Charlie Morton is a solid big league hurler. Well, maybe he is. He doesn't strike out many batters, until this year at least, but he takes the ball, gives the Pirates innings, and has been on a nice run of late. What is his value in the second half of the season – is he anything more than a depth option or is he someone you can count on?
2008: Made 15 starts and 16 appearances with a 6.15 ERA and 1.62 WHIP going 4-8 for the Braves.
2009: Went 5-9 in his first year with the Pirates improving his ERA to 4.55 and lowering his WHIP to 1.46 over 97 innings.
2010: His record fell even further into the toilet as he went 2-12 over 17 starts. He saw his ratios explode to simply atrocious levels (7.57 ERA, 1.73). It's shocking the Pirates kept running him out there.
2011: The worm finally turned. Tossing a career-high 171.2 innings, Morton went 10-10 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.53 WHIP.
2012: Limited to just nine starts, Morton went back to being a pile of dog poop with a 2-6 record, 4.65 ERA and 1.45 WHIP.
2013: Made 20 starts for only the second time as he went 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA and 1.28 WHIP.
2014: Over 18 starts he's looked better than ever before. Morton has a mere 5-9 record but he's sporting a 3.10 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. He's been locked in of late as well, frankly, pitching like an all-star. Over his last nine outings he's 5-3 with a 2.73 ERA, 1.13 WHIP with 57 Ks in 56 innings pitched.
CAREER: 35-58, 4.44 ERA, 1.45 WHIP over 127 games (126 starts).
*** Take note of that win loss record. He's has one winning season in six years and he is 5-9 this season.
I'm just gonna say it. Morton gets grounders and that's great. The rest...?
Morton has a 2.24 GB/FB ratio for his career. A mark at that level will be top-10 every season for a starting pitcher with a good shot to be top-5. It's elite.
His 54.9 percent ground ball rate for his career. A mark at that level will be top-10 every season for a starting pitcher with a good shot to be top-5. It's elite.
This season he's at 2.35 with the GB/FB and 55.4 for the ground ball. The GB/FB rate is currently 7th while the ground ball rate is 6th. Again, elite.
Now on to the rest of what he's got going on.
Morton owns a career K/9 rate of 6.19. His season best to this point of his career is 6.67. So, how do we explain his current 7.46 mark including a batter per inning over his last nine starts? He's throwing his curve ball a bit more, he's at 25.3 percent with the pitch after being at 24.4 and 21.8 percent the past two years, but that doesn't explain the massive K jump.
His swinging strike percentage is 7.6 percent. That's one tenth above his career rate. Again, no explanation for the K increase.
The percentage of pitches inside the strike zone that batters swing at... it's at a career low, five percent below his 65 percent career rate. Again, no explanation for the K increase.
The total number of pitches that batters swing at... again a career low at 43.9 percent (career 45.5). Again, no explanation for the K increase.
He has upped his first pitch strike percentage to 60.5 percent compared to 56.6 for his career. It's an improvement, and getting ahead in the count certainly matters, but it doesn't explain the massive jump in his strikeout rate.
Basically – there's no obvious explanation. Therefore I deduce that it is more likely that his K-rate recedes than to continues in the second half.
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Morton has a 3.18 BB/9 mark this season. That's slightly below his 3.47 career mark but it's well above the level he's been at the last two years (2.54 per nine). Wrong direction yet overall more success? Even with the walks, his WHIP is still down at 1.18, a career best. It's never been below 1.28 before, and his career mark is 1.45. It's not about the walks so it's about the hits then. His .273 BABIP is 40 points below his career mark. His current batting average against is .229. His career mark is .277 and he's never had a mark under .261. Should be pretty obvious which way that is going ROTW. Also, doesn't make a lot of sense that those two numbers are so down given that his line drive rate is 21 percent, a half percentage point over his career rate.
Finally... health. It's never been there. Morton threw his first big league pitch in 2008. In six previous seasons he's thrown 100 innings only twice. He's only had one season of 120 innings. That's particularly noteworthy given that he's currently at 113.1 innings, just three innings from becoming his second highest innings pitched total as a big leaguer. To restate. He's thrown 113.1 innings this season to given him his first back-to-back seasons of 100 innings in his seven year career.
Two last notes from @AceballStats on Twitter. I just found them fascinating and they do speak to how effective Morton has been of late, even if not overly impressive.
Last 35 starts:
Tigers Justin Verlander 12-14 4.17 ERA, 1.380 WHIP, 7.51 K/9
Pirates Charlie Morton 11-12 3.21 ERA, 1.233 WHIP, 7.05 K/9
Tigers Max Scherzer has a 3.08 ERA over his last 30 starts.
Pirates Charlie Morton has a 3.09 ERA over his last 30 starts.
10 team lg: You can role with Morton while he's hot but know it's not likely to last. His increase in strikeouts is hard to predict a continuation with, he's never been able to throw big innings, and oh that record is always below .500.
12 team lg: Right now he's a starter. Most likely to be a streaming option the rest of the way if I had to guess, but with his work the last two months you should be rolling with him right now.
15 team lg: A strong waiver-wire when you picked him up given the player penetration. Nothing more than a low end starter though given the skills. Worth rostering/starting with zero doubt, but don't be afraid to move on if he hits a rough patch or the inevitable injury strikes.
NL-only: Someone is reaping the rewards of randomly throwing a few bucks at Morton at the end of a draft. Might not be the dumbest thing in the world to see if you could parlay him into something bigger.