Stats & Info: Charlie Morton

Top stats to know: Cardinals vs Pirates

May, 11, 2014
A pair of underachieving teams will go at it on "Sunday Night Baseball," with the St. Louis Cardinals visiting the Pittsburgh Pirates at 8 ET.

Here are some of the statistical storylines our broadcast crew will be touching on Sunday night.

Miller’s unusual success
Cardinals starter Shelby Miller is 4-2 with a 3.20 ERA, but he’s been fortunate. Miller has walked 23 hitters and allowed seven home runs in 39 1/3 innings. He’s surviving largely on the strength of holding opposing hitters to only two hits in 31 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

We utilize a video-review service that tracks every batted ball and rates it as hit hard, medium or soft. Miller has given up hard-hit balls at a higher rate (23 percent of at-bats) than any starting pitcher in the majors this season.

Miller’s issue this season has been throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes. His 56 percent strike rate with those pitches rates fifth lowest in baseball. That may explain why he throws his fastball 76 percent of the time.

Morton’s struggles against the Cardinals
Pirates starter Charlie Morton is 2-9 with a 6.52 ERA in 14 career starts against the Cardinals. The Pirates have lost each of his last seven starts against St. Louis.

Among the hitters with past success against Morton are Allen Craig (9-for-18), Jon Jay (8-for-18), Matt Holliday (10-for-28) and Yadier Molina (8-for-22).

Morton does have one thing going for him: He has the highest ground-ball rate since the start of last season (63 percent of batted balls).

Star Watch: McCutchen and Molina
What do Molina and Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen have in common?

Both excel in two-strike situations.

Molina’s .255 batting average with two strikes ranked seventh in the majors last season.

McCutchen is hitting .311 with two strikes in 2014. That ranks fifth in the majors and second in the National League entering Sunday. McCutchen missed Saturday’s game with an ankle injury and is listed as day-to-day.

Matt Adams, shift beater
The Pirates are on pace to use the sixth-most defensive shifts of any team this season. It will be interesting to see how they approach Matt Adams, who has seen by far the most shifts of any Cardinals hitter this season.
Matt Adams
Adams has done well against the shift this season, thanks in part to a 32 percent line-drive rate (which ranks fifth in the majors, behind team and league leader Matt Carpenter’s 38 percent) and an approach in which he's much more conscious of going to the opposite field than he had previously.

Adams already has as many opposite-field hits in 138 at-bats this season (19) as he had in 296 at-bats last season. He’s 12-for-30 when hitting a grounder or short line drive against the shift this season. His .400 batting average in those instances ranks fourth among hitters who entered Sunday having seen at least 20 shifts this season.

Pirates first baseman Ike Davis rates first, going 9-for-13 (.692) when hitting grounders/short liners versus shifts in 2014.

Surprising 'Starts' to 2011 season

April, 20, 2011
Wednesday Night’s action features some intriguing pitchers to watch. No, we’re not talking about Cliff Lee going against the Milwaukee Brewers, or even Jered Weaver looking to open the season 5-0 facing the Texas Rangers.

Instead we advise you to take a look at two of the more surprising starting pitchers around the majors:

Justin Masterson
Justin Masterson
For the upstart Cleveland Indians, Masterson is 3-0 and has pitched into the seventh inning in all three of his starts. He has only given up three runs in 20⅓ innings while striking out 12 and walking only four batters.

A big reason why Masterson is off to such a hot start is his ability to induce weak contact with his sinking fastball, a pitch he has struggled to control throughout his career.

According to Inside Edge, Masterson has thrown 299 pitches this year. Of those 299 pitches, 42 percent have been hitter’s strikes compared to a 23 percent league average. Despite the extremely high percentage of pitches in the zone, hitters are not faring well.

According to Inside Edge, of those 126 hitter’s strikes, only 13 have been well-hit, for a .103 average. That’s well below the league average.

The reason hitters cannot seem to make solid contact on Masterson’s pitches in the zone is the heavy sink that he generates on his fastball.

