Phillies Four-Start Alumnus Charlie Morton to Sign with Houston

Charlie Morton, who started four games with the Phillies in 2016, will take his talents to Texas on a two-year deal with the Houston Astros.

When the Phillies traded for Charlie Morton last offseason, they hoped he would be able to eat innings in the rotation until some of their prospects were ready for the major-leagues. He obviously didn’t live up to that goal, making just four starts this season before tearing his hamstring. It was no surprise that the team bought out Morton’s contract when free agency started.

Wednesday Morton and the Houston Astros agreed to a two-year, $14 million deal with incentives included.

Morton’s agent told the Houston Chronicle that “ten to 12 teams” had interest in signing Morton before coming to a deal with the Astros. That seems believable considering how talent-deprived the starting pitching market is this year. Jon Heyman of MLB Network said the deal was “1st evidence of nuttiness of SP market” on Twitter, calling it “insane.”

If the Phillies decided to pick up Morton’s option for 2016, they would have owed him $9.5 million. Before Jeremy Hellickson accepted the team’s qualifying offer, the team needed a veteran pitcher in their rotation to counteract their young starters. Morton could have filled that role, but Hellickson now will.

Morton was fairly effective in limited action this season.

In four starts, he finished with a 3.09 fielding-independent pitching. Morton struck out 26.8% of opposing hitters and allowed them a .238 batting average.

However, Morton struggled with his control, walking 11.3% of opposing hitters. This led him to a 1.33 WHIP despite that low opposing batting average.

The sinker-baller saw an uptick in his velocity, with both his four-seam fastball and sinker averaging about 95 miles per hour according to Brooks Baseball. The last time he threw nearly that hard was in 2013, when his four-seamer averaged 94 mph and sinker averaged 93.

Morton’s sinker and curveball were both much more valuable than usual according to Fangraph’s Pitch f/X pitch values. His two-seamer had a corrected value of 1.65 and curveball had a value of 3.60. Both were far and away higher than any other season in Morton’s career.

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs said left-handed hitters in the AL West should “rejoice” at Morton joining the Astros. He pointed out that Morton has allowed the highest weighted on-base average to lefties since 2008.

Cameron said that if Morton doesn’t pan out in Houston’s rotation, they may be able to use him as a righty specialist out of the bullpen.

The Astros are taking a gamble on Morton carrying his numbers from early 2016 over to next season. His extensive injury history could easily come to bite the Astros in the butt, but they also could wind up with a solid rotation piece.

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