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About last night …


SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Last night was something of an instruction manual in how not to close out a baseball game.


Starling Marte is fortunate his drop didn’t occur in October. Mistakes happen. We’re human. … But yikes. (Two hands on the wheel, everyone).


Many criticized Clint Hurdle‘s decision in real-time on Twitter to allow the right-handed Bryan Morris to face left-handed Matt Adams in a key situation in the eighth. Adams can really hit, and he smashed a liner to right that appeared to be headed for status as an RBI hit. It was only the perfect defensive positioning of Neil Walker that prevented that decision from blowing up. Where was Tony Watson many wondered?


There was Andrew McCutchen not running on contact when Pete Kozma had to dive and make a stop of Russell Martin groundball in the 10th.


Then there was Mark Melancon ostensibly pitching around the switch-handed Carlos Beltran in favor of pitching to Allen Craig in the ninth. Craig leads baseball in batting with RISP and Melancon is actually more effective pitching to lefties this year due to the heavy use of his cutter.


We haven’t criticized many decisions in this e-space this season.


The Pirates, and Hurdle, have pulled many of the right levers.


But there were a lot of head-scratching decisions and the Pirates were fortunate this wasn’t a game played in October.




It was a missed opportunity as Charlie Morton once again pitched well. He out-pitched Adam Wainwright.


Morton has a 21-to-2 groundball-to-flyball ratio over his last two starts. If he was eligible he would lead baseball in groundball rate baseball with a silly 69.1 percent rate.


More of his groundballs seem to find voids in the Pirates defense than other starters. His opponent BABIP is 50 points higher than the staff’s collective rate. Some of this likely bad luck is reason to believe Morton’s numbers will improve going forward. Some of it is likely Morton missing location. But he has missed fewer locations over his last two starts.


What’s clear is his stuff has never been better. His two-seam fastball is averaging 93 mph. Lefties are swinging over the top of his curveball. And there’s room for growth if he starts mixing in  his changeup effectively. The Pirates shelved both his cutter and four-seam fastball this season, and if those return he could have more weapons going forward.


His stock is rising.


Some esteemed Pirates bloggers have noted they would slot in Morton as the No. 3 starter in a playoff rotation. He’s making  a case. But the Pirates still have to get to a series in October, a chore made more difficult by nights like last night.


– TS




  1. NorthPirateFan says:

    Yes “mistakes happen” but they seem to happen far to frequently with Starling Marte. I continue to be baffled at the mystery that is dWAR and how they’re coming up with that number for Marte when all other means of measuring defense show him to be a well below average for his position.

    His six (6) errors so far lead all qualified starting left fielders, tie him for second to last with Hunter Pence (6) and behind Josh Hamilton (8) in the majors his Fielding Percentage of .964 and Range Factor (RF) of 1.56 is second to last amongst all major league outfielders and his Put Outs 154, Total Chances 165 are fourth from the bottom, his 5 assists far below average and he’s yet to be part of a double play … where is the notion of him being a plus defender and that dWAR rating coming from?

  2. BostonsCommon says:

    “…Mark Melancon ostensibly pitching around the switch-handed Carlos Beltran”.
    I don’t know if this was a shot at Melancon, but if he pitched around Beltran, that likely wasn’t his decision.
    “He out-pitched Adam Wainwright.”
    I think everyone needs to take note of this. Not so much Charlie’s performance, but Wainwrights. The Pirates are having some sneaky success against one of the NLs true aces. Yes, he’s gone 14 IP in his two starts against the Bucs this year. But the Bucs have also touched him up for 7 ER on 13 hits, including 3 HR…. In fact, he’s put up some very un-ace-like numbers against the Pirates over his last 5 starts.
    5.06 3 2 0 0 5 5 0 32.0 34 18 18 4 8 31 .276
    Something to think about with 8 more regular season games with the Cards have… And if they get matched up in the playoffs, he’s a guy they’re gonna face at least twice in a series.

  3. BostonsCommon says:

    Was hoping that stat line was going to show up better. The key points though, were 34 hits in 32 IP, with a 5.06 ERA and .276 average against.

