Reconsidering Charlie Morton

Charlie Morton of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Michael McKenry react after giving up a two run home run to Drew Stubbs (not pictured) of the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Should the Pirates be concerned about Charlie Morton's struggles this season?

Hey, the good news is that Charlie Morton is, right now, the best pitcher in the world who pitches exactly like Roy Halladay.

You know, because the actual Roy Halladay isn't pitching.

That's about the only good news, though. Last year, Charlie Morton was one of baseball's feel-good stories. Entering 2011 with an 11-29 record and a 5.98 ERA, Morton copied Halladay's style and went 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA.

And in 2012? Not so much.

This season, he's got a 4.65 ERA. Too early to pull the plug? First let's see how Morton did what he did last season.

Really, it was just two things:

  • He upped his ground/fly ratio by 50 percent, from 1 to 1.5; and
  • only three percent of the fly balls he did allow went for home runs.

The first of those figured to be at least somewhat sustainable, as you don't make that sort of statistical transformation without a fundamental change in pitching style. The second of those was not sustainable, as once a fly ball's launched, the pitcher can't do a great deal about it.

And indeed, Morton's ground-ball ratio is still pretty good this season. More than pretty good, actually. Last season he ranked third in the National League, with a 58.5-percent ground-ball percentage; this season he's fourth, at 56.2 percent.

Also, Morton's strikeout-to-walk ratio this season is significantly better than last season, going from 1.4 to 2.3. That's kind of a big deal. He's kept his ground-ball ratio while doing a better job of controlling the strike zone, with somewhat fewer strikeouts but half as many walks.

The problem has been home runs. Last season, Morton gave up six home runs in 172 innings and led the National League in home runs per nine innings. This season he's given up five in 50 innings.

Five's not a terrible lot of home runs. Five in 50 innings is perfectly acceptable ratio, and considering Morton's ground-ball ratio and his strikeouts and his walks, he's got all the ingredients of a successful pitcher. In fact, if we look at just the things that Charlie Morton can control -- or rather, that pitchers generally can control, which means walks and strikeouts and home runs -- he looks more like a 4.00 ERA pitcher than a 4.65 pitcher. And of course 4.00 is just a hair higher than last season's 3.83.

All of which is to suggest that the 2012 Morton is basically the 2011 Morton.

So there's no reason for concern? That depends on how you define "reason". In his last six starts, Morton's 1-5 with a 5.67 ERA. If he's nursing some sort of injury, I would be concerned. But if he's healthy, I would guess it's merely a six-start burp.

Yes, it's too early to pull the plug on Charlie Morton. Far too early. Kevin Correia, on the other hand ...

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