Has there been any “sleeper” more hyped this season than Charlie Morton? It seems like we’re constantly being reminded of the spike in velocity, the swing and miss stuff, the combination of swinging strikes, and groundball rate. Knowing all this I was dying to profile Morton and see what all the noise is about. Speaking of Noise, my Pittsburgh scout, and favorite right testicle Dr. Kenneth Noisewater, has a basket full of hot takes on Morton, that mostly consist of different ways to say Charlie Morton sucks. Perhaps Noisey is right, perhaps all the lemmings in the fantasy industry are right. Much like the ATLiens that raised me to be an emotionally well adjusted gangster, I just stay in the middle and drop bombs, mostly in the toilet. I stay regular ladies and gents. Let’s take a closer look at this “new and improved” Charlie Morton, and see if it’s in fact a new recipe, or the same re-packed garbage.
Scouting Report: Morton’s transformation from a back of the rotation starter with a heavy sinker – slider combo to a supposed mid-rotation arm with a hard sinker – curveball heavy approach first surfaced last year in his short four game stint in Philadelphia. All of the excitement surrounding Morton has been based on the uptick in velocity on his sinker, and the new found depth on the cruveball. The average fastball velocity, as recently as two year’s ago in Pittsburgh, was a yawnstipating 92, and was even as low as 89 in 2012. Yeah, you might have forgot that Morton has been in the big leagues since 2008. The evolution of Morton started following that soft-tossing 2012 season, which is the last season he threw the slider. As he unsuccessfully started to lean heavily on the sinker in 2013 nearly 70% of the time. The fastball velocity in 2013 climbed back up to his previous high of 93 MPH, and he first introduced the cutter. Though just barely, only throwing it a handful of times, before scrapping it until last year in Philly. In fact, it’s that injury-shortened 2016 where we first saw the current iteration of Morton. That’s when the sinker velocity first jumped to an average of 94 MPH+. He then scrapped his changeup in favor of the splitter, as the usage on the split jumped to 12%. Additionally, he re-introduce the cutter (though .1% isn’t exactly introduced), and began throwing it at a 10% clip. But alas, after just four April starts in 2016, Morton was put on the shelf for the remainder of the season.
Upon signing with Houston, the reports were that Morton’s sinker velocity has ticked up once again in spring training this time approaching the upper-90’s. With this news, many analysts throughout March, pegged him for a spot in Houston’s rotation, and as a potential breakout candidate. The rest as they say, is “Pre-season Sleeper” history. Through his first 8 starts in 2017, Morton has relied heavily on the Sinker and Curveball combo. Throwing one of the two pitches almost 75% of the time. Though it should be noted that Morton has a five pitch arsenal consisting of the sinker, the curve, a splitter, a four-seamer he rarely throws, and a mid-80’s cutter, though it can be misidentified as a changeup. His sinker sits between 94-96, touching 97 on occasion with heavy run, and generates groundballs at a 50%+ clip. His curveball sits in the low 80’s, and generates swinging strikes at a rate of 22%, with dynamic glove-side movement, sometimes with a classic 12-6 hammer break, and other times with more slurvy action. Entering today’s game 29 of Morton’s 55 strikeouts have come via the curveball with 28 of them coming on swinging strikes. His splitter is an out pitch almost never thrown for a strike, and often buried in the dirt. It generates a solid amount of swings ans misses in the 14% range, and historically generates more flyballs than his other offerings. His cutter, also generates a solid amount of swings and misses, and produces just about an even split for flys and grounders.
Charlie Morton vs the Cleveland Indians at Minute Maid Park Houston, TX May, 22nd 2017
Jason Kipnis – Sinker down the middle, sinker gloveside inner half foul ball strike one, high and outside at 96, strike 2, swing and miss on curveball breaking in on the left-handed Kipnis.
Francisco Lindor – Sinker inside strike one, fastball at 96 up and away, ball 1, curveball breaks in on Lindor and bounces off his foot, hit by pitch.
Michael Brantley – Lindor picked off by Morton before he even throws a pitch to Brantley. Fastball at 94 down and in, ball 1, Fastball at 94 to the outside part of the plate, strike 1, fastball 95 inside for a ball, ball 2, loops curveball on the outside middle part of the plate, strike 2, count 2-2, fastball middle in is pulled to rightfield for a double.
Carlos Santana – a 94 MPH fastball low and inside is struck hard to right center for a warning track flyball, Inning over.
Good first inning for Morton, but that’s typical for him so far this season, as he’s been great the first time through the order. I can see why there’s all that noise about the curveball, that was a nasty pitch to Kipnis.
