This morning, the Astros announced that they have signed Charlie Morton to a two year, $14 million contract, bringing the right-hander to Houston to bolster their pitching depth. And as Mike Petriello notes, there’s some obvious synergy here.
Charlie Morton was top 5 (min. 50 thrown) in curve spin last year (2990 RPM). The Astros threw more curves as last year went on. Easy fit. pic.twitter.com/TuS7zjWtm7
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) November 16, 2016
Charlie Morton is a high-spin curveball pitcher. The Astros like high-spin curveballs, using it as the primary reason to bring Collin McHugh into the organization a few years ago, and getting some good value out of that bet. Two years ago, when Eno Sarris wrote about trying to find “The Next Collin McHugh”, he showed a spin-rate table with Morton near the very top.
So, yeah, Morton and the Astros are a natural fit, and it’s easy to think about what Houston might be able to do with a guy with a good sinking fastball and a curve that should be a put-away pitch. But in reality, unless the Astros can figure out how to make Morton’s curveballs get lefties out, they might have just signed Bud Norris with health issues instead.
Since Morton debuted in the big leagues in 2008, no pitcher (minimum 350 innings pitched) has been worse against left-handed hitters. His sinking fastball dives right into a lefties wheelhouse, and despite the spin, his curveball hasn’t been effective at getting them off balance so they don’t just crush his fastball. Against right-handers, his repertoire is quite effective, but against lefties, he’s basically throwing batting practice.
That doesn’t make this a terrible gamble for the Astros. If they think they can fix Morton, and get him to stop running a .350 BABIP against LHBs — yes, that’s his career average — then maybe there’s some upside as a back-end starter. And if they can’t, maybe they’ll be able to convince him that he could be a quality reliever, using him mostly as a right-handed specialist. The ability to perhaps convert him into a quality bullpen arm if the starting experiment continues to fail gives his signing a chance to work even if they can’t make him Collin McHugh 2.0.
But the Astros already have a deep bullpen full of right-handed arms. What they really could use is another quality starting pitcher. Unless the new CBA bans left-handed hitters, I’m not sure I’d count on Morton being that guy.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.