The Rays went into the offseason looking to add a veteran arm to the rotation. It didn’t take long for them to cross that task off the list with the addition of Charlie Morton. Morton is guaranteed $30M over the first two years of the deal with a possible third year. That counts as a major splurge for the Rays.
Morton will likely be sandwiched between reigning the AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell and towering right-hander Tyler Glasnow. At 35 years of age, Morton will add a veteran presence and leadership (for those who value these qualities) to an incredibly young pitching staff.
Morton has had an interesting career and one that began in relative obscurity, as he adopted the exact windup of the late Roy Halladay.
As the years passed, Morton enjoyed some success with the Pirates, albeit with some middling peripherals and K/BB ratios. After being traded to the Phillies and missing nearly the entire year, Morton signed with the Astros. The deal was met with some head scratching, especially after the contract numbers came to light. Two years for $14M with incentives seemed a little much for a guy coming off an injury. But the Astros are the Astros, so whatever, right? Right.
Morton went on to start 55 games with the Astros, pitched to a 3.36/3.53 ERA/FIP with a 10.4 K/9 and closed out Game 7 of the 2017 World Series.
How did this happen?
A bump in velocity certainly helped.
With the exception of 2010 and 2013, Morton usually sat around 92-93 MPH. In four starts with the Phillies in 2016, he averaged 95.4 MPH. In 2016 and 17 with the Astros he sat at 96 and 97 MPH respectively. The 2-seamer sat around 95 MPH in the last two seasons. The increase in velocity was more a self-made thing with Morton as he described in a 2016 interview, “For some reason, I just went out there and tried to throw the ball hard one game. I wound up throwing it harder”.
Morton is a master manipulator of his curveball as well. We all know that pitchers are able to shape the movement of their pitches as they please, at times. For example, we’ve seen Jose Alvarado turn his slider into a cutter and even a curveball.
This version of his curveball is a slightly harder version of it at 81 mph. The movement almost represents that of a slider, but it’s the exact same pitch.
This curveball clocked in at 76 mph and represented a bit more drop at the end. The 5 mph difference between the two is very noticeable, but this presents a major problem for the hitter as he can’t exactly time up the curveball correctly given that Morton is constantly switching up velocities and break.
Between his sinker and 4-seamer, Morton used the two pitches a combined 58% with his curveball usage at nearly 30%. He’s mainly a 3 pitch guy that evolves into 2 pitches if you could his differing fastballs the same.
Morton does tend to lose command of his pitches at the game wears on, and after the 3rd time through the order in ‘18, Morton showed a spike in BB/9 to 4.46 after logging 2.94 and 3.39 BB/9 the first and second respectively. What’s odd is that his K/9 was the highest the third time through at 11.74.
There doesn’t seem to be any sharp loss in velocity as the game wears on. I’m curious if the loss in command simply has to do with Morton losing the release point on his hard stuff, and simply getting too predictable with the curveball.
Digging a little deeper, Morton does seem to have a habit of ditching his fastball as the game wears on and primary working with the curveball.
As I mentioned above, could that simply because he loses his release point as works his way through a lineup?
There doesn’t seem to be sharp change in his release point through the game. It does happen to shift just enough, however, that I think it’s worth bringing up. The increase in curve could simply be Morton adjusting to hitters as they adjust back to him, or he really could lose that ideal release point on both of his fastballs as he goes through the order.
Charlie Morton is a rare occurrence of a pitcher aging backwards. With age comes diminished velocity, arm problems, and many other issues. However, Morton has used the past few years to re-imagine his career and establish himself as hugely important piece of a competitive rotation. With the Rays looking to go with a highly nontraditional rotation of 3 starters and 2 openers followed by bulk guys, Charlie Morton is here to provide a stabilizing presence in the rotation while also giving the Rays high quality work. With a bullpen that places high importance on multi-inning pitchers, Morton might be able to succeed even more with the Rays as it’s possible he could work shorter outings and give way to relievers that can pick up the slack.
The Rays present a very interesting option for Charlie Morton as his career renaissance continues. Should the curveball continue to be elite, Morton has the opportunity to continue his recent success with the chances of being even better. The talent and resources are there to provide him with just that and should everything work out, this could be the beginning of something good for both the team itself and Charlie Morton.