Two-start pitchers are a vital component of many fantasy leagues, but the players you pick up off waivers are often risky options. The Houston Astros’ Charlie Morton could be the best-kept secret currently available.
In the first eight years of his career, from 2008 to 2015, current Houston Astros pitcher Charlie Morton made 157 starts with a 4.54 ERA and a strikeout rate of 6.30 SO/9. He was a seven-win player over those eight years. To put it in perspective, Bud Norris was a 0.9 WAR player last season. Eight years of Norris production is not an exciting fantasy option.
But then, last year with the Phillies, a new, improved Morton appeared.
“For some reason,” Morton said, “I just went out there and tried to throw the ball hard one game. I wound up throwing it harder.”
The increased velocity combined with the sinker tendencies proved to be an enticing combination until Morton tore his left hamstring running out a bunt in April 2016, just four starts into his Phillies’ career.
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For the rest of this article, we will ignore the argument against small sample sizes and focus on the most interesting number in Morton’s recent past, 17⅓.
With a career-high 26.8 K%, Morton struck out 19 batters in his four starts for the Phillies, covering, yes you guessed it 17⅓ innings.
Although he posted a 4.15 ERA in these 17⅓ innings, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was just 3.09. The differential suggested Morton was unlucky and his true talent should have yielded better results.
Morton induces some of the highest-level of ground balls in the game. In these 17⅓ innings, he had a 62.8 GB%, which was even better than extreme ground ball pitcher Marcus Stroman.
2016 also saw a spike in his strikeout rate to career-high 9.90 SO/9. In these 17.1 innings, he also set a career-high with a mouth-watering swinging strike rate of 12.3%.
The extra zip he had shown with the Phillies, stayed with the right-hander into 2017 Spring Training, where he lit up the radar gun between 94-97 mph.
Morton was encouraged but prudent as noted by Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle:
“I don’t need to pitch (at 94-97). I’d love to. I’d love to have that in my back pocket. But we’ll see. Check back with me in June – see if I’m doing it, because I’ve had spring trainings where I was throwing hard, and come June, July, that went back down.”
He struck out 17 batters in Spring Training and conceded just two earned runs on ten hits with six walks over, you guessed it again, 17.1 innings.
I know you should not overrate the sample size, but that is two lots of 17.1 innings in which he has excelled.
Pitching for the AL West favorites should help Morton in the notoriously difficult to predict ‘Pitcher Wins’ category. He will also benefit from pitching in front of the youthful infield defense of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.
Morton will make the first of his two starts on April 10 vs. James Paxton and the Mariners at Safeco Field. His second start is in another pitcher-friendly environment of the Oakland Coliseum against Jharel Cotton on April 16.
Currently, Morton is available in more than 90% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, but his ownership is already up to 43% in CBS.
Morton has only made more than 26 starts once in his career and has never thrown 175 innings in a season. As a result, he is difficult to recommend as a season-long pickup. In formats that favor two-start pitchers and streaming starters, Morton looks to be one of the most intriguing options still available.
Morton will make his first start of the season on April 5 vs. James Paxton and the Mariners. The same opponents that he will face in the first game of his two-start week. His ownership could jump rapidly if he has a good start.