Astros Sign Charlie Morton; AL West Lefties Rejoice

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 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.

wOBA vs LHBs, 2008-2016
# Name AVG OBP SLG wOBA
1 Charlie Morton 0.301 0.392 0.466 0.375
2 Nick Blackburn 0.300 0.356 0.478 0.362
3 Jeremy Guthrie 0.286 0.345 0.491 0.362
4 Bronson Arroyo 0.287 0.338 0.500 0.361
5 Roberto Hernandez 0.287 0.365 0.456 0.359
6 Livan Hernandez 0.297 0.358 0.473 0.359
7 Kyle Kendrick 0.279 0.351 0.476 0.358
8 Bud Norris 0.271 0.359 0.460 0.357
9 Jason Marquis 0.277 0.367 0.449 0.356
10 Justin Masterson 0.283 0.369 0.431 0.353

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.

We hoped you liked reading Astros Sign Charlie Morton; AL West Lefties Rejoice by Dave Cameron!

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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ginsugarland@gmail.com
Member
ginsugarland@gmail.com

Dave, Can you look back at the high LH BABIP of Morton vs how often his team shifted? If so, can you estimate improvement (all else equal) just on the Astro’s propensity to shift on LHH?

srpst23
Member
srpst23

From a completely unscientific view, after watching him pitch in Pittsburgh for several years, shifting won’t help him. He is, as Dave states, batting practice for LH Hitters. I’d love to see the exit velocities of LH hitters vs. RH hitters against him for his career. I imagine there is a pretty sizable difference.