We haven’t been reporting all the Charlie Morton news that’s fit to print. Our last update on “mini Roy Halladay” came in mid-June and was for a Deep League Waiver Wire piece. He’s advanced a little in our estimation since. Is it time to pick up Charlie Morton in all leagues?
We’ve been fooled before. In 2011, in the first half, he had a 3.51 FIP and a 61% ground-ball rate. He’d lowered his arm slot into a Roy Halladay zone and was getting great results on his sinker. And despite some concerns about his batting average on balls in play, he had a .318 BABIP during that first half. With usable fantasy numbers in most leagues: 3.86 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 13.3% strikeouts. Even after his season tanked, he had a 3.71 ERA and 1.31 WHIP at home in pitcher-friendly Pittsburgh, too.
Of course, the second half of 2011 happened. Take a look at his velocity chart:
Morton was 92+ with the sinker and four-seam early in 2011. His sinker dropped to 91 over he rest of the season. It averaged 90 mph last season. Then he had Tommy John surgery.
Now he’s back, and his sinker is averaging a career-high 93.4 mph.
The added velocity has meant more than just an effective sinker and the highest ground-ball rate of his career so far. It’s meant that Morton has been able to effectively use his four-seamer more often, too. Since it’s averaging over 94 mph, the pitch doesn’t lead to homers as often, and he’s throwing it 15% of the time now. His primary secondary pitch, the curveball, is now (at 79 mph) almost 15 mph slower than his fastballs. In related news, he’s now getting above-average swing-and-miss numbers on the curveball, when it used to register below the league average in that category. Even his hard changeup (86 mph) is now getting grounders at a career-high rate (69%) and so he’s using it a little more.
Of course there are flaws. Morton doesn’t get strike one at a league-average rate, and so maybe his pristine walk rate won’t survive. On the other hand, he’s way above league average in zone rate, so maybe he just hangs around the zone and avoids walks that way.
Since his changeup use is only up to five or six percent, it’s fair to bring up his platoon splits. His curveball has a sweeping horizontal break to it, and that makes it more effective against same-handed hitters. Against lefties, even now, even as he’s succeeding, his walk rate is almost four times higher than against righties. And the sinker is the most platooniest pitch in baseball. So lineups with good lefty hitters present a bit of a challenge to him.
But a good changeup doesn’t need to get whiffs. The fact that the ground-ball rate is so high on the changeup is a great sign for Morton. With velocity in the mid-nineties and ground-ball rates in the sixties, Morton could focus on keeping the ball in the zone and on the ground against lefties and be useful in all leagues without much faithcasting on our behalf. Even better, his schedule (@STL, vCHN, vSD, vCIN, @CIN) gives you three or four good starts before the season is over.
Charlie Morton: pick him up in all leagues based on his increased velocity and changeup effectiveness and good upcoming matchups. Even if he has some flaws.
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