The Electric Meter: Charlie Morton’s Complete Game

When I last put Charlie Morton through the Electric Meter, I took a look at his control, his high contact rate, and tried to figure out what he had to do to fix his ugly peripherals before they start catching up to his ERA. My recommendation was more breaking pitches to mix with the sinker to try and get more swinging strikes. Since then, Morton threw a complete-game near-shutout that was his best start of the year in that he only walked two hitters over the course of the entire game. So how did the CG stack up with his other two starts? 

Pretty much identically, actually. Morton threw 109 pitches against the Reds last Friday and a PitchFX tabs an insane 91 of them as sinkers.  He threw maybe nine breaking pitches and a few changeups and straight fastballs and that’s pretty much it. Of those 109 pitches, batters swung and missed at three of them (2.75%), which is even lower than his extremely low swing-and-miss rate entering the game.

There is, however, one thing that it looks to me like Morton did a much better job of against the Reds than he did earlier in the year. In his first two starts against the Cardinals and Rockies, Morton lived on the inside half of the plate with regard to right-handed hitters. That was how he walked so many batters and hitters guessing location right and fouling pitches off caused some trouble for him in a couple of spots in both starts. Here are the two strike zone maps (right click to enlarge). 

Charlie Morton strike zone 040411 
Morton Strike Zone plot 040911Against the Reds, though, Chaz used much more of the strike zone and missed on the left side (w/r/t the catcher) much less frequently: 
Charlie Morton strike zone 041511This is definitely an improvement over the first two starts in which he walked five batters. Seeing those games, it seemed like sometimes he just couldn’t get a handle on his new sinker and it was drifting on him. I was hoping that wouldn’t happen so much as the season went on and it definitely looks like he made progress in that last start against Cincinnati. 

Morton’s hot start is getting him some attention from a bigger audience than anyone might’ve expected before the season. On Tuesday alone, both Rob Neyer and FanGraphs mentioned Morton. Neyer did a short post pointing out his bad K/BB numbers and Dave Cameron had a longer one that drew many of the same conclusions that I did about Morton last week; that he’s likely catching people off guard for now and that he can’t keep pitching like this all year and keep such an incredible ERA up. 

My big question is this: how will Morton respond to in-game adversity? I don’t mean a runner or two getting on base, I mean a lineup who’s now got plenty of tape at their disposal and done their homework and are sitting on that sinker and know what the break looks like and just start smacking it around the park. Because if he keeps throwing that pitch 80+% of the time, that’s what’s going to happen eventually. Even Brandon Webb in his prime didn’t throw that many sinkers because at some point, it becomes overly predictable. Morton’s got the ability to vary his pitch selection up, but he hasn’t needed to up to this point in the season. What happens when he doesn’t have a choice? Then, and not before then, is when we’ll really find out what Morton’s capable of. 

PitchFX data from Dan is asking his users to spread the word about a Sabermetrics Seminar being hosted by the Jimmy Fund to benefit cancer research. It’s a long shot since it’s in Massachusetts and all, but the least I can do is mention it since it’s a good cause and since Dan provides such a great service to bloggers like me. 

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.