BRADENTON, Fla. – Can Charlie Morton’s stuff become even more electric? I suspect it can.
It was just one pitch, just one pitch Tuesday at the Tigers that I wrote about here, but it was an important one offering even this early in the spring.
Late last season I wrote about how Morton had experimented with a split-changeup grip. Morton has struggled throughout his career to throw a traditional, circle changeup. And without a pitch to neutralize lefties, that makes him vulnerable. Despite his strong return from Tommy John surgery last season he had pronounced splits. Lefties hit .302 against him and there are a lot of strong lefty bats in the NL Central.
So finding a changeup, or at least a hybrid changeup, a pitch with fading action away from lefties, is critical. (I believe Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay threw split changeups to great effect.)
On Tuesday, Morton threw one split-change to Tigers left-handed hitter Don Kelly and Kelly swung and missed at the 85 mph pitch that appeared to have good downward and fading action. That’s OK velocity separation for a fastball velocity that ranges from 91-94 mph.
“I threw one today. It was a good one,” said Morton of the pitch to Kelly. “I’m trying to throw it more in bullpens and get a better feel for it. It’s been decent in bullpens. But taking it into a game is a different story because it’s a feel pitch and at the same time you really have to throw it. It’s an interesting combination.”
Yes, Morton still has to prove he can effectively repeat the pitch and not alter his arm speed or release point, etc. But the potential for another offering is there.
While much of the above was addressed in today’s notebook in the Trib, I think some larger perspective is required here. If the split-change becomes an effective pitch for Morton then I think he can take his game to another level.
I think Morton is undervalued. We’re talking about a guy who throws a 94 mph sinker, who would have led baseball in groundball rate had he enough innings to qualify last season, whose control and K rate improved as the 2013 season went along. I’m not going to say his curve is a plus pitched but it flashed plus at times last season. Even without it, he nearly took out the Cardinals and Michael Wacha in Game 4 of the NLCS. It’s at least an average pitch to go along with a plus-plus sinker.
Morton can neutralize righties. If the split-change comes along he can become a dominant player. I’m not saying he ever becomes as effective as his mechanical look alike Roy Halladay – who Lyle Overbay once compared Morton to – but I am saying he has the upside of a No. 2 starting pitcher.
Oh, and he signed a team-friendly three-year, $21 million deal in the offseason. Could you view the Pirates’ offseason as a disappointment? It’s certainly been a quiet one. But the Morton contract flew under the radar as one of the great values of the offseason I think.
With a full season or work, and a new pitch, I think Morton can emerge as a breakout pitcher in 2014.
HIDDEN VALUE IN BASERUNNING?
While Dan Fox is synonymous with defensive shifting, he actually did as much work trying to quantify baserunning for Baseball Prospectus as he did defensive value.
Clint Hurdle was gushing about the team’s baserunning after Tuesday’s win over Detroit. Josh Harrison busted out of the box for a double. Alen Hanson stole a bag. Extra bases were taken.
I’m not sure if the teams can teach hustle or baserunning instincts but Hurdle said it’s been a focus and if a team places more of its finite focus on one area of strategy it should hypothetically improve. Andrew McCutchen placed renewed focus on it last season and tied a career best for base-running runs above average.
I’m not sure if there’s much to make of it at this point, but it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.