Charlie Morton’s increased velocity in an injury-shortened 2016 coupled with him retaining the improved cheddar in the spring created a bit of buzz entering the year. I was bullish about his 2017 outlook, and thus far, he’s done nothing to diminish my optimistic outlook for the season. Digging into the numbers after a half-dozen starts reveals more good than bad.
Let’s start with the bad, though. The 33-year-old hurler’s batted ball profile includes some ugly numbers. He’s served up a 24.5% LD%, 40.0% Hard%, and he’s coaxed only a 13.7% Soft% without tallying an infield flyball. Morton’s never been particularly good at popping hitters up, but a complete lack of them means he’s getting none of the easiest out among all batted ball types. The veteran righty’s groundball rate is down to 48.9%, but that’s still solid. He’s been hit hard by righties ceding a .573 slugging and .403 wOBA to the 81 he’s faced this year. Khris Davis creamed two taters against Morton, so Davis partially inflated those numbers, and I’m willing to cut a guy some slack for allowing a couple of homers to one of the game’s elite sluggers. Morton has historically fared well against right-handed batters, and his 4.9% BB% and 17.3% K% against them this year aren’t awful by any stretch. Hitters also aren’t fishing out of the strike zone against him all that often. His 24.8% O-Swing% is well below the league average of 29.1%.
Now, let’s dive into the good numbers. Morton’s tying up lefties. He’s struck out 36.8% of the left-handed batters he’s faced this year. Prior to this season, he’s yielded a .392 OBP, .466 slugging and .375 wOBA to lefties. In 2017, he’s cut those marks down to a .279 OBP, .224 slugging and .232 wOBA. His dominance against lefties has helped fuel some impressive overall totals.
Among qualified pitchers, Morton ranks tied for 17th in FIP (3.13), 16th in SIERA (3.28), 22nd in K% (26.2%) and tied for 18th in K-BB% (19.5%). He’s tallied a 10.5% SwStr% that bests the league average of 10.3%, and he has a downright filthy out pitch. The righty’s curve has a 22.73% whiff percentage, according to Brooks Baseball. Among pitchers who’ve thrown a minimum of 50 curves, Morton’s 51.06% Whf/Sw is the fifth highest, per Baseball Prospectus.
In addition to missing bats with the curve, his fourseamer, cutter and split all have double-digit whiff percentages, per Brooks Baseball. Morton’s sinker isn’t a bat-missing pitch, but it serves its purpose with a 53% GB%. Morton rounds things out nicely with a 6.7% BB% that’s 2.1% lower than the league average of 8.8%. His better than average walk rate is supported by a 48.0% Zone% that’s a few ticks above the league average of 44.7%.
Piling up innings has been a problem for Morton in his career. His career high for innings pitched in a season is 171.2 with the Pirates back in 2011 (this includes his combined inning totals for seasons spent split between the minors and Majors). Since reaching his high-water mark that year, he’s bested 150 innings only one time (161.1 combined between one Double-A start and 26 starts for the Pirates in 2014). Even without a workhorse track record, I’d consider Morton an SP4/SP5 the rest of the season.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.