Last year, Masterson finished second in the league in groundball percent with 59.9 percent. Masterson’s inducing groundballs at a rate of 65 percent so far this year.

Charlie Morton
Charlie Morton
After a nightmarish 2010, Morton has already matched his win total from last season in his first three starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

One of the main pieces in the Nate McLouth trade, Morton struggled to a 2-12 record and a 7.57 ERA in 17 starts.

But 2011 has been a complete turnaround for Morton. In each of his three starts, he’s allowed two or fewer earned runs. This past Friday, he threw the best game of his career, a complete game five-hitter against Cincinnati.

What’s changed? For one, Morton has reincorporated his sinker into his repertoire, causing him to generate more ground balls than any other pitcher in baseball. As a result, he’s limited batters to just three extra base hits in 22 innings (two home runs, one double).

Morton has faced some of the most potent offenses in baseball in his three starts (St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies, and Cincinnati Reds). While his current 1.64 ERA probably will not last, the 2011 version of Charlie Morton should remain vastly improved over the 2010 incarnation.
Today’s Trivia: Pete Rose turns 70 today. Since his final game on Aug. 17, 1986, who has collected the most hits?

Prince Fielder
Prince Fielder faces his nemesis today, but it’s not who you might think. Fielder is just 3-for-42 (.071) with 13 strikeouts and no extra-base hits against Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Paul Maholm. He’s not the only star player with a seemingly random pitcher that he can’t solve. Some other examples:

• Alex Rodriguez was 1-for-18 (.056) against Darrell May, a pitcher with a career 26-43 record.

• Ryan Howard traditionally has struggled against southpaws, but it’s a righty who has flummoxed him the most. Howard is 3-for-28 with 11 strikeouts against Tim Redding.

• Albert Pujols is 0-for-11 with three strikeouts in his career against Rodrigo Lopez. That’s all been since 2007, a period during which everyone else is hitting .291 against Lopez.

• Vladimir Guerrero (1-for-19), Mark Teixeira (1-for-18) and Ryan Zimmerman (1-for-13) all share Jeremy Guthrie as an unexpected nemesis.

• Hanley Ramirez is 0-for-10 lifetime against Charlie Morton, a pitcher who entered 2011 at 11-29 with a 5.98 ERA.

Trivia Answer: Craig Biggio’s 3,060 hits all came after Rose retired, giving him the most in that span. Rafael Palmeiro is the only other player to collect 3,000 hits from that date on. His first hit came less than one month after Rose’s last game.
Today’s Trivia: On Thursday, the San Diego PadresRyan Ludwick makes his first trip back to St. Louis since getting traded. Who is the only player with 50 career home runs for both the Padres and Cardinals?

MORTONQuick Hits: Charlie Morton gets the start for the Pittsburgh Pirates today, which opens the door for all sorts of fun notes on notably poor seasons. But he isn’t the only young player suffering from a steep learning curve.

• Morton is 1-11 in 56 2/3 IP, which would be the most losses ever for a pitcher with fewer than 60 innings. Rick Langford (1986 Oakland Athletics) and Johnny Murphy (1942 New York Yankees) both had 10.

• Among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, Morton (9.05 ERA) has the highest ERA since 2000, when a pair of hurlers were even worse. One was Sean Bergman (9.66), but the other provides some hope for Morton. Roy Halladay had a 10.64 ERA that season, the highest ever for a pitcher who threw at least 50 innings.

• Morton has 11 losses in just 13 starts. The Elias Sports Bureau was able to provide some context looking ahead to today’s start. Over the last 30 seasons, the only NL pitcher with 12 or more losses in a span of 14 starts was Omar Daal for the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000.

• After a hitless Wednesday, Oakland’s Chris Carter is now 0-for-24 this season (and in his career). If the season ended today, he’d have the third-most at-bats without a hit in a season for a non-pitcher. Last year, Houston’s Jason Smith finished 0-for-25. The all-time mark belongs to Hal Finney, who was 0-for-35 for the Pirates in 1936.

