Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Charlie Morton
- Charlie Morton has continued his domination of the AL for a second straight season.
- He is a totally different pitcher from the guy who went 2-12 with an MLB-worst 7.57 ERA in 2010.
- Find out what changed and why all of the Sox left-handed bats won’t necessarily help vs. the right-handed Morton.
Do you remember when Charlie Morton was an average starter in the National League? Well, since arriving in Houston, he has been anything but average. The 2003 second round draft pick owns a perfect 7-0 record this season with a miniature 2.26 ERA. And over his last 14 regular season starts dating back to last season, Morton is 10-0 with an even better 2.20 ERA.
Morton currently ranks in the top 5 in American League ERA along with teammates Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. While Cole and Verlander had a much better pedigree, all three have improved after signing with Houston. Pitching coach Brent Strom deserves a raise.
Boston Red Sox (+149) at Houston Astros (-165) | O/U: 7.5
Rick Porcello (7-2, 3.65 ERA) vs. Charlie Morton (7-0, 2.26 ERA)
7:38 p.m. ET on ESPN
What Changed? The 35-year-old has reinvented himself in Houston. He somehow went from an average-at-best starter in the National League to a dominant starter.
So how did a pitcher that had the highest ERA in baseball in 2010 (min. 50 innings) make such a drastic turnaround after undergoing Tommy John surgery?
- Velocity: In 2010, he averaged 92.1 miles-per-hour on his fastball. In 2018, it’s up to 96.1 mph.
- Arsenal change: He used to rely on his sinker, which he threw a career-high 62.6% of the time in 2012. He has significantly reduced the frequency of that pitch while increasing the velocity. He has also started to use his nasty curve much more.
- Mechanics: Just look at this overlay of his heater and breaking ball:
Absolutely filthy. He’s throwing much harder and down in the zone with a completely different repertoire mix. He can thank his pitching coach, Houston’s analytical approach and apparently even their state-of-the-art cameras. As a result, his contact percentage has substantially dropped from the mid-80s to the low 70s.
Reverse Splits: Morton’s nasty curveball has resulted in reverse splits vs. righties and lefties over the last two seasons. Last year, left-handed batters hit just .175 off of him compared to .273 vs. right-handers. This year, lefties have hit an even lower .164 off Morton, while righties are at .223.
The Red Sox have a number of left-handed bats who usually jump all over right-handed pitching. However, don’t just assume that Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mitch Moreland will have big nights against Charlie Morton because they bat left-handed.
Little Lucky: Morton’s ERA is probably a little lower than it should be this season, as his 90.9% strand rate leads all qualified pitchers in 2018. That’s simply unsustainable. For reference, he had a 73.0% strand rate in 2017.
History vs. Sox: Morton has sparkled in both of his regular-season starts against Boston, going 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA and .200 BAA. One of those starts came last season and the other back in 2014 when the Sox had a completely different roster.
Also, some of you may recall that Morton faced the Red Sox in the 2017 postseason at Fenway. Houston clinched the American League Division Series during that start, but not as a result of Morton — he only lasted 4.1 innings and gave up two runs on seven hits and two walks. The damage would have been much worse had he not escaped out of a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the second inning. He also benefited from Mitch Moreland getting thrown out on the bases to end a threat in the third inning.
Boston has absolutely smoked right-handed pitching all season, but the Sox have both Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia on the DL. Those two right-handed bats will hurt against the reverse splits of Morton.
Rick’s Splits: Morton will face a pitcher in Rick Porcello who also turned around his career after a rough couple of years. After winning the Cy Young in 2016, Porcello had a bit of a rough year in 2017. However, he has turned it around so far in 2018 — as evidenced by his 3.14 WHIP, which is lower than Morton’s. He was victimized by the long ball last season but has decreased his HR/9 from 1.68 in 2017 to 0.73 in 2018.
Porcello hasn’t had much success against the Astros in his career, compiling a 5.49 ERA (and a .400 BAA) in three career starts against Houston. Current Astros have a combined .298 average (20/67) vs. Porcello.
Market Watch: It looks like the majority of tickets will be on the under for a third straight game in this series. The total has already dropped from 8 to 7.5 behind more than 60% of all bets that we track. However, in the rare instances when two teams with records over .600 face off, the under has gone just 56-71 (44.1%) when getting the majority of bets since 2005.
Stats via Baseball Reference and FanGraphs