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Morton looks for another new pattern as Braves go for 99th win

Charlie Morton’s roller-coaster season continues

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

If you thought Charlie Morton was inconsistent earlier this season, try this on for size:

  • In four starts from July 19 through August 8, he had a 17/15 K/BB ratio with all ERA and ERA estimators above 6.00. He followed up that struggle-filled stretch with a bizarre, seven-walk-but-no-run outing against the Mets.
  • And then, seemingly on a dime, he was briefly reborn anew. In his next three starts, he put together a 29/4 K/BB ratio; his highest ERA estimator in any of those outings was a 3.48 xFIP.
  • But then, tragedy has struck once more. In the three starts since those three glowing outings, he’s back to struggling with a 17/12 K/BB ratio.

All in all, Morton comes into this game with an 83 ERA-, 89 FIP-, and 97 xFIP-. There’s nothing to complain about here, in the aggregate. It’s just been a bumpy, winding road to get there.

It’s also hard to pinpoint exactly what Morton is or isn’t doing that leads to these wild swings in performance. He seems to do better when he throws more curveballs (duh) given how great that pitch is, and there has been a solid emphasis in the season’s second half of reducing the emphasis on his four-seamer, which has been crushed this year. But, he has to throw something to make up for the four-seamer shortfall, and how things go might be related to how he fills the gap. Games with more curves and cutters seem to have gone better than games where the changeup factors in prominently... but this is made more complicated by the fact that the cutter has an xwOBA-against above .400, while the changeup has that mark falling under .300.

It doesn’t look like there are any easy answers for Morton, but the good news is that even a non-answer isn’t the end of the world. After all, he’s done just fine in terms of the big picture. The question, which is the same one the Braves have been pondering for a while now, is how they’re going to translate the best parts of their season into attempting to win a few short series a little bit from now, and tinkering with Morton’s arsenal to improve his effectiveness is a decently-sized chunk of that exercise.

As for much of the rest of the team, well, they just need to stay healthy. They pounded out ten runs, including two homers, in last night’s win, and will have the chance to do something similar when they face Patrick Corbin on Friday night. The Nats’ veteran lefty has seen a tiny bit of a resurgence in what’s become a hangdog career this year, cresting the 1.0 fWAR mark for the first time since 2020. He’s not actually pitching well, with a 114 ERA-, 115 FIP-, and 107 xFIP-, and in fact his FIP-xFIP gap is a lot smaller this year than it was in years past... but it’s not outright terrible.

That said, the Braves will get a chance to snap a streak that Corbin hasn’t managed until now this year: two straight homerless starts. They’ll need more and more homers to break the all-time team homer record — they are 16 away with nine games to play, and Corbin gives them a great chance to render it even more likely that they’ll become the new holders of that title.

Game Info

Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals

Friday, September 22, 2023

7:05 pm EDT

Nationals Park

Washington, DC

TV: Still Bankruptcy Sports Southeast

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan

XM Radio: Online, Ch. 179

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