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Let’s talk about Charlie Morton expectations

Many fans across social media have been upset with Charlie Morton’s performance. Is that actually warranted?

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Cincinnati Reds
Charlie Morton is not as bad as you think
Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s talk about Charlie Morton. The Atlanta Braves have been one of the hottest teams on the planet, yet for some reason, across social media, Charlie Morton has been catching a lot of grief.

There could be a multitude of reasons for this. It could be because the rotation has been depleted, so expectations are out of whack thinking he should be pitching like a staff ace. It could be due to him making the most money of anyone in the rotation, even though he is the only one in the rotation that has been through free agency yet, a combination of both, or something else.

That is fine. That is the beauty of sports. We can debate and argue till we are blue in the face, and it brings joy to many of us. However, let’s take some time and focus on some expectation management of Charlie Morton. Has he been perfect? Absolutely not. But, he has not been as bad as some of the hate that he has been receiving.

The odd part is when paying attention over the last month, he has been getting heat more than normal, yet has been preventing runs at an above average clip. Over the past thirty days in 32.2 innings he has pitched to a 4.13 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 2.42 SO/BB ratio with hitters having a slash of .264/.372/.424 against him, all the while being extremely lucky with a .390 BABIP against him.

These are not elite numbers by any stretch of the imagination. However, why are we expecting elite numbers from Charlie Morton?

Why the high expectations for Charlie Morton?

Are expectations high because his last thirty days have been a bit of a drop-off from his first nine starts in which he posted a 3.61 ERA? He actually had a higher FIP of 3.95 with hitters not as lucky with a BABIP of .327 with a slash of .263/.332/.405. That could be a reason why.

However, if you look at his overall season thus far, in 85.0 innings he has a 3.81 ERA which is good for a ERA+ of 117 (17.0 percent better than league average), 3.84 FIP, 2.56 SO/BB ratio with hitters slashing .264/.347/.412. All the while hitters have their second BABIP against him in his entire career. They currently have .348. That is the highest since a .361 way back in 2010.

Let’s look at league averages. So far this season, the league average ERA is 4.26, Morton is at 3.81. The league average BABIP is .297, Morton has been unfortunate to have .348. League average HR per nine innings is 1.2, Morton is at 1.0. League average SO/BB ratio is 2.62, Morton is at 2.56. League average WHIP is 1.314, Morton is at 1.482.

So, it appears that from an overall standpoint, the qualm may be that he gives up base runners higher than average. However, he has doing his job when it comes to keeping them from crossing the plate. To be fair, there are a lot of variables in play here. His LOB percentage is higher than average at 76.9 percent when the average is 71.9. However, hitters have been fortunate getting on with their high BABIP.

Another reason could be that he is making twenty million dollars this year, which is 9.89 percent of the team’s payroll and 6.5 million higher than the next highest paid rotation arm (Fried).

From the outside looking in, with not a full understanding of how payrolls work, it makes sense as to why some may have high expectations for this reason. However, the truth of the matter is that twenty million is about on par to what a player like Charlie Morton would cost typically.

First, you can’t compare his salary to the other rotation arms on the roster in terms of output vs the dollar because none of the other members have reached free agency yet. Yes, he makes a lot more money, but players like Spencer Strider and Max Fried, and arguably Kyle Wright and Bryce Elder would most likely be making much more money both in terms of AAV and guaranteed money if they were in the point in their career that they were no longer under team control.

How does Morton compare to the FA signings of 2023?

To really make comparisons, it makes more sense to look at the free agent pitchers that signed deals this off-season. According to Spotrac, below are the free agent signings from 2023 for pitchers that were close to Charlie Morton’s salary.

Salaries of 2023 SP FA signings

deGrom, Rodon, are hurt and are making much more than Morton. Quintana is also injured and has not pitched yet. Justin Verlander is the closest to Morton’s age and is making more than double. He currently has only pitched 57.0 innings and has an ERA of 4.11, and 4.21 FIP.

Taijuan Walker has a 4.10 ERA (104 ERA+), and 4.50 FIP in 83.1 IP. Chris Bassitt has a 4.32 ERA, and 5.02 FIP in 93.2 IP. Jameson Taillon has a 6.71 ERA and 5.18 FIP in 53.2 IP. Martin Pérez has a 4.38 ERA and 4.97 FIP in 84.1 IP. Tyler Anderson has a 5.54 ERA and 4.67 FIP in 74.2 IP. Sean Manaea has a 5.79 ERA and 4.20 FIP in 51.1 IP. Ross Stripling has a 7.24 ERA and 6.70 FIP in 32.1 IP. Andrew Heaney has a 4.38 ERA and 5.10 FIP in 78.0 IP.

Now, there have been a few that have outperformed Morton. Nathan Eovaldi who makes three million less has a 2.82 ERA and 3.08 FIP while leading MLB in IP at 105.1. Clayton Kershaw is back to his old self with a 2.72 ERA and 3.54 FIP in 89.1 IP. Newcomer Kodai Senga has a 3.52 ERA and 4.13 FIP through 76.2 IP. The Rays lab has turned Zach Eflin into a top tier starter at 3.35 ERA and 3.39 FIP over 83.1 IP, and the best output per dollar spent goes to Michael Wacha who is having a bounce back year with a 2.90 ERA and 3.77 FIP while having the best WHIP in the NL for SP.

So, we can see that out of the seventeen top paid free agent signings for SP, Morton is outperforming all but five of them in terms of ERA, FIP, and also (not mentioned above) fWAR.

The idea that Morton is being paid too much, is simply not true. He is right on par, if not better, than what free agency would have brought in. It appears that the idea of him being paid too much does come from so many other players on the Braves roster having such team friendly deals, or still being under team control.

In Summary

Again, this is not to say that Charlie Morton has been a top tier pitcher by any stretch of the imagination. One quick glance at his Statcast page will show that he is due for some serious regression.

However, his actual output has been scrutinized heavily for a pitcher that has prevented runs and produced WAR at a level that most likely would not be scrutinized as heavily if he were on a team that their rotation was not as depleted as the Braves.

His salary is also not as bad as many fans seem to believe in comparison to the rest of the league when looking at players that have reached free agency. Not to mention, it is only guaranteed for this season.

Morton is by no means an ace. He may even regress as the season goes on. But it is time we have some expectation management.

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