• When you allow pitchers into the equation, Bob Buhl’s 0-for-70 season in 1962 takes the cake.

• If Morton can take solace in Halladay’s season, there must be similar hope for Carter. How about a pair of Hall of Famers? Tony Perez was 2-for-25 in his first cup of coffee, while Brooks Robinson was 2-for-22.

Taylor Teagarden is back up in spot duty for Texas. He has 30 strikeouts in 62 at-bats this season. Since 1900, the only player was more strikeouts in a season of 70 or fewer at-bats was Jack Cust (32 K in 65 AB) in 2002.

• Well, this one can only be characterized as bizarre. In 14 1/3 innings, Atlanta’s Mike Dunn hasn’t allowed an earned run. The last rookie with a season of more innings without allowing an earned run was Fernando Valenzuela, who went 17 2/3 innings in 1980. Here’s where it gets strange. Dunn has issued 15 walks – more than a walk per inning. If the season ended today, he’d hold the MLB record for most walks in a season without allowing a run. That distinction currently belongs to Bob McClure, who walked 14 in 1975, but was unscored upon.

Today’s Leaderboard: Troy Tulowitzki’s September has been astounding. But rather than show each leaderboard, take a look at how far ahead he is in several categories.

Key Matchups: Trying to get lefties in against Chad Billingsley, Bruce Bochy got creative with his lineup on Wednesday. Regulars like Pat Burrell and Jose Guillen were benched in favor of Eugenio Velez and Nate Schierholtz. But that should change with lefty Ted Lilly taking the mound on Thursday. Shouldn’t it? Burrell is just 1-for-9 in his career against Lilly, while Jose Guillen is 3-for-20 with nine strikeouts. The only lefty Guillen has a worse average against (min. 20 PA) is Billy Wagner.

Tim Stauffer gets the start for the Padres, who sit just a half game up on the San Francisco Giants. His 0.64 road ERA is the lowest in the majors (min. 25 IP), with Mariano Rivera (1.30) a distant second. However, Stauffer is 0-3 in three previous appearances against the Cardinals. Among active pitchers who have pitched at least 10 innings against St. Louis, Stauffer’s 10.13 ERA is the third highest.

Trivia Answer: Jack Clark is the only player with 50+ HR for both the Padres and Cardinals. In fact, no other player has 30 for both franchises.

"Superior Start" unveiled

May, 30, 2010
Avid TMI readers may recall that during spring training, we took our first foray into trying to retool the quality start metric (if you don’t recall, click this link).

With the Rangers and Twins dueling on Sunday Night Baseball at 8 eastern this evening, and lots of talk over the last two seasons about Nolan Ryan’s efforts to fix the Rangers starting pitching staff, we thought it would be an appropriate time to take a look at some results, of which Ryan would figure to be most proud.

The results of our initial study (done via regression analysis) told us that the two elements of a pitching line that best predicted whether a team won or lost were the starters innings pitched and the number of earned runs allowed.

Using the data from the regression, we were able to figure out the team’s chance of winning for any possible innings/earned runs combination by a starting pitcher. And finally, we defined our “Superior Start” statistic as any outing where the starter gave his team at least a 75 percent chance of winning the game.

Now that we’ve passed the quarter pole in the baseball season, let's take a look at some leaderboards.

Ubaldo Jimenez and Roy Halladay top our list for pitchers with the most “Superior Starts” with seven such outings. Jimenez has completely baffled hitters this season. His league and park adjusted ERA+ this season is 515, over 150 points better than second-place Jaime Garcia. According to our friends at AccuScore, Jimenez actually has a 26 percent chance of winning 25+ games, a feat which has not been accomplished since Bob Welch in 1990. Halladay, fresh off of his perfect game, has kept the all-of-a-sudden offensively challenged Phillies afloat in his first season in Philadelphia.

