2022 Season Review: Charlie Morton

It was the best of seasons, it was the worst of seasons. 

I’m straining a literary allusion to make a point.  Although last year was neither Charlie Morton’s best nor his worst, his 2022 really was a tale of two seasons.  Charlie pitched very well for a couple of months in the middle of 2022, but it was sandwiched between his worst pitching since his first full year with the Pirates.

Indeed, I had forgotten how bad Charlie was in 2010; in 17 starts that year, he went 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA.  (As poorly as Morton pitched for stretches last year, he was never that bad.)  At age 26, there was not much reason to believe that Charlie Morton would even be pitching for one more year, much less another dozen.

As you know, Charlie Morton’s career is a tale of two careers.  The way Charlie turned his career around in his mid-thirties is almost unprecedented in mlb history.  For the four full seasons from 2017 to 2021 (excluding the odd covid season), Morton went 49-22 with an ERA of 3.25.

Back to 2022, and the tale of the two seasons.  Morton spent the offseason recovering and rehabbing from the broken leg he suffered in the 2021 World Series.  You’ve got to figure that contributed to his slow start in 2022.  And slow it was. In April, May, and June, Morton had a 4.73 ERA and a 4.13 FIP.  Hitters slashed .249/.333/.416 and his K/BB was 3.03.  Those numbers are not good, and a far cry from the standard he had established for himself the previous five years. Perhaps most alarmingly, he surrendered lots of long balls–1.24 HRs per nine innings in 80.0 innings pitched through June.

But in ten starts in July and August, he was once again our favorite Uncle Charlie. In 60.1 innings in July and August, he had a 3.28 ERA and a 3.74 FIP.  Hitters’ slash line was a more Morton-like .193/.276/.343 and his K/BB rate was 3.85.  Still, he was prone to the dinger; he gave up 1.34 HRs per nine innings in this stretch.

After such a promising turn, Morton’s last six starts of the season were truly lousy.  In 31.2 innings, he had a 5.40 ERA (5.58 FIP).  Hitters slashed .262/.343/.516, his  K/BB ratio sunk to 2.84, and he surrendered 2.27 HRs per nine innings (welp!). (thanks to Deep Dive into Charlie Morton and his 2022 struggles – Battery Power for these in season splits).

Was 2022 a product of inevitable age-related decline?  He was 38, after all, an age at which 99% of major league pitchers have long since hung up their cleats.  But there are some indications that he still has good stuff despite his age.  His fastball velocity remained in the mid to upper nineties, and his curve was breaking as sharply as ever.  His spin rates are in the 98th percentile of all pitchers.  The problem in 2022, apparently, was command.  Although he struck out as many hitters as he usually does, he walked significantly more.  Moreover, at times he had trouble locating both the curve and the heater.  How many times did he hit a left handed batter in the back foot? It seemed like 3 or 4 times per start. (Actually, he hit 18 batters on the season. I didn’t realize until now that’s pretty normal for Morton. He’s led the league in HBP four times, with a career high of 19; he’s done that in both his good and bad years.) When the curve missed badly, and he came in with the four seamer, it tended to be in the groove and got hammered.  (again, see Deep Dive into Charlie Morton and his 2022 struggles – Battery Power for heat maps to illustrate these points.)

What To Expect from Morton in 2023

The Braves don’t think Morton is washed up.  On September 30, they exercised the $20 million dollar option for 2023 and extended that option for the 2024 season.  Given the dollars being shelled out for pitchers like Taijuan Walker, Andrew Heaney, Jose Quintana, and Jameson Taillon, twenty mil is not out of line for a number four starter.  Although Morton will be 39, his career arc shows that he’s anything but typical.  He’s smart and a hard worker, he knows his own body and mechanics, and he’s shown he can make adjustments.  (For example, he made a midseason change to his foot position on the rubber last year that led to the better results: Charlie Morton’s Season Saving Adjustment – Baseball ProspectusBaseball Prospectus ) In addition, by all accounts he’s a great role model and mentor to what is otherwise a young rotation. 

Still, the lingering issue is whether Charlie’s marked decline in 2022 is the cliff that will accelerate the end of his career, or just an injury-related bump on the way to more late career success. The Braves have a proud history of pitchers who excelled in their late thirties into their forties.  Warren Spahn was the best pitcher in the league from his age 35 through age 42 seasons.  Phil Niekro had two of the very best seasons of his career during his age 39 and age 40 seasons.  Of course, Spahn and Niekro are HoFers and freaks of nature.  But although Morton won’t join the Hall of Fame, he’s also a freak! His mid-thirties success, after so many undistinguished years, renders forecasts based on ordinary careers pretty meaningless. 

