After last night’s ugly loss there’s plenty of frustration to go round in Pirate-land. There’s a lot of talk about demoting guys like Jeff Clement and Charlie Morton to Triple-A so they can work their kinks out somewhere that the fans don’t have to watch them struggle. I’m about as frustrated as anyone after last night (see: sarcastic stream of angry tweets), but honestly, the worst thing the Pirates can do at this point is to start demoting players and making decisions based on 13 games in April.
Morton has been compared to Ian Snell a lot over the last three starts. It’s true that he can struggle with his command from time to time and get smoked all over the park, but it’s not even a remotely fair comparison at this point. Last year, Snell was losing velocity for the second straight year, pitching poorly for the second straight year, and throwing his teammates and coaches under the bus with every bad start. Morton isn’t far removed from a pretty decent year with the Pirates, he’s not losing velocity, his command isn’t even really all that bad (he’s still walking fewer hitters than he did last year, even with three walks in 1+ inning last night), and he’s blaming himself.
Morton is exactly the kind of pitcher that dominates Triple-A; he’s got a live fastball and he backs it up with a good curve. There’s nothing for him to learn there. In 150 2/3 Triple-A innings, he’s 12-4 with a 1.00 WHIP, a 2.15 ERA, and a 3.05 K/BB ratio. Whatever he’s doing wrong in Pittsburgh, he probably won’t have to fix it to pitch well in Indianapolis and if he does pitch well there, it won’t prove anything to anyone. The Pirates don’t need to know if Charlie Morton can pitch in Triple-A, they need to know if he can pitch in the Majors. The best way to figure that out is to give him time with Joe Kerrigan against big league pitchers.
As for Clement, his batting average on balls in play this year is .125. As Matt Bandi pointed out to me last night, it should be much closer to .350 based on his balls in play data. He’s got almost 1600 plate appearances in Triple-A and even though he’s just learning first base, he looks better there than Garrett Jones or Delwyn Young do anywhere in the field. The Pirates don’t need to know if he can hit Triple-A pitching, they need to know if he can hit in the Majors.
This year was always meant to be an evaluation year for the team. Sending Clement or Morton or anyone down for even a few weeks here makes them much tougher to evaluate. And what good would sending either down now really do? Give more starts to Brian Bass or Brian Burres or Chris Jakubauskas? Get more at-bats for Ryan Church or Delwyn Young or Steve Pearce against right-handed pitching? Force the team to rush Pedro Alvarez or Brad Lincoln or Jose Tabata along? Good teams don’t make decisions based on 13 games, no matter how frustrating some of those games are. Teams that do? They end up like the Mets, with Jenrry Mejia (44 innings above A+ ball) and Ike Davis (65 games above A+ ball, just 10 in Triple-A) both in the Majors, despite both needing more minor league seasoning.
Of course there are going to be bumps in the road along the way, but playing these guys is the only real option the Pirates have this year.