Going back and watching through Charlie Morton’s first four starts, one thing that jumped out at me was how many soft hits he had given up. This is obviously something we can check now with real data, so I opened up the internet, hoped over to Baseball Savant, and sure enough, I discovered this little nugget: no pitcher in baseball has given up more sub-80 mph hits than Charlie Morton this season. Here’s the link and full list if you’d like to check it out for yourself, but don't worry, we’re going to go through some of my favorites.
Eight of Morton’s twenty-one hits allowed this season have been, for lack of a better word, bloops. That’s almost 40% of his hits allowed. And some of them have come in pretty big spots. Let’s do a run down:
- Joey Votto breaks up Morton’s perfect game with a 77 mph flare to center
You guys remember Morton had a perfect game going through four innings against the Reds in his first start? After this, Nick Senzel hits a ball to right-field that’s misplayed by Rosario (ruled a double) and leads to a run.
2. With the bases loaded and two out, Eric Hosmer bloops a 68 mph single to center that scores two runs.
In a fairly large spot, Morton makes a great pitch to Hosmer, and gets rewarded with a bloop two-run single. Padres would tack on another run this inning when it easily could've been over with no runs.
3. Jake Cronenworth bloops a two-out single in front of Marcell Ozuna
This bloop leads to another two-run inning. And as much bad luck as Morton has had, Rosario and Ozuna have done a number on him with misplays that've gotten labeled as hits.
4. Manny Machado flairs a 70 mph single.
Machado was unconscious this series and Morton paid for most of it.
5. Bellinger perfectly places a 77 mph triple down the first base line.
The main reason this was a triple was because how softly it was hit. Charlie was close to get out of this inning and game with a decent looking line but the soft-hit gods had other plans.
6. Rafael Ortega flairs a 79 mph ground-rule double down the left field line.
I could've done a whole separate blog on Morton getting the short end of the stick with crappy outfield defense behind him. A non-DH outfielder probably catches this, or if Morton was going better this lands harmlessly foul. Neither happened and Morton is charged with a lead-off double against him, which leads to a two-run inning.
7. Frank Schwindell jam-shot 77 mph single
This one didn’t lead to any runs but it might most illustrate some of the nonsense Charlie has dealt with this season. Look at where that pitch is. Perfectly placed, completely jams him, could've for the same money been a pop up to first or come-backer to the mound for a double play. Instead, it’s runners on first and third with one out.
Again, eight of the 21 hits allowed by Morton this season have been hit with sub-80 mph exit velocities. No one in baseball has had more.
A lot of the talk has been around Morton’s curveball, which hitters have a .619 SLG% against this season. But the expected SLG%, or xSLG% is .384, almost half as much. The wOBA on Morton’s curveball is .411. The expected wOBA is .295. It just hasn’t been as bad as it seems.
Now there are certainly things that Charlie needs to clean up, mostly the walks. He’s running the highest walk rate of his career and that will bite you. But his pitch velocity looks great, his spin rates look great, the vertical and horizontal movement on his pitches all look normal relative to his yearly levels. His hard hit% is in-line with last year’s number and the average exit velocity his given up on all his batted balls is actually lower this year than last years’. That .327 BABIP against, 7th highest among qualified pitchers, isn’t going to last forever.
Has Morton been bad this season? Yes, without doubt. Has he been as bad as it seems? Probably not. Let’s get a few more weeks of batted ball luck, and hopefully better defense, in before we write him off completely.