Braves Sign Charlie Morton

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On Tuesday, “Braves sign Charlie Morton” was blasted on every Braves social media outlet as they inked Morton to a 1 year $15 million deal. Charlie was drafted by Atlanta all the way back in the 3rd round of the 2002 amateur draft. Who would’ve thought 18 years later the 37 year old righty would be heading back for a World Series run?

After signing Drew Smyly and now Morton, the Braves rotation is looking much different. Last year these Braves were running out the likes of Tommy Milone, Robbie Erlin, and Josh Tomlin for meaningful September starts. Hopefully, that will not be the case this year as the rotation has been bolstered thanks to these additions. The rotation is now projected to consist of Morton, Smyly, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and, when deemed healthy, Mike Soroka.

Charlie Morton has had a very long and successful big league career through 18 seasons. However, he&amp;nbsp; began to turn into a completely different pitcher in 2017 after being acquired by the Houston Astros. He was an all star in 2018 and 2019 while placing 3rd in the Cy Young voting just one season ago. Since 2017, Charlie has been relied on to make 12 postseason starts. He has a career 3.38 ERA in over 60 postseason innings.

The Braves became a much better team today addressing their biggest weakness from a year ago. Charlie Morton is exactly what this team needed in the rotation to make another run towards a title. The playoff veteran is a perfect 1 year deal who shouldn’t hold Atlanta down financially this year or obviously in the future. I’m looking forward to a now star studded rotation who should be more than capable of holding their own against any rotation thrown their way.

Charlie Morton’s Statcast Data

In 2019, Charlie Morton was a Cy Young candidate, throwing 194.2 innings of 3.08 ERA baseball, striking out 11.1 per 9 while only walking 2.64/9. And while the biggest difference maker has always been his curve ball (Max Fried and Morton’s curve ball in the same rotation? *Drools*), his fastball really came to life in 2019. In 74 plate appearances that ended with a fastball, hitters struck out 22 times and went 18 for 64, albeit with 10 walks. He unlocked added velo the year prior in an Astros uniform, and it stuck around for 2019 to become a real weapon when combined with the curve.

Charlie, a 5 pitch pitcher, relies mostly on the fastball, curve, and sinker with sprinkles of splits and sliders. His out pitch is definitely the curve, and even in a down 2020, it was well above average. The curveball will always be there, but the fastball is the real key to Morton’s effectiveness. And yes, it dropped in velo overall in 2020, but it found life again in the playoffs hitting 95-97 regularly. Against the best competition in the MLB, Morton threw 20 innings, giving up 6 runs and striking out 23 (2.70 ERA). These numbers were right in line with 2019 Charlie Morton.

Maybe it’s too much hope to believe in the small sample of the playoffs, but I’d be willing to bet that Anthopoulos watched every stinkin’ pitch of those playoffs and came to this conclusion: “Charlie Morton is our man.”

Thanks for reading “Braves Sign Charlie Morton”. To play catch up, here’s our writeup on the first starting pitcher the Braves inked, Drew Smyly.

19 thoughts on “Braves Sign Charlie Morton”

  1. Great write up.

    I’d say Morton is better value at $15M than Hamels was at $18M. And I liked the one year risk of Hamels at the time, so I like this one even more.

    Are these strictly economic plays by AA, or do you think he has a genuine suspicion that players perform better in “show me”, one-year deals?

  2. @1: That’s a great question, Rob, but a really hard one to answer in general. Longer term contracts share the risks of both under- and over-performance relative to expectations, but expectations themselves are also expected to vary with the term of the contract and the career trajectory of the player. When you sign a 37 year old, the upside is clearly somewhat limited relative to the downside. Any two-year contract would offer Charlie less per year, and any three-year contact even less than that per year. Longer term contracts then would be about reducing risk for Charlie, not the Braves.

  3. Rob, I agree Morton is a much better value than Hamels for a lesser cost. I believe Morton could’ve commanded more elsewhere but geography/playoff aspirations definitely played a large factor into his decision. I think AA likes the one year deal because typically the player wants to get the most out of a contract year certainly. I also believe he doesn’t want anyone to take a rotation spot long term potentially blocking a young guy who could provide similar production for a lower cost (ex. Ian Anderson)

  4. @2 and 3

    I wonder if there’s been any data on the one-year deals over the last, say, 5 years and whether there has been surplus value on the aggregate. If it was limited to the one-year deals we’ve done since AA has taken over, then there most certainly have been surplus value. I would put Donaldson, Ozuna, Markakis (since the second year was an option), Hamels, McCarthy (they acquired him specifically because he had one year left), and Anibal in that list. McCarthy and Hamels were the only ones to provide negative value.

