The Astros finally made a move this offseason. Maybe it just wasn’t the news that most fans were expecting.
Pitching depth is important for every team. This latest postseason reproved that very truth multiple times. And the Astros realize this as well. That is probably reason why the team went ahead and signed veteran starting pitcher Charlie Morton.
Morton, 33, joins the Astros on a two-year, $14 million contract that is heavily based on incentives. After all, the right-hander has had his fair share of injuries over the course of his career. Just last season he only made four starts before tearing his hamstring running the base paths with the Philadelphia Phillies. He has already had Tommy John surgery once before. Let’s hope that the injuries don’t flare up while he is in an Astros uniform.
So, why would general manager Jeff Luhnow want to sign an oft-injured pitcher?
When healthy, Morton has the capability of being a fourth or fifth starter on a major league rotation. His best seasons from 2013-14 while he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates proved that much.
2013-14 statistics: 13-16 W-L, 3.52 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 102 ERA+, 93 BB, 211 SO
The Astros if you remember last season had an issue with pitching depth towards the end of the season. And if Morton can provide similar production then the team is just that much better off in the doldrums of summer. However, the right-hander and his health will play a major role in that narrative.
One strength of Morton’s that likely drew the Astros to him though was his groundball ability. Per Fangraphs, the veteran pitcher posts high groundball percentages for his career (55.4%). In his last relatively healthy season in 2015, Morton posted a 57.3% groundball percentage in 23 starts. And we all know the Astros preference for similar pitchers, i.e. Dallas Keuchel, in Minute Maid Park.
There are two primary concerns with Morton, and that is his health and ability to get left-handed hitters out.
In regards to his health, that could play an important role in the Astros season next year. But it shouldn’t counted upon till it actually happens. After all, Morton has only pitched more than 150 innings in a season only twice in his major league career (2011, 2014).
And left-handed hitters have been an issue for the pitcher who relies mainly on pitches to generate groundball contact.
LHB vs. Morton (career): .307/.392/.466, 493 H, 40 HR
This signing could essentially mean that the Astros are moving on from a starting pitcher on last year’s staff: Doug Fister. Even though he was at times the best starting pitcher on Houston’s roster, the 32-year old finished the 2016 season with a 4.64 ERA/4.75 FIP. The hope is that Morton could provide better production from the backend of the rotation.
We should expect the Astros to continue to be active this offseason. This move should only be the first of numerous. But sometimes the under the radar signings turn out to be most important at some point.
**Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs**