The offseason is unfortunately here and so we are simultaneously tasked with reflecting on the 2015 season and looking forward to next spring. As part of Rumbunter’s off-season coverage, we will be grading out virtually every member of the Pittsburgh Pirates who spent substantial time on the team’s 25-man roster over the past season. We will look at their seasons as a whole, show you their relevant stats, and assign a final grade to each player.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a busy offseason upcoming, although most of baseball fandom is focused on the playoffs still. The Blue Jays and the Cubs have captivated the baseball world, while us Pirate fans are left wondering what could have been. Fortunately, we have a fantastic regular season to reflect on and evaluate. We press onward with our season player grades for 2015, and one of these players that didn’t contribute very positively to the Pirates’ 98-win effort was Charlie Morton. After performing relatively well in 2013, the Pirates signed Morton to a three-year, $21 million extension, keeping him with the team through 2017. Morton followed up his 2013 campaign (3.26 ERA, 1.28 WHIP) with a solid 2014, posting a 3.72 ERA while pitching 150+ innings for just the second time in his career.
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Needless to say, fans were hoping to see this solid Morton again in 2015. Unfortunately, the wheels seemed to come off this year. For starters, Morton had a terrible spring training in which he posted a 8.47 ERA, the worst of any Pirates’ starter. His poor spring culminated with a spot on the disabled list, partially due to his horrid spring performance and partially due to his elongated recovery from offseason hip surgery. Morton has had injury issues throughout his career, so this news probably came as no surprise to many Pirate fans.
With struggles from Jeff Locke and Vance Worley early on, fans were relieved to get Morton back in the rotation at the end of May. And he got off to a great start, posting a 1.62 ERA through his first five outings. But that fast start didn’t last long, and he quickly went downhill. That early start was deceiving, probably because he faced five teams that finished in the bottom third of baseball in runs scored, and each of which finished with a losing record. We can point to a fateful June 21st start against the Nationals as the point which flipped Morton’s season on its head. In that start, Morton allowed nine earned runs in just 2/3 of an inning. In 17 starts from that point onward, Morton only pitched more than six innings once and allowed less than two earned runs just three times. He left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth with a terrible September in which he posted a 7.66 ERA. And to top his season off, Morton allowed five runs in just two innings of work in his last start of the season against the Cardinals when the Pirates were trying to keep their hopes of winning the division alive. It was in that outing that the Cardinals officially claimed the NL Central title for the third consecutive season.
Here are the stats that Morton put up across the entirety of 2015:
Morton posted his worst ERA and his worst WAR (-0.7 per ESPN) since 2010. Outside of his numbers, Morton never showed the ability to shut down a team that he could do in the past from time to time. He used to be electric at times, but he arguably only had one or two of those types of starts after his terrible outing in Washington on June 21st. And for as much hate as Jeff Locke gets from Pirate fans, Morton finished with the worst ERA on the starting staff. Aside from his start to the season, Morton never showed signs of injury or fatigue, nor did he ever really complain or make it known that he felt any sort of pain or discomfort at any point in the season. For some reason, Morton just fell off a cliff. If he had qualified, Morton would have had the second-worst ERA for any starter in the National League.
The Pirates would probably feel comfortable keeping Morton around for next season if his salary was low, or if he was younger. His past numbers indicate that 2015 could have just been a down year. But he’s set to make $8 million next season and $9.5 million in 2017. His 2015 performance doesn’t justify that kind of money. However, it will be difficult for the Pirates to eat that kind of money by releasing him, and they’ll be hard-pressed to find a team that will take on all, or even most of that salary in a trade. Unfortunately, the Pirates are probably stuck with Morton for next season. If he can rebound to his 2014 or 2013 form, that contract will look much better.
Charlie Morton took a huge downturn in 2015, and never showed any signs of life after June 21st. For that, I’m giving him a D- for the season. Harsh? Maybe. But he was one of the worst starters in all of baseball over the course of the season, and he regressed as the season went on.