In his last three seasons, two with the Astros, one with the Tampa Bay Rays, Charlie Morton has been championship quality and All Star quality. Of course, he was the winning pitcher in the Game 7, 2017 ALCS, and the winning pitcher in the Game 7 WS. He was a 2018 All Star.
He compiled impressive regular season numbers in those three years: a 3.24 ERA, 3.41 xFIP, and an almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings in over 508 innings pitched. In 2017 his exit velocity of 85.4 mph was in the top 10% of all MLB.
Perhaps it’s his age, now almost 37, or maybe the small sample size of the 2020 season, but there is a noticeable decline in Morton’s performance this year. His ERA is almost two runs more than last year at 4.74, and although his xFIP says he’s been a little unlucky, it still registers on the high end at 4.01. BABIP is high at .355, but that may be partly because Morton’s exit velocity is at a career high 89.4 mph.
Morton has lost a step in his velocity. He averaged 95.8 mph on the FB in his last three years, but this year he’s down to 93.8.
He’s also lost some of the effectiveness of his best putaway pitch, the curve. According to Fangraph’s Pitch Info Pitch Values/100, Morton’s curve rated a very high 1.94 for the previous three years. This year it rates in negative territory at -1.22.
Morton has not been deceiving batters as well as in the recent past. From 2017-19 his K% was 28.7%, higher if you count only the last two years. This year it is down to 24.7% His Z-Swing% (percentage of swings on pitches inside the strike zone) averaged 63.4% in the last three years. This year it is 71.1%. His contact % has increased 3% from 73.6% to 76.5%.
So, hitters are making more contact on Morton this year, and making harder contact.
Perhaps today’s matchup with Lance McCullers isn’t quite as unfavorable as some of us might have assumed. McCullers actually beat Morton in basic season statistics, posting a 3.93 ERA and a 3.68 xFIP.
Of course, playoffs are a whole nother game, and in their only appearances in this year’s postseason, McCullers allowed four runs in four innings, while Morton allowed only one run in five innings.
They play the game on the field with real baseballs. And in baseball, you never know what to expect. Let the game begin.
Starting time, 3:07 CDT.