Is Charlie Morton Really The Next Roy Halladay?

DENVER, CO - MAY 01: Starting pitcher Charlie Morton #50 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on May 1, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The surprising season of Charlie Morton continues, as the Pirates' right-hander is now 3-1 with a solid 3.52 ERA. Which might not sound like much, unless you know where Morton came from. And for an idea of where Charlie Morton came from, there's no better place than Dejan Kovacevic's wonderful two-part profile. From Part 2:

Morton has many positive statistics this season, with the 3-1 record, 3.52 ERA, a complete game and .245 opponents' batting average. And nothing stands out like his 63 ground-ball outs, No. 1 in the majors.

That comes from the sinker, which he is throwing about half the time, and it comes with all kinds of benefits: He now has a fallback pitch in jams. He can pitch deeper into games through ground balls. He can keep hitters from sitting on the fastball.

But it also comes, for now, with those 23 walks, second most in the majors.

--snip--

Searage laughed off the walks.

"I hear people talking about his walks, and my reaction is, 'Are you serious?' " Searage said. "When he gets it, when he starts learning what to do with the sinker, with the first-pitch strikes, pounding the zone ... look out. It will. But this has only been going on since March."

Charlie Morton is 27, and entered this season with a 5.98 ERA in 251 major-league innings.

Something had to give. If he has to walk more hitters than usual (for him) or normal (for an effective major-league pitcher) to give up fewer runs, fine. Granted, 5.4 walks per nine innings probably is not sustainable. But you can walk roughly five hitters per nine and still be effective. For a while, anyway.

In the last 10 seasons, 10 pitchers have qualified for the ERA title and 1) posted league-average (or better) ERAs, while 2) walking at least 4.8 hitters per nine innings. It's a funny thing, though: Nobody did that more than once. Which suggests that walking all those hitters is not a long-term recipe for success, and in the short term it "works" only with the help of some good fortune. Perhaps some exceptionally good fortune.

Forget about the walks for a moment, though. Or consider them as just one piece of the puzzle, the others being 1) strikeouts and 2) ground balls.

The ground balls? Morton's got that covered, baby.

The strikeouts? Not so much. Not so much at all.

Among those 10 pitchers with decent (or better) ERAs and high walk rates, all of them struck out more hitters than they walked. The worst strikeout-to-walk ratio in the group was Al Leiter's in 2004, when he somehow posted a 3.21 ERA with a 1.21 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Morton's strikeout-to-walk ratio is 0.83; he's walked 23 and struck out 19.

Running another search (as always, thanks to Baseball-Reference.com's sublimely necessary Play Index) ... In the last 10 seasons, exactly four pitchers have thrown 162 or more innings in one season, and struck out fewer batters than they've walked. The complete list:

Mike Hampton, 2002 (7-15, 6.15 ERA)
Nate Cornejo, 2003 (6-17, 4.67)
Damon Moss, 2003 (10-12, 5.16)
Kirk Rueter, 2004 (9-12, 4.73)

The numbers aren't really the point. The point is that there are only four of them. It's exceptionally difficult to pitch well enough with that sort of strikeout-to-walk ratio to be given the chance to throw 162 innings. And it hasn't happened at all since 2004.

The best reason to read Kovacevic's well-written piece is that it's a really nice window into the life of a struggling professional athlete. But the other takeaways from the piece are that Charlie Morton's got incredible stuff and that he's throwing the ball like Roy Halladay ... who went through some serious struggles of his own before becoming the Roy Halladay we know and love and would hate to have to hit against.

But when Roy Halladay first returned to the majors after his humbling trip to the minors, he was 24 years old and he struck out nearly four times as many hitters as he walked.

I'm rooting for Charlie Morton. It's just how I'm wired. But if he doesn't turn his stuff into strikeouts -- or at the very least, fewer walks -- he won't be around to root for much longer.

For more about Morton and the Pirates, please visit Bucs Dugout.

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