And with a hat tip to Tom Tango, we now bring you our "Inferior Start" metric. These are the pitchers who have the most starts this season with an innings/earned runs combination that gives the team less than a 25 percent chance of winning that game.

As you can see, Charlie Morton tops (or bottoms?) this list of inferiority. All six of Morton's Inferior Starts have actually had a team win probability less than 19 percent, well below our 25 percent threshold.

Interestingly, our Inferior Starts leader Charlie Morton has a 1-9 record, which is the inverse of our Superior Starts leader Ubaldo Jimenez, who is 9-1.

As for tonight’s starters, Scott Baker enters with a pair of Superior Starts for the Twins, one fewer than team leader Francisco Liriano, and one more than his opposing moundsman, Rangers starter, Derek Holland. Baker also has a pair of Inferior Starts, though none have come in the month of May.

We will be updating this leader board periodically throughout the season. Hopefully this sheds a little more light on who is a quality starter, and who is a superior one. We think we can come up with something for which both the math and Nolan Ryan agree.

Alok Pattani and Mark Simon also contributed to this project.

The Closer: Love Me Non-Tender

April, 25, 2010
Any team that wanted Matt Capps or Kelly Johnson last winter could have had them cheaply, after each was non-tendered this offseason.

Both have found early success in new scenery and that continued Sunday. Johnson hit his seventh home run, one fewer than he had in 303 at-bats in 2009, as the Arizona Diamondbacks topped the Philadelphia Phillies. Johnson is taking what's given to him, just as he did this offseason, to produce power.

Of Johnson's seven home runs, four came on pitches that our Inside Edge video review deemed to be on the outside part of the plate. He didn't have a home run on an outside pitch in all of 2009.

Capps set a Washington Nationals team record with his eighth April save, lowering his ERA to 0.79. The key for Capps? Opponents are hitless in 16 at-bats against him with runners in scoring position (he got three of those outs Sunday). They hit .350 against him in such spots last season. That provides an easy explanation for a drop in ERA of nearly five runs.

What else was noteworthy Sunday?
* It was a rough day for Pirates starter Charlie Morton and Yankees starter Javier Vazquez. Morton actually reduced his ERA to 16.20 after allowing five runs in three innings against the Astros. If Morton doesn't pitch again, his April ERA will rank second-worst among those who made four starts. Vazquez's ERA jumped to 9.00, matching the worst-ever April ERA by a Yankee who pitched at least 20 innings.

* Cla Meredith saved the game for the Orioles Sunday in his 272nd career appearance. He previously had the most relief appearances by an active pitcher who didn't have a save. Pirates reliever Jack Taschner, with 211, is now on the clock.

Hitters of the Day
Paul Konerko and Ryan Theriot

Konerko was clutch and Theriot was consistent. Konerko's sharp eye has been a key this year. He took six swings on Sunday, missing none, and making his last count for a game-winning home run.

Theriot got five hits, with the last four all coming early in counts. In the at-bats that netted his last four hits, Theriot saw just nine pitches. Since 2009, Theriot is hitting .362 within the first two pitches of an at-bat, 30 points better than the major league average.

Why David Price won:
- Retired 14 of 15 hitters when gaining a two-strike count, getting hitters to swing at half of the pitches he threw out of the strike zone in those spots.

Why Scott Olsen won:
- His slider worked. Seven of his eight strikeouts came with the slider, with the hitter chasing a pitch out of the strike zone on five of those seven. This was a sharp contrast from his first two starts, in which he got three strikeouts with the slider.

Why John Danks won:
- Efficiency: Threw three or fewer pitches to 60 percent (18 of 30) of the batters he faced. The major league average is about 47 percent.

Why Randy Wells won:
- Besides his team scoring a lot of runs, Wells may have been a little lucky. Brewers hitters were 0-for-7 in situations in which they had a favorable count.

Why Gio Gonzalez and Brad Penny won
- They shared the common thread of shutting down the leadoff man. Gonzalez didn't let a leadoff man reach in his seven innings. Penny only let the leadoff hitter reach once (7.2 IP).