After Thursday’s off day, the Atlanta Braves will be back in action on Friday night, as they look to continue their three-game winning streak against the Royals on the first game of a two-city, six-game road trip. Charlie Morton will take the hill for Atlanta and look for an actual, good start, while the Royals will counter with Brady Singer, who is likely their best starter.
Morton’s 2023 hasn’t started off the way he, or anyone, would’ve wanted it to. After a subpar 2022 season that was by far his worst post-renaissance performance (1.5 fWAR in 172 innings), Morton’s 2023 has begun in even worse fashion. In his season debut, he posted a horrible 1/2 K/BB ratio in 5 1⁄3 innings, but avoided the longball as the Braves shrugged off the three runs charged to him and won an 8-4 game in St. Louis. Things got somewhat better against the Padres at home, as Morton posted a 6/3 K/BB ratio, but he also allowed a homer and the Braves ended up on the receiving end of a 4-1 loss.
On an aggregate pitch-movement basis, one of the things that hurt Morton was last year was just a slight decrease in the horizontal movement of his four-seamer and curveball, as well as less consistency in how much his four-seamer faded from pitch to pitch. The early returns from his pitches in 2023 show similar slight degradation: his four-seamer seems to have picked up some of its lost horizontal movement, but it has lost an arguably more important trait in its carry, while his curveball has lost some of its horizontal break and drop, though it has been sped up from its 2021-2022 iterations, which might reflect an intentional tradeoff.
Meanwhile, the Braves’ bats will have to contend with Brady Singer, who had a career-best season last year (2.9 fWAR in 153 1⁄3 innings), but also hasn’t had the start he was hoping for. In his season debut, Singer posted a 3/3 K/BB ratio but was charged just a lone run in what ended up being a 9-5 home win over the Blue Jays. Five days later, Singer’s K/BB ratio improved to 4/0, but he allowed a homer and was charged five total runs in six innings, though the Royals got a big three-run homer late and later won, 6-5, thanks to a ninth-inning run-scoring wild pitch. Singer allowed nearly a .500 xwOBA-against in that latter game, despite just the one homer and no walks, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares against this somewhat-depleted Braves lineup.
If you’ve never watched Singer pitch, he’s kind of a weird one. He’s a two-pitch starter that’s almost entirely sinker-gyro slider, and his idea is to beat guys with a combination of unexpected sinker movement (it’s kind of a four-seamer) and good slider command. When his slider’s use became pinpoint on the gloveside corner, he had a great season; so far this season, the slider keeps drifting into the zone, and he’s lost about a tick on his sinker, which has led to both getting hammered.
Speaking of depletion, with Orlando Arcia now on the shelf due to a wrist microfracture after being hit by a Hunter Greene pitch in the series finale with the Reds, Vaughn Grissom is expected to make his 2023 Braves debut in this game. The Braves are still without Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Harris II, so expect more Sam Hilliard and company to populate the lineup against Singer.
As for the Royals, well, their team hasn’t had the offensive start they likely wanted, though they have played great defense so far. Of the regulars, only Vinnie Pasquantino has had good results, though MJ Melendez has a gaudy xwOBA with absolutely nothing to show for it. Players like Michael Massey, Hunter Dozier, and Franmil Reyes have had poor starts to 2023 offensively, and much of the non-regulars aside from Matt Duffy have also had a miserable time. That might make things easier for Morton, but given that so much of his struggle seems to be with himself and not with the opposing team, it’s not clear that it’ll matter. One thing that’s interesting about the Royals, though, is that to this point, no team has underhit their xwOBA more — both their wOBA and xwOBA are bottom-10, anyway, but it’s still got to be a frustrating start to their season, even beyond the 4-9 record.
Atlanta Braves @ Kansas City Royals
Friday, April 14, 2023
8:10 pm ET
Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, MO
TV: Bankruptcy Sports Southeast, MLB Network
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Online, Ch. 183