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

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