The End of Charlie Morton’s Run at History

As of this writing, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a better than one-in-four chance of making the postseason. One of their pitchers, Charlie Morton, was recently placed on the disabled list with hip discomfort. Morton’s value is not necessarily reflected in his win/loss record, but he’s been an extremely serviceable pitcher this year, worth over a Win Above Replacement. Morton is the type of pitcher one would want during a playoff push as a reliable starter or a very effective reliever.

Depending on the severity of Morton’s injury, the Pirates may not have that luxury. Morton is being replaced for the time being by Gerrit Cole, a young pitcher with promise who, if healthy, should fill in quite admirably. But there’s an underlying cost to Morton’s injury that doesn’t involve Cole or the Pirates or the playoff race in general. It has to do with Morton’s place in baseball history — specifically the amount of batters he plunks.

Morton already has a hold on the record books, as it happens. In 2013, he hit 3.25% of the batters he faced with a pitch. That is good for a modern-era record. This season, he averaged a hit batsman 2.94% of the time. That averages out to about 3.1%. Pitchers are less likely to walk Adam Jones than Charlie Morton is to hit a batter. If Bartolo Colon were to bat against Charlie Morton, Colon would have almost the same chance of getting hit as he would of getting a hit. (Note: Colon did face Morton twice this year. Neither a hit nor HBP was recorded).

So Charlie Morton hits a lot of batters, is what I’m saying. He’s drilled likely candidates like Jon Jay and Anthony Rizzo, as well as less likely candidates such as Kyle Lohse and Tim Hudson. Morton doesn’t discriminate, it seems. It could just be that he’s a product of his time. I mean, batters are still getting hit at a pretty good rate, historically speaking.

hbpovertbf

But here’s the leaderboard sorted by HBP/TBF (minimum 115 IP) for the past 30 years.

Pitcher Season HBP%
Charlie Morton 2013 3.25%
Jerome Williams 2004 3.04%
Charlie Morton 2014 2.94%
Byung-Hyun Kim 2007 2.85%
Bronson Arroyo 2004 2.62%
Justin Masterson 2014 2.59%
John Lackey 2011 2.56%
Chan Ho Park 2002 2.55%
Jamey Wright 2000 2.51%
Casey Fossum 2005 2.48%

This is to what the title of this post was alluding. Morton is one tenth of one percent away from holding the two most plunk-happy seasons in recent memory. Depending on his timetable and workload he still may have a chance, but if Pittsburgh falls further out of contention or Cole proves himself to be a worthy replacement (and the Pirates look at Morton’s win/loss record as a proof of performance), we may not see Morton pitch again in 2014.

This is admittedly a weird record and one that causes pain to batters, so perhaps I shouldn’t be rooting for Morton to pull this off, but I still am. Because when pitted against the Clayton Kershaws and Felix Hernandezs of the world, guys like Morton need to carve out their own little notch in history.

I really wanted to end this with a George Clinton funk/plunk reference that didn’t sound forced or hokey, but I just couldn’t. Feel free to add your own attempts in the comments. I’m sure they’ll be lovely.



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David G. Temple is the Managing Editor of TechGraphs and a contributor to FanGraphs, NotGraphs and The Hardball Times. He hosts the award-eligible podcast Stealing Home. Dayn Perry once called him a "Bible Made of Lasers." Follow him on Twitter @davidgtemple.


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George Clinton
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George Clinton

Parliament Plunkadelic

Johan Santa
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Johan Santa

We want the plunk! Give up the plunk!

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