As has become the norm, unlike most sports baseball’s offseason is a marathon instead of a sprint. Free agency feels like it drags on, with the top names signing closer and closer to the start of Spring Training. That said the first domino appeared to fall yesterday, with the Atlanta Braves inking Charlie Morton to a one-year, $15 million contract.
It’s a solid signing for a team looking to battle for a World Series title, as it clearly provides them depth in the rotation. Assuming Mike Soroka is ready for Opening Day, their starting rotation could be among the better groups in the National League:
- Mike Soroka
- Charlie Morton
- Max Fried
- Drew Smyly
- Ian Anderson / Kyle Wright
At 37-years old and having posted a 4.74 ERA over nine starts in 2020 it’s fair to wonder just how much Morton has left in the tank. The fact that his velocity dropped on his fourseam fastball only adds to the concern:
- 2016 – 95.22
- 2017 – 96.08
- 2018 – 96.65
- 2019 – 95.08
- 2020 – 93.84
He was using it more than he had in recent years (35.61%) so that makes you wonder. Despite that concern, when you start digging into the underlying numbers things start to look a whole lot better.
Morton struggled with a lot of poor luck, with a .355 BABIP despite a 29.8% Hard%. That simply shouldn’t happen, and with the other skills there should be better days ahead.
Strikeouts – While his K/9 dropped to 9.95 (11.10 in ’19), his 12.1% SwStr% indicates that he could see an improvement.
Control – Morton owns a career 3.24 BB/9 and was at 2.37 in ’20.
Groundballs – It’s a bit of a concern that he saw a significant drop, to 41.6%, but he still kept the ball in the ballpark (0.95 HR/9) and he got better as the year progressed (48.3% in September).
It’s easy to be concerned given his age and struggles, but at the end of the day there’s reason to believe that Morton is going to rebound strong in 2021. While he’s not an ace, he should be considered a solid option for fantasy owners in the middle of their rotation.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball