The Pirates’ likely number four starter stated that he feels optimistic about his recovery progress and he has experienced no set backs to date. Morton threw two separate mound sessions recently at 30 and 50 pitches. He felt strong afterwards and noted that he felt no ill-effects. It seems as if his chances to start the season in the rotation is beginning to gain momentum.
Back when Neal Huntington engineered the deal, or should I say ‘the steal’, of Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, and Gorkys Hernandez in exchange for Nate McLouth no one really know what the future would hold for the six-foot-five sinker-baller. Most people just complained that Nate McLouth was traded without taking an honest look at what the Pirates were getting back. It still makes me laugh.
Since the pilfer, Morton has steadily progressed under the tutelage of the Pitcher Whisperer Ray Searage and has developed into a an above average middle to late rotation starter. In his first full season with the Pirates (2011) Morton showed that he belonged in the majors by throwing 171 innings with a 3.83 ERA and a 10-10 record. He earned the ‘breakout player of the year’ award for the Pirates and cemented his presence in Pittsburgh
In fact, in three of the last four years Morton’s ERA has been under 3.83, and he has displayed an under-the-radar consistency that many fans and analysts just don’t notice. Morton has become almost a non-factor with Pirate fans. He is often a side note or an afterthought when talking about the rotation and he never really gets much of the attention sitting behind Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and now A.J. Burnett in the pecking order. It’s fair to say that even Jeff Locke and Vance Worley get more press time than Morton.
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Maybe it’s because Morton hasn’t been able to put together a true ‘full season’ on the mound since he’s been with the team. He’s yet to throw more than 171 innings and he’s often missing from the rotation. Over the last four years Charlie Morton has only averaged about 123 innings per year and his health moving into 2015 is again a concern for the Pirates. Morton is coming off his second hip surgery. Back in 2010 he had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip and this offseason he had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip. On top of his two grandma hips, Morton also had Tommy John surgery in 2012 after being shut down early that season. That’s three surgeries in the last four seasons for the Pirates’ hurler. I’m no doctor, but I’m guessing that isn’t good.
Morton is entering into his second season of a three year contract with the Pirates that will pay him $8m in 2015. The investment by Huntington was questioned by many as a bit of stretch considering the injury issues that have plagued him throughout his career. Morton is 31 this year and it would be a BOLD prediction to expect a full year on the mound this season, but he’s shown a resiliency in coming back from surgeries in that past and I don’t see how this year will be much different.
Last season he was one of the most consistent pitchers in the rotation despite getting off to a slow start in April along with the rest of the Pirates. After an ERA of 4.35 in April, over the next three months he bounced back with consecutive ERA’s of 2.41 in May, 3.66 in June, and 3.89 in July throwing a full workload in every month. After being briefly shut down in August due to right hip inflammation, Morton finished strong by throwing 5 innings of shutout baseball against the Red Sox in a very important September match up that helped propel that Pirates into the Wild Card.
It’s imperative the Morton is able to give the Pirates 25-30 starts in 2015. We can’t expect him to go out and throw 200 innings, but he has the ability to be an extremely high end back of the rotation starter which is something a lot of major league ball clubs simply do not have.
Morton’s importance to the Pirate’s is significant for that reason. If your fourth starter every 5 days is able to put up a sub 3.75 ERA and garner 10-15 wins on the season, that is an invaluable contribution. Charlie Morton has floated right above average nearly every year he’s been in the majors and has flirted with greatness on occasion. The Pirates don’t need him to be great. They just need him to be good. And he will be. Look for Morton to throw 160-170 innings this year with an ERA somewhere around 3.60 and a 12-8 record.
How many teams can say that with confidence about their number four starter?