    But my question is more the psychological and philosophical end of it: is this enough evidence that AA thinks that guys will put their best product on the field in a walk year? Obviously we don’t know, but my hunch is that this strategy goes beyond a sheer economic decision to avoid the downsides of multi-year deals.

  5. Note: I haven’t read the article, so I can’t comment on the quality of the analysis
    “The Dynamics of Performance Over the Duration of Major League Baseball Long-Term Contracts,” Anthony C. Krautmann and John L. Solow (2009)
    Abstract
    We re-examine incentives in Major League Baseball contracts by considering performance over the duration of the contract. We consider both the incentive to perform in order to maximize the subsequent contract and the disincentive of a fixed salary. We isolate the effect of the latter by controlling for the probability that the contract is the player’s last. We find that players who are less likely to sign a subsequent contract have a large and statistically significant reduction in performance compared to expectations. The incentive to perform well in anticipation of signing the next contract is equally large and offsetting so that players who expect to sign another contract largely perform to expectations.

  6. @1

    Much has been discussed in this forum about the Braves purse strings blah blah, but I don’t think these decisions are economic per se

    Do I think that AA is given a “budget” for off season shopping / payroll? Yes

    Do I then think that he/front office have already identified their targets and get them signed early? Yes, as the evidence over the past three years would support. There may be short term/one year contract bias, but this doesn’t commit payroll over multiple seasons (RIP Josh Donaldson, wipe away tears) and also doesn’t impact the potential growth of in house talent . This is the Braves version of market inefficiency, and some times it will work, some times it won’t, but it’s apparent that no one else has yet followed the example

    What is most telling is that this is a GM and organisation who know what they’re doing within their given constraints

  7. I would like to formally withdraw my complaints about not trading for Clevinger a few months ago. This is a much better outcome.

  8. You know in hindsight I think the perfect strategy for 2020 was to build a great bullpen. The starting pitcher moves were a fail but that didn’t matter as much as it would have in a full season. I don’t think the SP moves will be a fail this year. If we resign Ozuna I like our chances without any other moves

  9. This is pretty smart of AA in terms of being able to spend money and how to do it. What’s the difference between a 5/18 ($90M) and 5 one year $18M contracts? Not the money. The difference is that the same person doesn’t have to be on the 5 one year contracts. And you don’t have to choose between pitching or hitting. I think it’s pretty well accepted that it’s rare to get all years of a big FA contract performed at a high level. You pay for overall performance. If you’re anywhere decent at evaluating players, then the result of 5 one year contracts should have a floor of the 5 year contract unless a multi-year FA is particularly special (like under 30 or a superstar headed for HOF). And you get the flexibility to decide how to apply that money each year to your team’s most needed area. Seems like a pretty good strategy. The key is to already have a team with a strong core and the ability to judge talent in the near term. This could meld very well with an analytical strategy as, like predicting the weather, an analytical approach is likely a more accurate predictor for “next year” than than for the “next five years”. Variation will expand over time.

    All this to say that AA is very smart and has a very cohesive strategy for long term success. He may get the ability from Liberty to spend more if he does it in smaller chunks too.

  10. @16 Completely agree with what you’ve said, Roger. Well put.
    The Braves do have that core you are referring to. One Ozuna-like bat and we are one of the top 3 teams in baseball.

    And Happy Thanksgiving to all you Americans. I am so very thankful for all the writers and commenters and a special thanks to you, Ryan, for continuing to making this the best place on the internet.

  11. The flexibility benefit over time seems important, especially as you say for teams with a strong core. For teams without a strong core, though, it seems like investing in the one player for a longer period might be preferable, assuming your talent judgment is just as good, of course. Seems like the 5/18 contract could get you a player with a higher expected value at least in the first couple of years (and maybe overall if you include players under 30) than the average of five 1/18 contracts. JD was not seen in the winter of 2018-19 as guaranteed to have as good a year as he did, and Ozuna was seen as a good player in the winter of 2019-20 but not one likely to lead the league in HR & RBI. I assume anyone who got a three-year contract for the average of what we committed (pre-pandemic) to JD, Ozuna, and Hamels would have been seen as a less risky player than any of those three.

    It would be an interesting study to match up sets of players signing in the same year with long contracts and with one-year contracts with the same AV – say group A’s first player would be one who got a 3/15 contract in 2015 and group B would match him with three who got contracts that same offseason of 1/13, 1/15, and 1/17. If you could find enough sets, probably all of position players since pitchers are more variable, I think you’d find that the group A players would outperform the group B players’ average, at least in their first year. Jonathan?

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