  4. NMR says:

    “Many criticized Clint Hurdle‘s decision in real-time on Twitter to allow the right-handed Bryan Morris to face left-handed Matt Adams in a key situation in the eighth.”
    I’m surprised to hear this, mostly because the more obvious matchup mistake already happened in the game.
    After loading the base with no outs in the top half of the 6th on three consecutive singles – only one of which was struck with any amount of authority – Charlie Morton made the pitch of the ballgame in sawing off David Freese for a huge double play. That brought up Jon Jay, who already double off Morton earlier in the game.
    Morton has known platoon splits. Lefties have a combined .896 OPS against him this year. Jon Jay, who happens to be left handed, is hitting .191 against LHP. Justin Wilson, surely coming on to pitch the 7th given Morton’s pitch count, owns a .200 batting average against vs. lefties.
    This should not have even been a difficult decision.

  5. NMR says:

    I’m an admitted charter member of the Charlie Morton fan club. Always have had a soft spot for him.
    But I wouldn’t even have him in the playoff rotation, let alone 3rd, against any of the probably NL teams other than the Dodgers. In a playoff setting, you throw out all your sabermetric projection of what would happen over the long run and focus on one-game matchups.
    Does anyone really feel comfortable with Charlie going up against big hitting lefties like McCann/Freeman/Heyward, Carpenter/Jay/Adams/Beltran, or Choo/Votto/Bruce?
    2014 could be a big year for Charlie. He’ll head into this offseason with a fresh arm, able to spend more time than usual developing a change or cutter to finally attack lefties. But right here, right now, he just doesn’t have the stuff to confidently roll through a strong lefty lineup three times.
    Great blog, Travis!

  6. BostonsCommon says:

    Good stuff NMR. I’m thinking with you on almost everything here. I really like Charlie in the ‘pen for the playoffs. He’s been dominant the first time through a lineup, and it would be great to have him available in case anyone got into trouble early. At that point, you cant hesitate to pull anyone if they are about to give away a game, and I feel comfortable with Charlie being able to give 3 strong innings against about anyone.
    Ditto on 2014 being a big year for Charlie. Love the uptick in velocity. Looking for big things from Chuck next year.
    If he ever gets his head right, the sky is the limit.

  7. Chuck H says:

    Well, there’s one we had in the bank in the 9th inning, until Marte pulled his bush league play. There is no room on a contending team’s lineup for such carelessness by an outfielder, considered to be an excellent defensive player. But his lack of dependency
    doesn’t stop there. As a hitter, he leaves a lot to be desired, too. I never saw a hitter who swings at so many pitches in the dirt as he does. I think the pitcher could roll it in and he
    would swing at it, sans a nine iron. This was a game we actually had won to increase our lead over #2, but a bonehead play prevented that. I don’t think we will have many more chances in a close game such as that one. Many teams would bench a player for being so
    careless in a close game. We need to start hitting again to have any chance at all.

  8. NMR says:

    Hm, interesting. Certainly wouldn’t have guessed those results.
    Feels like the PBC also has Jake Westbrooks number, doesn’t it?

  9. BostonsCommon says:

    The numbers support your feeling toward Westbrook.
    In his last 9 starts against the Bucs, Mr. Westbrook has a 1-7 record (I know about the worst measure of a pitcher’s performance… but c’mon!! They’re still the Cardinals!) with a .591 ERA, 69 its in 53 1/3 IP, and a .317 average against!!

  10. NMR says:

    Good point about the head games, Boston. He reminds me of Jeff Locke, circa 2012, sometimes. Just doesn’t seem to have the confidence.
    Couple things I find interesting about Charlie…
    His control has been far better than he’s given credit for, last year included. His command, however, is spotty at best and I really don’t expect that to change. When you have as much movement as Morton, good luck hitting spots consistantly unless your name is Maddux. I’d be interested in seeing what would happen if he started missing more out of the zone than over the plate, a la Jeff Locke.
    DIPS theory (sabermetric building block) doesn’t say that a pitcher’s BABIP is bound to eventually regress to league average or even team average. It says a pitcher’s BABIP is bound to eventually regress to HIS PERSONAL average. Charlie’s career MLB BABIP over 500+ IP is .320. His BABIP this season is .326. At some point, you have to consider the possibility that a guy cannot be “unlucky” for that long.
    Reason Charlie’s BABIP is higher than league average? Because he’s awful against lefties. Career BABIP against righties: .284. Career BABIP against lefties: .367. There’s your “luck”.

