminated the slider from his repetoire, but retained the  fourseam, sinker, cutter, curveball, and changeup. His frequency of these five pitches in 2011:
fourseam – 9%
sinker – 61%
cutter – 6%
curveball – 16%
changeup – 7%

2012
Morton has kept the same five pitches from 2011. His frequency of those pitches to start this season:
fourseam – 10%
sinker – 41%
cutter – 17%
curveball – 24%
changeup – 7%

Besides eliminating his slider from 2010 to 2011, Morton also drastically changed the frequencies of his fastball and sinker. He used his fourseam 23% less, while using his sinker 34% more. However, Charlie is using his sinker 20% less this season, and relying more on his cutter and curveball.

Here’s a look at Morton’s ratio of swings to whiffs over the past three seasons:

2010
44.96% swings / 10.75% whiffs

2011
43.16% swings / 8.6% whiffs

2012
46.14% swings / 7.71% whiffs

Surprisingly, Morton generated more swing and misses in 2010, which is when he got beaten the worst. However, you can see that batters are swinging at more of his pitches this season and also whiffing at a lower percentage.

One possible thought is that he is facing more lefties this season. He had greater success vs. right-handed batters in 2011 due to his increase in sinker. As a righty, his sinker runs down-and-in to righty batters. As a result, they were being jammed and breaking a lot of bats. For lefty batters, the sinker looks like a nice pitch as it breaks right over the plate. This could also be why he is throwing 20% less of the sinker in 2012.

No matter what he is currently struggling with, Morton is an important piece of the pitching staff. The Pirates have received solid contributions from A.J. Burnett, Erik Bedard, and James McDonald. Morton and Kevin Correia are struggling at the back-end of the rotation. The difference between the two is that this is Correia’s last year of his contract, while Morton still has a few years left in Pittsburgh. Hopefully Charlie can figure out his problems and provide some consistency to the Bucs’ rotation.

Go Bucs

Spring Training Update: Week 2

Sunday, February 26 – Saturday, March 3

Sunday 2-26
- Charlie Morton threw a bullpen session. He appears to be on schedule with his rehab.

(Video by Bill Brink of the Post-Gazette)

- The Pirates took part in their photo day for pictures/videos to be used on the PNC Park scoreboard this season:

Monday 2-27
- Notable pitchers that threw live BP: Erik Bedard, Joel Hanrahan, Tony Watson, James McDonald, etc.

Jeff Karstens working on bunting

 - The Pirates are willing to work out a multiyear deal for Andrew McCutchen.

Tuesday 2-28
- Notable pitchers to throw live BP: A.J. Burnett, Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia, Gerrit Cole, etc.

Erik Bedard works on baserunning. Euclides Rojas looks on.

- A.J. Burnett has started a college fund for Daniel McCutchen’s daughter in exchange for the number 34.

Wednesday 2-29
- Charlie Morton threw live batting practice for the first time this spring.

- The pitchers continued their bunting competition:

- During the bunting competition, A.J. Burnett bunted a ball into his right eye socket, forcing him to return to Pittsburgh for further examination. 

Thursday 3-1
- Brad Lincoln won the bunting championship:

- A.J. Burnett will undergo surgery on Friday to repair his right-eye orbital fracture, which was suffered on Wednesday.

- Thursday was the last day at Pirate City for the big league team. They will move over to McKechnie Field for the remainder of spring training.

- After a short day, the team participated in a charity golf outing at the Bradenton Country Club:

Friday 3-2
- Lineups from Friday’s intrasquad scrimmage:

Team Black Team Yellow
Presley, LF Tabata, RF
Barmes, SS Harrison, 2B
McLouth, CF McCutchen, CF
Walker, 2B Jones, 1B
Evans, 3B McGehee, DH
Boggs, RF Alvarez, 3B
Hague, 1B Navarro, SS
Clement, DH Hernandez, LF
McKenry, C Fryer, C
   
Karstens, SP Correia, SP

- The game ended in a 4-4 tie. Highlights: Andrew McCutchen went 2-for-2 with a double and 2 SB. Chase d’Arnaud and Starling Marte both hit triples in the game. Tony Sanchez hit a 3-run homer.

Gerrit Cole pitched a scoreless inning for the Gold Team

- After surgery, it has been decided that A.J. Burnett will be sidelined for 8-12 weeks. Cursed?

Saturday 3-3
- The Pirates agreed to terms with 25 players, all one-year deals, including Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker.

- The Pirates dropped their Grapefruit League opener to the Blue-Jays, 7-1. The Bucs collected just three hits on the day: Michael McKenry RBI single, Gorkys Hernandez single, and Starling Marte double. On the mound, McDonald gave up 2 runs, Watson 3, Leroux 1, and D. McCutchen 1.

Despite the poor performance in the spring debut, it’s great to have Pirates baseball back in action. 33 days until Opening Day in Pittsburgh.

Go Bucs