Should Charlie Morton start today against St. Louis despite a history of difficult outings against the Cardinals?
By Bob Smizik Special to the Post-Gazette
Let's get this question out there before -- not after -- the start of today's Game 4 of the NLDS between the Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals:
Should A.J. Burnett be starting instead of Charlie Morton?
That's a question that is bouncing around town and around the Internet and it deserves to be addressed before the game begins.
There is discussion for two reasons:
• Morton has a terrible record against St. Louis, both this year and in his career.
• Burnett is perceived to be the better pitcher and has done better against St. Louis.
This is the background on Morton, as covered in a commentary this morning:
• Overall this season, he was 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA.
• Against St. Louis, he was 0-2 with a 7.90 ERA.
• St. Louis had a team batting average of .397 against Morton in 2013.
• In Morton's three starts against St. Louis, the Pirates are 0-3 and have been outscored 26-5.
• He has lost his past five starts against St. Louis.
• In 14 starts against St. Louis in his career, he is 2-9 with a 6.52 ERA, a .333 BAA and a .865 OPS-against.
• Morton is famously bad against left-handed hitters -- .328 batting average and .907 OPS-against for his career -- and the Cardinals figure to start five lefties this afternoon.
Burnett is available today because he lasted only two innings -- seven runs, six hits, four walks -- in his start Thursday at Busch Stadium. During the regular season, he was 3-1 with a 3.67 ERA and a .213 BAA against St. Louis.
Of note, Burnett, in eight postseason starts has a 6.37 ERA, but those numbers are less relevant because they date back to 2009. Against St. Louis, Burnett appears to be the better choice.
So is Hurdle making a mistake?
I think not. He is correctly going with the rotation that got him to this point.
It is not a wise move for a manager to remove a scheduled starter from a start. Yes, these are grown men and should be able to handle such rejections. But that's easy to say and hard to do. Starting Burnett might tell the team we're doing everything we can to win this game. It also tells the players that the manager does not have their back.
Morton had a good start against St. Louis in August. He is capable of doing that again. But he must be on the shortest of leashes.