Astros: You should bank on Charlie Morton in 2018
A free agent acquisition from last off-season for the Astros should be a key contributor once again.
Charlie Morton. Charlie F. Morton. And, no, the letter “F” doesn’t stand for his middle name.
Let’s jump right to the point, shall we? The Astros, and you, should bank on Morton in 2018. After all, the 34-year old was quite good in 2017. He finished last season with a 3.62 ERA in 146.2 innings worth a 3.3 fWAR. The increase in velocity was proven not to be a myth. While Morton did miss time with a lat strain, he did step up in key moments all season long. You know, like this moment in Game 7 of the World Series?
In terms of Morton’s value, he generated $26.3 million in value based on a win being worth roughly $8 million. The Astros paid him only $7 million in 2017. Morton will only be paid $7 million, again, in 2018. The Astros, again, should receive surplus value from Morton if he records slightly below one win above replacement. And I have a feeling he will be worth more than just one win, health permitting.
I feel good about Morton in 2018, especially with the velocity increase. Morton’s average four-seam fastball velocity in 2015 was 92.9 MPH. In 2017, the velocity of the same pitch was 96 MPH. The increase in velocity showed in the actual results. For example, Morton finished with a .183 batting average against on his four-seam fastball. In 2015, the four-seam fastball had a batting average against of .238. Temper your expectations, though, about the four-seam fastball. Morton, historically, hasn’t thrown the pitch with the same regularity as his sinker or curveball.
Alas, the projections aren’t quite as kind to Morton for the 2018 season.
Steamer projections currently have Morton throwing 130 innings with a 3.90 ERA and 2.4 fWAR. ZiPS projections, courtesy of Dan Szymborski, have Morton throwing 133 innings with a 3.79 ERA and 2.0 zWAR. His comp from ZiPS is Ken Hill. Yes, I am having trouble recalling who that is off the top of my head.
The projections clearly do not expect Morton to surpass his inning total from last season, and the systems are probably right. After all, Morton has never thrown more than 171.2 innings in a single season since 2011. Injuries have to be somewhat concerning once you consider his full history. And his inning total from 2017 was the third-highest of his career, and this doesn’t count the postseason. I am not sure if he can top that total at this point in his career.
Projections, though, are not infallible. The ZiPS projections before the 2017 season had Morton posting a 0.6 zWAR with a 4.59 ERA in roughly 84 innings. Oh, by the way, I am not infallible myself. Just ask my wife.
Next: Astros avoid arbitration hearing with Springer by giving him two-year deal
Overall, I feel good about banking on a solid, efficient Morton in 2018. While injuries will likely remain part of the narrative, if the Astros can squeeze roughly 140 to 150 innings from him, then I will be as happy as a clam.
**Statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball**