After a disappointing 2022, Charlie Morton’s 2023 has been a roller coaster. He scuffled through his first four starts of the year, giving the impression that perhaps Father Time was taking a heavy toll... but then quickly righted the ship and went on a strong 14-start run where he dominated far more frequently than he faltered. On July 14, his pitching triple-slash was a real good 72 ERA-, 86 FIP-, and 89 xFIP-, and it looked like he had given Father Time the slip yet again.
But then, suddenly, disaster struck. Hitters seemed to key in on the fact that his entire approach was now oriented around getting chases on an elite curveball, and began to wait out a much more hittable four-seamer instead. The result was an abominably bad five-start stretch, filled with so many walks. It started with a 4/3 K/BB ratio game against the Diamondbacks, turned sinister with a 1/5 K/BB ratio game in Boston, and after a few more rough outings, culminating in an insane seven-walks-in-five-innings start against the Mets in which he somehow allowed zero runs.
So, what did Morton do? Well, he shook things up. Against the Yankees in Atlanta, he threw just 11 percent four-seamers, his second-lowest rate of the year. Instead, he threw a bunch more sinkers. It’s hard to say that the dominant result (10/1 K/BB ratio in six scoreless) was entirely due to the change in pitch mix, as the moribund Yankees attack had something to do with it, but it was a promising outing nonetheless. A week later, against the Mets, he upper his four-seamer usage to 30 percent (slightly below what he had done earlier) but more than doubled his normal cutter usage, and rode that to another dominant outing (11/1 K/BB ratio in seven scoreless).
That brings us to tonight, where Morton will bring whatever changes he’s been tinkering with into Coors Field. That in and of itself creates an interesting setup for the game, because pitches don’t quite move in the thinner air of Denver the same way they do elsewhere, and Morton remains reliant on a very horizontal curve to do most of his damage. He’s definitely been consistently worse at Coors (and over the arc of history, who isn’t?), but on the other hand, the Rockies’ offense is so bad this year that any challenges with pitching might be ameliorated just by having to face this bunch of bats. Paying attention to his pitch mix tonight might be fun, is pretty much what I’m saying.
While Morton’s mix provides some intrigue, the Rockies will be starting a very ho-hum guy in Peter Lambert. The 26-year-old right-hander was a replacement level starter for 19 outings in 2019, had Tommy John Surgery and a bunch of other injury woes, and is now healthy and has worked in a swingman capacity for the Rockies. He pitched out of the bullpen to no great acclaim in May and June, but has since moved to the rotation, where he’s pretty much doing the same thing — his lines are 137/136/109 as a reliever and 67/99/110 as a starter, so while it looks like he’s actually been better starting, it’s all just stuff he can’t really control.
Overall, Lambert isn’t really a groundball guy, nor much of a contact manager. His assortment of secondaries is fine if inconsistent and not particularly well-commanded, and his biggest issue is a love affair with a meh four-seamer that tends to get thrown down the middle instead of up in the zone, and he’s pitched pretty much like you’d expect with that profile. Maybe another team gets ahold of him and stops having him throw his four-seamer so often, and definitely not down the middle when he does, or maybe not.
I also just want to take a minute here to point out that the Braves now have 85 wins and August isn’t even over yet. 85 wins is kind of the bare minimum benchmark for a competitive season, and the Braves have hit that with about a fifth of the year left to play, which is kind of funny. It’s been quite a year for the boys.v
For those of you wondering, Morton already faced the Rockies once this season in Atlanta, during his good summer run. He had an 8/3 K/BB ratio in five innings and allowed a homer; five runs were charged to him (only three earned), but aside from a Ryan McMahon two-run homer in the first, the remainder of the damage was really about a few goofs in the middle infield that created a conflagration. Lambert, meanwhile, threw two scoreless relief frames against the Braves in that series, but struck out zero of the seven batters he faced while walking one.
Tuesday, August 29, 2023
8:40 pm EDT
TV: Badges of Fraud Sports South
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Online/Ch. 185