Before we begin, there is one thing that needs to be made clear right off the bat: Charlie Morton is two starts into the season, after a pandemic-influenced Camp. No panic buttons should be pressed and no definite conclusions should be made.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at Morton’s fastball this season — specifically the four seam — after his first two starts, because if you’ve been watching, you may have notice something seems a little off.
Morton’s fastball has averaged 92.4 mph in 2020, down from 94.7 throughout 2019 and 94.8 after his first two starts in 2019. Morton’s fastball spin rate, however, has slightly increased, from 2294 rpm after his first two 2019 starts up to 2326 rpm in 2020. Both of those metrics are visualized below.
A 2.4 mph drop in velocity from a 36-year-old pitcher entering a new season is not the end of the world, but it is slightly eyebrow raising.
Morton’s second start of 2020 shows an increase in average velocity, which could be a promising trend upwards. Meanwhile, the spin rates across all four starts highlighted above are close enough to indicate the stuff is still there overall.
Another aspect of the charts that stick out is the utilization of the fastball. While Morton only threw the pitch 24 times between his first two starts last season, he has already thrown 59 fastballs in 2020.
Last season, Morton was quoted saying, “I just throw it as hard as I can,” when referring to his four-seamer. With an uptick in fastball usage, the question arises, has Morton taken a little bit off of the pitch since he is throwing it more?
For one, the command seems to be quite good on the pitch.
Based on Morton’s apparent struggles with his curveball in the season opener, the increase in fastball utilization for that game makes sense, but last night’s outing against the Braves seemed to be a more deliberate approach. The fastball against the Braves was good, too, with an expected batting average against of .207, improved from the season opener’s .307.
There are still many questions to be answered about the decrease in Morton’s fastball velocity, but one answer could simply be that with an unprecedented season taking place, Morton is just not fully ramped up yet after a three-week Summer Camp like he would be after a full month of Spring Training.
For a point of reference, Morton averaged 93 mph on his fastball in his second Spring Training start earlier this year against the Baltimore Orioles.
While the velocity may be down, the fastball was still effective against Atlanta’s lineup, and Morton appeared to be able to command the pitch well. With PITCHf/x being in an unreliable state, it is difficult to get a full gauge on the fastball’s movement, so this is something that can be followed up on after more starts.
Morton is expected to pitch again early next week, potentially at home against the Boston Red Sox, so things should become more clear with one more start in the books.