 *   *   *

I’m still in full time employment, past what the Social Security Administration calls “full retirement age.”  In my job, I hope I’ll know when it’s time to hang it up.  More likely, I’ll need others to tell me once it’s clear that I don’t have it any more.  (If they paid me $20 million a year, it would be even more difficult for me to recognize my age-related decline!)  The good thing about sports is that we will all know whether the Braves made a mistake in paying twenty million to Morton when he’s past full retirement age.  I’m cautiously optimistic that Charlie will make the 20 million look like a bargain.

Author: tfloyd

Tfloyd was born on the site of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. Before the stadium was built, that is; it was then the site of Piedmont Hospital. It took the Braves another 11 years to arrive on what is now Hank Aaron Drive, but I‘ve always liked to arrive at the ballpark early.

32 thoughts on “2022 Season Review: Charlie Morton”

  1. Yeah, but tfloyd is an unrestricted free agent, and I hear Amazin’ Avenue is making him a pretty sweet offer that Ryan can’t match (it includes free shrimp, apparently), so we’re hoping for a hometown discount.

  2. It’s funny to me that Morton doesn’t get the “this guy drinks for free in Braves Country” treatment that Matzek gets.

    Morton’s 2021 playoff moments weren’t quite as movie-script dramatic (until he pitched on a broken leg), his results weren’t as good or as clutch, and he’s not nearly as charismatic or quotable as Matzek, but he also laid it on the line and paid a price. And we needed his innings too.

    Yet, while Matzek’s subsequent underperformance is instantly understood and forgiven, Morton’s is scrutinized, he gets blamed for Dansby leaving, etc. Empathy is a strange and selective thing.

  3. @2–I love this place, and I’m open to a hometown discount, but I’ve got to look out for my own interests. Ryan, you should take note that I love shrimp.

    @3–Agreed. Matzek striking out the side against the Dodgers was about as dramatic as it gets, but Charlie striking out Altuve on a broken leg is not exactly routine.

  4. So that Patriots/Raiders ending was the single, dumbest play in the history of professional sports, right?

    And, by that, I mean by a player, not a coach, b/c there’s Super Bowls 49 & 51…

  5. @3, good point, but I think a lot of fans recognize Morton’s 2021 importance and understand/forgive his 2022 performance even if they think it was risky/unwise to exercise his option and extend it. (Note: I’m fine with the decision.) Part of the different treatment, I think, has to do with the salaries involved. If Matzek’s salary was seen as preventing the team from keeping Dansby or signing a key FA, I think more of us would think, “yeah, flags fly forever and what he did was unforgettable, but he got a ring out of it and let’s not hamstring the team’s future chances.”

  6. I’m not sure what you would call it, but I think there’s also an element of Matzek making his name in Atlanta. Morton made his name elsewhere before coming here. One is more endearing than the other.

  7. @6 – I wish I’d thought of it, but the best comment I’ve seen is, “Even Leon Lett is saying wtf.”

  8. I would be more irritated by Morton’s contract if I thought it was actually preventing the Braves from spending, which I no longer do. If it wasn’t that, it would be something else. So Charlie’s fine in my book.

  9. Morton’s contract, in hindsight, looks like an excuse to not have to seriously pursue deGrom or Verlander – both of which I’d rather have. Yeah it doesn’t prevent the Braves from spending, but I don’t think we ever planned to spend in the first place.

    I think the SEC football analogies are spot-on here. Yes we’re gonna be in the top-6 or so in payroll, the problem is that 4 of the teams spending more than us are in the NL, and two of the top 3 are in our division.

  10. @tfloyd

    Come down to Santa Rosa Beach, FL to visit me and I’ll let you eat ALL THE SHRIMPS!!!

  11. @12 This is why I compared the Braves to Auburn. Most years at least good to great, wins or almost wins a title about once per decade, and outspent and overshadowed by their biggest rivals (AL and UGA) who spent years in the hinterlands but figured it out, big time.

  12. @15, I get the high-level analogy, but we’re way less dysfunctional than Auburn. Auburn is more like the Mets to me. Tons of resources, tons of drama, always in the shadow of “that other team”. Inconsistent product, but capable of reaching the top every now and then.

