As Charlie Morton embraced his two-seam fastball and turned into a severe groundball pitcher, he has become a solid, but underrated fantasy asset. In 2013-14, Morton put up a 3.52 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 273.3 innings of work for the Pirates. He began the season on the DL recovering from hip surgery. It was his eighth trip to the DL in eight seasons, including five in the last three. Health will always be a concern with Morton, but his talent deserves attention.
Through his first three starts, Morton had a fantastic 2.84 ERA, but with just an 8% strikeout rate, no one was paying attention. And his 4% swinging strike rate didn’t generate much excitement for future strikeouts, but a career 8% rate was optimistic of more to come. In his fourth and most recent start, he fanned six Brewers in 7.3 innings with an 11% swinging strike rate. In 26 starts last year, he had lower than 5% swinging strike rate just three times. He’s already done it three times this year.
Given how his stuff has looked and how well it has been preventing quality contact, there is reason to believe he will at least be at the 8% level set for his career, but he could realistically trend a little higher as continues to ramp up. Remember, his season just started. Meanwhile, his 69% groundball rate has done the heavy lifting in propping up his 2.05 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. His batted ball soft percentage is at 27%, which would be a league-best if he qualified.
Teammate Francisco Liriano is right there at 27% as well while Dallas Keuchel – a good analog for Morton’s upside (albeit older and from the right side) given their paths to success – sits at 26%. Keuchel’s 64% groundball is second among qualified arms (Brett Anderson, 67%). Compare Keuchel and Morton thus far and they have a lot of similarities:
The glaring difference is of course the strikeout rate. These groundballers can succeed without strikeouts, though. Keuchel had just a 16% strikeout rate in five April starts and posted a 0.73 ERA and 0.73 WHIP in 37 innings. Let’s take a look at the pair since the start of 2013:
Even more similar. Now, they don’t go about it exactly the same, but they get to same result of keeping hitters off-balance and generating loads of weak contact. Keuchel is sinker-slider-changeup, Morton is sinker-curveball-split (which operates as a changeup). Keuchel works down and out to both lefties and righties, Morton works down and in to both. Both are overlooked in today’s high-strikeout environment where it takes a 25% strikeout rate to get noticed. But they have found a real way to succeed without leaning on the swing-and-miss.
With Keuchel’s follow-up to his breakout season going even better than last year, he is no longer overlooked. He is still undervalued within his class, but he has definitely moved up a couple classes this year. You can consider Morton’s 2013 a breakout, though it was only 116 innings. He followed it up with a solid effort last year, too, but he hasn’t yet had that full (at least 170 IP), high-impact season. He may just be 26 innings into it, though.
Morton is on rosters in just 50% of CBS leagues, 25% of ESPN leagues, and 24% of Yahoo! leagues.