Dejan Kovacevic has a piece this morning asking whether Charlie Morton could be the Pirates' version of Jose Bautista, in that they've both been Pirates and they've both had wild career swings. He acknowledges that's a reach, and it really is - what Bautista has done since the beginning of 2010 has been historically unique, and it's not at all clear what will happen to Morton, even for the rest of this season. Still, though.
Again, I'm not going overboard. It's been a month and a half. But when people inside baseball watch Morton, they're not talking about a turnaround. They're talking about some of the best pitching they're seeing anywhere in the majors right now.
As awesome as Morton's last couple of starts have been, and as much as he's been making hitters pound the ball into the ground all year, it's worth pointing out that he has 29 strikeouts and 26 walks on the season. When he has the kind of great start he had last night, then sure, you can compare him to Roy Halladay or whomever you like. But he still has been prone to starts like May 1 against the Rockies, when he allowed five walks in 5.1 innings, or April 20 against the Marlins, when he allowed 10 hits, or his first two starts of the season, when he walked batters all over the place.
What we can say about Morton at this point is that the Nate McLouth trade is going from looking good to, potentially, looking really, really good. And if Morton can get his walks under control, he does have at least some chance of really justifying some of the wild comparisons that have been thrown around so far this season.
That's a game I can play too. Here are Jaime Garcia's numbers. Garcia surprisingly emerged as a top starter in the National League last year, thanks in part to a ridiculous ground ball rate. He had an xFIP of 3.62 in 2010, and he's improved on that this season, as his walk rate has dropped from 3.53 BB/9 in 2010 to 1.94 in 2011. That might be a sample-size thing, or it might be that Garcia is making the transition from a very good starter to a dominant one.
Garcia is a couple years younger than Morton, but it's not crazy to think Morton could follow a similar path. Morton has been an even more extreme ground ball pitcher (at 62 percent, an absurdly high figure) than Garcia is, but he lags behind in the strikeout and walk departments. It could be that Morton is just now figuring out how to control his stuff after going through so many mechanical changes recently, however, and it's worth noting that two of the 2011 starts in which Morton struggled the most with walks were his first two. If Morton can take a step forward by cutting his walks, as Garcia appears to be doing, then we might be looking at a very scary pitcher indeed, and we might have a number of interesting Cardinals/Pirates pitching duels in our future.
Ok, now I'm the one getting ahead of himself. Most informed outsiders would probably look at Morton's strikeout and walk numbers this year and claim I'm crazy for thinking his excellent stuff and grounder-inducing ways might one day make him an ace. Maybe I am. But I'm less sure about that than I was 24 hours ago.