The Single Best Sign Out of Astros Camp

Everyone loves to observe a rebuild, so along those lines, we’re all waiting to see where the White Sox ultimately deal Jose Quintana. The Yankees have been in there, and the Pirates have been in there, but another team to draw frequent mention has been the Astros. As the Astros have been evaluated, it’s been my impression that the rotation is considered the potential weakness. Hence the Quintana link. You get how this works.

You’ve presumably noticed that Jose Quintana doesn’t play for the Astros yet. The Astros themselves are inclined to open the year with what they already have. Among the in-house options is a free agent the team signed fairly quietly last November. The Astros inked Charlie Morton to a two-year, sort of speculative contract after he was injured last year in his fourth start. Morton is entering his mid-30s, and he has an extensive injury history. Plus, there’s the 119 career ERA-. What grabbed the Astros’ attention was this:

Before Morton got hurt, he was throwing harder than ever. He had his hardest sinker, his hardest curveball, and his hardest splitter, plus a new-ish, hard cutter. Among pitchers who started games in both 2015 and 2016, Morton had the third-biggest fastball-velocity improvement, behind only David Phelps and James Paxton. It was enough to take a chance, considering Morton’s injury was to his leg. There’s upside in ground-ball pitchers with new velocity.

The question was whether the velocity bump would be real. So far, so good.

Morton, who saw a velocity spike last March and April before blowing out his hamstring, said afterward he felt like the ball came out of his hand well. His sinker sat between 94 and 96 mph, according to one scout’s radar gun.

The bulk of spring-training results are pretty much useless. Velocity is one of those things that’s difficult to fake. Beyond that, historically, spring velocity has been a little lower than regular-season velocity, since pitchers are still working up to 100%. So: It’s early, but it’s very encouraging. Charlie Morton seems to still have that zip, at a time when not having the same zip would be forgivable. More velocity tends to make pitchers better.

Morton’s sinker is a proven ground-ball pitch. With more speed, it would also become a less hittable pitch. He trusts his splitter, and as far as his curveball goes, last year’s closest pitch comp was Stephen Strasburg’s curveball. Morton’s curve ranked 10th in average spin rate, out of 507. He’s there ahead of names like Jeremy Hellickson and Lance McCullers. The Astros also intend to have Morton keep using that cutter to keep lefties honest.

It doesn’t mean anything’s a lock. It certainly doesn’t mean Morton will stay healthy enough to make 20 or 25 starts. But the Astros took a chance, and based on how Morton is throwing, he resembles a legitimate power pitcher with ground-ball and putaway stuff. The Doug Fister flier didn’t pan out. This one could make a good rotation great.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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7 years ago

Man, I really hope Morton does well.