By Jason Shetler
It was six years ago in early June that the Pirates acquired Charlie Morton from the Atlanta Braves as part of the Nate McLouth deal. Morton pitched his first full season for the Bucs in 2010, and was statistically the worst starting pitcher in baseball, posting a 7.57 ERA along with a 1.73 WHIP. After the firing of former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan in the second half of that year, Ray Searage and pitching coordinator Jim Benedict took on the challenge of trying to get Morton back on track.
In 2011, Morton made the transition to a sinkerball pitcher. That season, he posted a 59% groundball rate while having the lowest HR/9 ratio in the National League at 0.3 in 29 starts. With his ability to generate groundballs with consistency, Pirates fans began to dub Morton as “Ground Chuck”. While Morton has become one of the best sinkerball pitchers in baseball over the last few seasons, he’s been taking that to a whole new level so far in 2015.
2011-2014: 59% groundball rate, 23% oppo rate, 21% soft contact, 25% hard contact
2015: 69% groundball rate, 15% oppo rate, 29% soft contact, 20% hard contact
Morton has really been getting opposing batters to beat balls on the ground in his first four starts this year, as he’s putting up a groundball rate that is currently 10% more than his percentage from the last four seasons. His contact figures have also been better to this point with 8% more soft contact and 5% less hard contact. Perhaps the biggest indicator of Morton’s improved sinker this season is that hitters are having a difficult time taking the pitch the other way, posting a 15% oppo rate, which is an 8% improvement so far. With the strong contributions from Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and now Charlie Morton in 2015, the Pirates certainly boast one of the better rotations in the National League.