Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Slider: Consistency Keeps Charlie Morton From Being a Monster

Tom AuSenior Analyst IISeptember 21, 2009

PHOENIX - JULY 23:  Starting pitcher Charlie Morton #37 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the major league baseball game at Chase Field on July 23, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Pirates 11-4.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

This question comes into sharper focus after the Pirates' two defeats over the weekend, even with solid starts by veteran starters.

But Charlie Morton, one of the three players acquired from the Atlanta Braves for Nate McLouth last spring, pitched a seven-inning, one-run start against the San Diego Padres in PNC park on Friday night. That's very good.

He also opened a game against the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley field by giving up 10 runs in the one inning he pitched.

That's Baaaad, to the point of being record breaking.  Are we dealing with Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde here?

Not quite. There's a lot more good than bad. The start against the Cubs is largely the exception. The strong start against the Padres is (almost) the rule.

The fact of the matter is that Morton's home ERA is just 0.01 over 2.75.  That's second only to Ross Ohlendorf, who is 0.01 below this figure.

This suggests that these "transplants" are the best two Pirate pitchers on raw ability. Clearly, Morton's problems are on the road, which is attributable to his inexperience.

The 10-run, one-inning doozy, on the road against the Cubs featured an ERA of 90.00. If it were 10 runs in nine innings, the ERA for the game would "only" be 10.

But fortunately, you can lose only one game at a time.

Morton also had a bad four-inning five-run start against the Astros in Minute Maid Park, and another bad five-inning six-run opening against the Cincinnati Reds in Great American Field. (I define "bad" starts as those involving at least as many earned runs as innings pitched, meaning an ERA of 9.00 or greater).

Overall, Morton's ERA is 5.00. But if you threw out the three bad games, it would be just above 3.00, with the ERA for the remaining away games about 3.60.

That would put him in a class with the likes of the Cubs' Ted Lilly, or the New York Mets' Johan Santana. Clearly, Morton's ERA is well in excess of 3.00, meaning that he's not yet in the same league as the other two.

But it's nice to know that most of the excess was concentrated in the three above-mentioned games. One could even call it an ERA of 3.00, with a "handicap" of three games.

Put another way, if you started Morton at 0-3 for his bad games, and assumed a 3.00 ERA the rest of the way, you would come up with a reasonable facsimile of his actual productivity.  

Santana is 13-9, meaning that Morton might be 13-12 with the Mets behind him. Lilly is 12-8, meaning that Morton might be 12-11 if he were a Cub.

On the other hand, a "true" 5.00 ERA would put Morton in the company of the Mets' Mike Pelfrey, or Livan Hernandez, or the Pirates' Jeff Karstens, all of whom have losing records. (And the first two have much better run support than Morton is getting.)

Morton is clearly better than that, which is to say that he is really better than his raw stats seem to imply. Adjusting his stats, as above, gives a better picture.

I had earlier thought of Morton as "down payment" for McLouth, with Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke making up the difference.

If he continues to be this good, he would represent "full payment" for McLouth, with the other two representing "profit."


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