    We’re headed into a weird era with only six to ten teams really even trying to win and the rest coasting along and leeching off the revenue-sharing (not unlike college football, again). Only one team can win it each year, and if a half-dozen spend like drunken sailors to finish not-first, it’s gonna be interesting to see if that’s at all sustainable.

  13. #16
    Same colors, too.

    Hopefully, these “Uncle Steve” Mets will turn out to be like the 1980s Yankees — lotsa spending, little to show for it.

  14. @15 – I don’t understand that analogy. Maybe Atlanta has been outspent by their biggest rivals, but I don’t agree with being overshadowed. We’ve won 2 World Series since 1995, the Nationals won 1 in 2019 and the Phillies won in 2008. In the last 28 years (since Atlanta has been part of the NL East), Atlanta has won 17 division titles, the Mets have won 2, the Phillies 5, and the Gnats 3. The Marlins have never won a division title but have won 2 world series but finished 4th in the division the last 2 years. The Braves, Cardinals, Giants and Marlins are the only 4 National League teams to win as many as 2 World Series titles since 1990. I don’t see how you could claim Atlanta has been overshadowed by their biggest rivals in any way, unless you include the Yankees as one of our biggest rivals.

  15. For years us non-Bama SEC fans have looked at them as the only organization that’s all-in on winning, and I think there’s a bit of a hangover from that (even with my Dawgs seemingly now also going all-in, there was 40 years in the desert first). Being in that second-tier, even if it’s the tier of the really really good, can be frustrating if the gap between you and the elite is large.

    Fortunately the baseball payrolls don’t have nearly the same predictive correlations as college-football budgets do.

  16. I don’t feel Morton and Swanson are related at all. I think the Braves valued Swanson at a number, just like they did Freeman and Donaldson in prior years, and weren’t going to move off that number. And if they left, fine, they have a Plan B in place. I find LF to be the more intriguing position to monitor.

    As for Morton, his spin rate and velocity indicate he still has gas in his tank, and was likely thrown off routine by the lockout and his broken leg. $20MM for a 4th starter and mentor is not bad.

  17. Jordan Luplow is underwhelming at best. Not much different from Sam Hilliard. I’m not sure it’s any better than Alex Dickerson/Travis Demeritte. My guess is he ends up in Gwinnett as depth – he has been very good in AAA……

    I gotta believe guys like Luplow and Hilliard are an attempt to get a fielder in LF and let Ozuna/Rosario DH. I wish we’d see something about Duvall. I bet he’ll take time in the minors to get his swing back after the wrist surgery.

  18. While I think we are going to be ok at SS with Grissom, standing pat in leftfield is what could hurt us. It is a premium offensive position that currently constructed looks like our worst offensive spot. Waiting for AA to pull out his plan B and C

  19. This is just me, but I feel like the designated hitter should, you know, hit. That’s not a skill I associate with the current incarnations of Ozuna or Rosario.

    I dunno, it just seems like a team with World Series aspirations should not go into the season with a punchless timeshare in both LF and DH on top of giving up SS as replacement level. That’s a third of the lineup. You might as well give Max Fried some starts at DH at this point.

  20. Honestly, Huascar could DH and probably outhit a couple of the last men on the bench.

  21. I’m not going to convince anyone who’s already categorized Jordan Luplow, but he carries a career .841 OPS against LHP, can play all 3 OF positions, has a great career walk rate, AND has an option.

    AA knows what he’s doing, even if it doesn’t work out (see Alex Dickerson)

  22. He’s a great GM. The only mistake with this deal is to read much of anything into it.

  23. Luplow has also been unplayably bad even for a part-time role for going on three seasons now, so.

    Hopefully AA has the Quad-A Brigade assembled to his satisfaction now and can work on acquiring a starting-caliber player.

  24. I continue to be confused by the argument that saving $x million on player A/B/C/ whatever would let the Braves take part in the hot free agent du jour sweepstakes (any SS, DeGrom, Rodon etc this winter)

    We know that the Braves are a well run organisation, and we also know that the relatively recent era of complaining about ownership not spending enough is well in the rear view mirror

    The Braves player model doesn’t fit the high risk/high reward FA merry go round. The teams handing out these contracts will be able to treat the future value as chump change, and that’s not how the Braves work

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *