We didn’t get a lot of earth-shattering moves at the Winter Meetings, but there was impactful activity, including a host of starting pitchers on the move. Al Melchior will be covering Lance Lynn’s deal with Texas soon and Mike Podhorzer had a piece on Tyson Ross, Ivan Nova, and Tanner Roark, so I’ve got the Charlie Morton and J.A. Happ signings for you.
Charlie Morton signed a 2-year, $30 million-dollar deal with the Tampa Bay Rays
The Astros get a lot of credit for Morton’s breakout, but he really started to take off with the Phillies back in 2016. Unfortunately, he ripped his hamstring five minutes into that season… or 17 innings. He suffered his injury running out a sac bunt in late-April (so cool that pitchers bat!) and was done for the year in a flash.
Although it was a small sample, his velo had spiked 2.3 mph to 94.3 and added 10 points to his strikeout rate, boosting to 27%. It was a tiny sample for the 32-year old, so it was tough to fully trust as he entered 2017 with Houston, but he ended up holding the strikeout gains and even adding more velo, up to 95. His 2018 was even better with his 95.7 mph and 29% K rate, both career-bests, and a seven-year high of 167 IP. On the downside, he did also maintain a seven year streak of at least one DL stint with some late-August shoulder discomfort.
This is a perfect Rays signing. He won’t be subject to an opener, but I think they will be smart with his innings and limit him to 5-6 innings more often than not. Morton only needed 167 innings to produce a top 20 SP season thanks to his 3.13 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 201 strikeouts. While Houston is a great place for pitchers, Tampa Bay is certainly up there so I’m not moving Morton on my board. I don’t think he’ll forget what he learned in Houston and I expect another 150-170 IP of a mid-3.00s ERA, 1.20ish WHIP, and well over a strikeout-per-inning. I slotted him 34th in my initial Top 100 and that’s about where he’ll be in my next update.
J.A. Happ re-signed with the New York Yankees for 2-years, $34 million dollars
Happ was traded to the Yankees at this year’s deadline (well, on the July 26th to be exact) and he was fantastic with them: 2.69 (nice!) ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 18% K-BB rate in 64 IP. Once Patrick Corbin wound up with the Nationals, Happ felt to me like a lock for the Yankees. Happ’s been solid for four straight years now, but something I didn’t mention in Morton’s blurb will also apply to Happ and that’s the ever-present ageism in fantasy baseball holding their prices down.
Morton is a bit of a different case because of his lengthy injury history, but Happ has been relatively healthy during this run of success, posting a 3.48 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 690 IP, along with a 16% K-BB rate, which jumped to a career-best 19% mark in 2018. While so much of the league is moving away from fastballs, Happ is diving in. His 73% fastball rate was tops among the 57 qualified starters in 2018 and his 71% since 2015 is 3rd among 75 starters with at least 500 IP during that time. In that same time period, Happ’s fastball pitch value of 65.6 is 4th-best.
Home runs have been a lingering issue for Happ, spiking to 1.4 HR/9 in 2018, so a full season in Yankee Stadium could exacerbate that issue, but that’s also why his projections are regularly in the mid-3.00s for ERA. I’d also look for more of a low-20%s strikeout rate, as opposed to the 26% from 2018. I’d give Happ a similar projection to Morton for his ERA and WHIP with a lower strikeout rate, but also more innings. The bottom line is that he’ll be very near Morton in my rankings. I had him 30th in the first run and he’ll be a little lower in the update with his Yankee landing spot, but still somewhere in the mid-30s right by Morton.
What’d you think of these two signings? Did it raise or lower the stock of either? Which of the two mid-30s aged hurlers do you prefer for 2019?