By: Noah Wright
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Charlie Morton; you probably know him as the ace-like starter for The Houston Astros, but if you’re a Pirate fan like me, you probably wonder “how did this happen?”. Currently, Morton has a 2.04 ERA, which would be just 2 points higher than 2 time Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, good for 3rd place in AL ERA. He’s also got a pretty good FIP of 3.32, showing that it’s not his defense completely carrying him. His strikeout rate is at a career high at 10.9 K/9, and has a pretty good walk rate at just 3.1 walks/9 in 61.2 innings this year. But how exactly did he go from back end rotation arm at best, to an ace level pitcher and World Series hero? I have theory that could explain just why he’s the pitcher he is today, and explain why he struggled for the first part of his career.
Morton was used the wrong way
If you’ve been a Pirate fan for any of the past 5-8 seasons, you probably remember announcers calling Charlie Morton Ground Chuck, for his tendency to get ground balls. If you look at Morton today, you’d probably think he’s strike-out Chuck. This is where I think The Pirates misused Morton. The Pirates wanted Morton to be a pitch to contact and while he did just that, with a ground ball % of 50%+ each season he pitched over 100+ innings with The Bucs, he still struggled somewhat, with an overall 4.39 ERA, and 4.03 FIP, with just 6.3 K/9 in his Pirate career. Once Morton left The Pirates, Charlie’s strikeout rate, and performance rose. Once he signed with The Phillies, Morton’s K/9 rate was 9.9. His fastball velocity also went from the low-90’s to the mid-to-high 90’s. Though his ERA was 4.15, he would have finished with a career low 3.09 FIP, but was limited to 17.1 innings and then suffering a hamstring injury, which kept him out for the year. Another thing to point out about Morton’s 2016 season is that he started to use his cutter at at a consistent rate, first time he did that since 2011, and started to use his curveball a high rate.
Morton signed on with The Astros the next year, and he continued with a similar performance. His velocity stayed in the mid/high 90 range, while his K/9 kept at a steady 10, and his ERA/FIP also was a decent 3.62/.3.46.
My point is, Morton has been a strikeout pitcher from the start. His best minor league seasons were when he had a K/9 rate of 8+. His best major league seasons have been when his K/9 rate were above 9. The Pirates used Morton wrong. Whether it was manager Clint Hurdle, or pitching coach Ray Searage who wanted Morton to work as a ground ball pitcher, it didn’t work that well as to when Morton became a strikeout pitcher