Edwin Encarnacion – 93 MPH fastball to the gloveside for ball 1, fastball at 94 high and inside, strike 1, fastball at 92 low and inside is fouled off for strike 2, misses high at 94, ball 2, sinker low and inside for ball 3, full count, the payoff pitch is 94 down the pike and Encarnacion puts a charge on it the other way just missing a homer by 6 feet to the right, 96 mph on the fastball high and and runs in to the middle, Encarnacion is behind it and misses the ball for a swinging strike 3.
Jose Ramirez – high and outside at 96, ball 1, splitter low and inside at 85 for ball 2, fastball at 94 middle in, is hit to center, looking like it’s going to drop for a double, but George Springer makes a diving stab for out number 2.
Lonnie Chisenhall – fastball at 96 way off the plate, ball 1, another fastball to the outside part of the plate at 96 for a swinging strike one, 95 mph fastball inside for ball 2, same pitch for ball 3, 95 MPH sinker to the outside is lined on one hop into the shift, as Carlos Correa makes the stab at 2nd, and tosses to first for the third out.
A 1-2-3 inning for Morton, as he makes quick work of the Tribe in the second.
Bradley Zimmer – 95 MPH high and down the middle is fouled for strike 1, fastball high and out of the zone for ball 1, curveball loops in at 81 for strike 2, fastball high at 94, ball 2, fastball low and inside at 96 fouled off, 2-2 count, curveball looped in at 80 to the outside part of the plate, Zimmer gets in front of it, and slaps a grounder to the first base side for out number 1.
Roberto Perez – Fastball on the inside, belt high at 94, is slapped foul, strike 1, 96 MPH fastball that breaks to the outside for a swinging strike 2, a 98 MPH fastball runs over the plate, and Perez can’t check his swing, strikeout number 3.
Jason Kipnis – 97 MPH fastball on the inside, strike 1, cutter at 85 high and to the outside part of the plate is hit the other way for a single. Left that one up and in.
Michael Brantley – runners on the corners, 96 MPH sinker low and inside for strike 1, splitter on the outside in the dirt at 80 for ball 1, a 95 MPH heater down the middle is fouled off for strike 2, and a 82 MPH curveball is hit to the right side on the ground, Altuve fields it cleanly this time and throws to first for the final out of the inning.
Rough break on the error by Altuve, but Morton gets out of the inning unscathed.
Carlos Santana – curveball at 79 waaaay outside for ball 1, Santana flashes a bunt but pulls back as Morton hammers in a fastball at 96 for ball 2, bad call, 93 MPH fastball off the plate for ball 3, another fastball this time at 96, four pitch walk.
Edwin Encarnacion – Morton bounces a curve in front of the plate for ball 1, another curve that breaks to the inside part of the plate for strike 1, a fastball at 95 inside is slapped down the 3rd base line for a foul, strike 2, curveball at 82 is way off the plate to the gloveside, ball 2, fastball at 94 low and inside is smacked by Encarnacion and it bounces off his foot for a foul, fastball at 97 high and outside is slugged the other way for another foul, 2-2 count, leaves a meatball at 94 over the middle part of the plate and E5 crushes it for a homer to left, Morton watches the parrot.
Jose Ramirez – 95 MPH fastball inside to Ramirez is fouled off, strike 1, curveball away at 81, ball 1, splitter low at 86, ball 2, an 86 MPH cutter for a single to left for Ramirez.
Bradley Zimmer – Misses badly on a curveball at 81 that breaks in on his hands, strike 1, curveball to the outside at 80 for strike 2, 95 MPH up and in, ball 1, curveball at 81 low and inside, but Zimmer can’t hold up, strike 3. Two outs
Roberto Perez – 96 MPH fastball down and in is swung through for strike 1, curveball looped down and in for another strike, 97 MPH fastball to the outside, ball 1, another fastball at 96 low and inside for ball 2, curveball low and outside at 81, ball 3, full count, fastball low and down the middle at 96 for a swinging strike three, inning over.
You could see the facade start to crack a little with Morton this inning, serving up hard hits in consecutive at bats to Encarnacion and Ramirez. So far this year he’s struggled through the order the third time, as this should continue in the 5th.
Jason Kipnis – 95 MPH outside, ball 1, curveball on the outside patriots Big the plate at 80 for strike 1, cutter at 86 breaks too much high and inside, ball 2, curveball at 85, sweeps in, Kipnis swings and misses, strike 2, fastball chopped for a foul, breaking ball at 80 down low, for ball 3, the payoff pitch is a 95 MPH fastball low and middle is hammered to right for a leadoff homer.
Francisco Lindor – first pitch to Lindor is a 95 MPH way over the heart of the plate and it’s tuned on for a double to left.