  11. NMR says:

    I’ll rail against pitchers wins as much as anyone, but man!
    You have to wonder what Matheny would do in a playoff series?

  12. Hollywould says:

    Braves fan here, I was watching Pirates on mlb and your announcer was talking of the cards run last year and mistakenly said the ALDS. Bob Walk called him out and the announcer said “Why would I say that? It makes no sense at all” I heard it anyone else?

  13. BostonsCommon says:

    He would be second-guessed into the unemployment line if he didn’t go with Wainwright as often as he could. But I don’t know how, in good conscience, he could send Westbrook out to try and win a game against the Pirates.
    Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller are awfully green to be relying on them in the playoffs.
    As weird as it feels to type this, the Cards seem like a decent match-up for the Pirates. A 7-4 season series record kind of speaks to that I guess.

  14. BostonsCommon says:

    ” Because he’s awful against lefties. ”
    I mean this is it. Plain and simple. Probably even more so than the introspective head games BS he deals with. I really liked your idea of a changeup falling away from lefties, or busting them inside with a cutter. Gotta do something…
    It is certainly something that should be addressed in the off season/ Spring Training.

  15. Chuck H says:

    As for Charlie Morton** I wouldn’t use him as a starter for the rest of the season. I agree
    with BostonsCommon about his decline after a few innings. He would probably be
    allright as a long reliever or set-up man. Our starting rotation is probably the best in the
    majors, with the exception of Morton, who, some days he tends to stray from using his head on pitch selection. But, as I said before, you can’t win with pitching alone. You need
    to hit with RISP, which we are very, very bad at, all season long. Time to get those bats hot,

  16. NMR says:

    Wow, thats strong Chuck.
    Who would possibly replace Charlie in the rotation right now?
    A team could do way, way, wayyyy worse than having Charlie Morton as your fifth starter. The only reason I suggested dropping him from the FOUR MAN playoff rotation was the presence of strong lefty lineups.
    In aggregate, I think Morton absolutely deserves a regular season rotation spot.

  17. BostonsCommon says:

    Just to drive that point home, Tim took a look at how Morton would fit into every rotation in the Bigs, and you might be surprised.
    Travis, not trying to push people away from your blog, just making a point.

  18. Mike412 says:

    Hurdle’s pitching moves or non-moves often are questionable, and not having A lefty pitch to Jay certainly was one. But, the two plays which killed the Pirates were Marte’s inexcusable drop and McCutcheon’s failure to score on the ground out. One was a physical mistake; the second was a mental mistake. Physical mistakes happen. Mental errors can’t happen in a pennant race. Period. It was as bad a play as Al Martin’s failure to score from third on a single to right.

    This was the third straight game where the Pirates lost a two run lead. Collapse? Way too early to call it that. But the predicted regression in the pitching staff certainly appears to have begun.

  19. BostonsCommon says:

    Not sure how Charlie going 6 innings with 2 ER shows signs of regression? Especially after backing up his last start of 7 IP with 2 ER?
    Not sure how another 7 1/3 IP from the bullpen with 1 ER is regression either?
    About the only guy on the staff to have taken a step back is Locke, and he’s getting away with it because he’s still missing bats.

  20. NMR says:

    I enjoyed that article, Boston.
    Fan expectations are astronomic this year due to the ridiculous amount of starting pitching success the team has seen. Thats a good thing, but I’d hate to start dumping respectable pitchers because of it.

  21. BostonsCommon says:

    Seem like Shelby Miller might be heading down this path too. He’s certainly got a bright future, but after last night, he’s quietly 0-3 against Bucs in 3 starts, with 4.08 ERA, and he’s served up 4 HRs in 17 IP to go along with a .300 average against.

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