We should all pay attention to Charlie Morton‘s start on Tuesday against the Blue Jays.
Charlie Morton has a 4.09 ERA and 4.59 FIP over his last six starts. In his first nine starts, Morton posted a 1.94 ERA and 3.36 FIP. Based on the numbers, the age-34 right-hander has not been the same lights out pitcher as of late. But one could partially attribute the inflated stats to one start: June 3rd when he surrendered six runs to the Red Sox.
That said, Morton’s performance over the last month has not been up to the level we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from him. But regression was due to strike. For nearly all pitchers, it is unreasonable to expect a sub-two ERA for an entire season. If a starter accomplishes such a feat, we are usually talking about either an all-time great or a pitcher from the dead-ball era.
But there are a few concerning trends with Morton when you look at his season in two parts: before and after May 24th.
For example, Morton’s walk rate is something to watch going forward. In his first nine starts of the season, the Astros‘ starter limited opposing lineups to a 8.3% walk rate.
But in his last six starts, the walk rate has jumped to 12.7%. The strikeout rate, in the meantime, has dropped roughly six percent from 32.1% to 26% over the same time period. And Morton’s groundball rate has dropped by nearly ten percent from 55.6% to 45.9%. Ironically, his home run-to-fly ball rate has also dropped by roughly 5% when comparing the first nine starts to the last six.
At first glance, the results have not been optimal. Anytime you see a pitcher walk more hitters and strikeout less hitters, it is usually not a good sign. In conjunction with the lower groundball rate, which is a key feature of Morton’s appeal, it only adds to the concern. In addition to these numbers, the exit velocity also has to be a concern.
Exit Velocity Numbers Before and After May 24th, per Baseball Savant
Before May 24th: 86.6 MPH
After May 24th: 89.5 MPH
While exit velocity does not carry the final verdict, it does help indicate whether a pitcher is having more trouble on the mound. And Morton’s exit velocity numbers fit the narrative that he has struggled more in his most recent starts. However, his exit velocity in the latest two starts was 87 MPH, which is more in line with his results earlier in the season. In his last two starts, Morton has allowed four earned runs over 12 innings. Not great, but not terrible either.
Then there is the Batting Average of Balls In Play, otherwise known as BABIP.
BABIP Results, per FanGraphs
Before May 24th: .225
After May 24th: .305
Simply put, a .225 BABIP is not sustainable for Morton. Over the course of his career, the former Pirate and Phillie has had a BABIP that ranges from .290 to .353. His current .257 BABIP would easily be the lowest mark of his career if the season ended today. Morton’s BABIP over his last six starts is comparable to his career numbers. Last season he had a .294 BABIP. Regression was due to strike sooner or later, and it did.
Heading into his start Tuesday against the Blue Jays, I would like to suggest two key points.
- Morton must limit the number of walks he issues to Toronto’s lineup. In his last three starts, or 15.2 innings, he has surrendered 14 walks. That’s not good and usually not a sign of success in baseball for a pitcher.
- Morton’s current home run-to-fly ball rate of 18.3% would be the highest of his career if the season ended today. While his rate of 15.4% over the last six starts is not optimal, it is still an improvement of the 20.6% rate in his first nine starts. The right-hander has already surrendered 11 home runs this season compared to just 14 in 2017. It is important to keep the ball in the park, especially for a pitcher like Morton who does generate plenty of outs based on contact.
Let’s see what happens next for Morton.
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