Michael Brantley – first pitch to Brantley is a 96 MPH fastball grounded to the right side of the infield for out number 1.
Carlos Santana – first pitch a splitter down at 90 MPH that he bounces for ball 1, cutter low for ball 2, splitter at 83 bounces off the plate and is threw the legs of McCann, Lindor hesitates, then heads to the plate but a good flip by McCann to Morton gets Lindor at home, 2 outs. Back to the at bat, cutter at 88 on the outside for strike 1, 87 MPH splitter, low and in, Santana can’t check his swing and the count is 3-2, the payoff pitch is a 96 MPH fastball over the outside part of the plate, and Santana goes to the other way for a single.
Edwin Encarnacion – a 95 MPH in on the hands saws off Encarnacion and he grounds a slow roller up the middle to Correa for the third out.
The 5th Inning has killed Morton as his opponents batting average in innings 1-4 is under .200 in each frame with ERAs of 3.38 in the first, 0.00 in the second, 1.13 in the third, 0.00 in the fourth, before it explodes to 13.50 in the 5th.
Jose Ramirez – fastball at 96 on the inside strike 1, splitter down and in to the outside for a ball, curveball to the outside for strike 2, curveball at 81 in the dirt, ball 2, cutter high and outside ball 3, 88 MPH cutter over the plate is hit to Springer in center for the first out.
Lonnie Chisenhall – Fastball at 95 is slapped foul, splitter at 87 gets a swing and a miss, a 96 MPH middle and in is crushed to right for a homer the third of the day allowed by Morton.
Bradley Zimmer – a splitter low and outside taken for strike 1, curveball at 80 is too low and outside, ball 1, an 82 MPH curveball drops out of the zone as Zimmer swings through it for a swinging strike 2, a 96 MPH fastball misses inside, ball 2, curveball down and away for ball 3, full count, cutter outside ball four. That’s it for Morton, wow he really lost it in the 5th and looked gassed in the 6th.
Game Summary: Morton looked unhittable early in the game with his combination of the sinker, and curve, but struggled the next time through the order, as the at bats got longer, and hitters began to sit on the fastball and cutter. He was working low in the zone the first few innings before the sinker began to elevate in the fourth, and due to that he paid dearly. I can see where the enthusiasm over Morton stems from, but admittedly I left a little underwhelmed. Morton will miss bats, and the strikeouts will pile up, but he will rarely dominate or get out of the 6th, based on what I observed.
Updated Top 100 SP
(rankings for ROS based on 12-team Roto)
- Masahiro Tanaka has to be the most difficult player to rank at the moment. After a rough opening day, Tanaka righted the ship going 5-0 in his next 6 starts with a 3.10 ERA, and only 4 homers allowed over that period. However, in his last two starts (last Sunday and this past Saturday) he has allowed 7 homers! Then again, maybe this is a case of just not being able to quell that potent Rays offense (sarcasm), he’s allowed 13 runs to Tampa over 5 2/3rds innings this season.
- Vince Velasquez has given up 5 runs or more in 2 of his past 3 starts. He’s been a bit unlucky with the HR/FB and LOB%, but not unlucky enough that you should rush out and buy him. He’s been moved off the list as the K’s aren’t enough to make up for the lack of startability. It’s an Edwin Diaz like demotion. He’ll be back…I hope.
- The Ivan Nova breakout continues, he’s easily getting deep into games. Only needed 90 pitches to go 7 1/3 on Saturday. For comparison, Drew Pomeranz threw more than that through 4 innings.
- After a poor start to the season Justin Verlander has been better over his last 5 starts. He’s still walking too many batters and getting a little lucky with his HR/FB. He’s toeing a line between last season’s renaissance, and his previous struggles.
- The Mets Zack Wheeler has long been a player I avoid in all formats. And while his recent string of good luck has lead to a 2.08 ERA over his last 4 starts, there’s still cause for concern. His Bb/9 over that period is a ghastly 5.82. With a K/9 of 7.89 over the same period, I’m guessing his numbers will creep back toward that mid-4’s FIP.
- Speaking of Mets starters, Steven Matz makes his debut on my list at 48. He’s expected to make a rehab start on Tuesday. If it’s all systems go Matz is an easy top 30 starter, but what are the chances he makes all of his starts from here on out? If you answered “Zero!” you’ve won this week’s giveaway of nothing!
- Alex Wood is the best! I bumped him to 16, because if he keeps pitching like this he’s a top 20 starter easy. Maybe top 10…. He’s finally got his release point consistent for the first time in years, and the results have followed. It’s easy to forget how good this kid was in Atlanta before all the injuries, and subsequent ineffectiveness.