by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Charlie Morton’s first season in Philadelphia was an obvious bust, as injury limited him to 4 starts. Given the state of the free agent class, though, that didn’t deter him from cashing in as he netted a 2-year, $14 million contract from the Houston Astros. On the surface it certainly wouldn’t appear to be an ideal landing spot, though could there actually be significant upside?
While Minute Maid Park isn’t a favorable locale, Morton’s groundball ways should help to offset its effect. While Morton may not be the next Dallas Keuchel… Or will he? We obviously aren’t going to go that far, but Keuchel has shown us what is possible.
Prior to 2016 Keuchel, the former AL Cy Young Award winner, had developed into one of the elite groundball pitchers in the league (63.5% and 61.7% over the previous two seasons). Morton hasn’t been consistently at those levels, but he was at 62.9% back in ’13 and 61.4% in the first half of ’15. The potential is there to be among the league leaders (he owns a 55.4% career mark), and that will go a long way.
One of the questions is going to be if Morton can generate enough strikeouts. He’s shown the potential, with a pair of strong swing and miss pitches in 2015 (Whiff%):
The splitter is a pitch that he had developed in recent seasons, and it certainly could be a difference maker. Increasing his 6.35 K/9, even into the 7.0-7.5 range would potentially be enough. Clearly he has groundball stuff and he also has solid control (3.40 BB/9). That potential, on a team that can get him W, makes him extremely intriguing.
The jump to the AL isn’t ideal, but keep in mind that while it was a miniscule sample he did generate a 12.3% SwStr% in his four starts in ’16. That’s enough to grab our attention.
The draft day cost is going to be virtually nil, so don’t be afraid to take the flier. Worst case you move on quickly. Best case? We get Dallas Keuchel v2.0. Doesn’t that sound like it’s worth the gamble?
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
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