Charlie Morton allowed eight runs in his first start of the season. He allowed six more runs in his second start. On the surface, it may have looked like more of the same, but Morton showed some quantifiable improvement in his second appearance. Let’s start with the balls in play for each start.
|Ground Balls||Fly Balls||Line Drives||Total Balls in Play|
The first game was simply a disaster. Over half of the balls put in play by the Diamondbacks were line drives. Morton, who has historically kept the ball on the ground at an above average rate, only induced two ground balls. On Wednesday afternoon in San Francisco, Morton was much better. Unfortunately, he was the victim of some bad luck. A pitcher is generally able to control only the number of fly balls he allows. The distance those fly balls travel is usually dependent on the hitter. Morton only allowed seven fly balls on Wednesday. Unfortunately, two went over the fence, one went off the wall for a home run and one went off the wall for a double. On average, about 10%-12% of fly balls go for home runs, so the 29% (or 43%, if you include the inside-the-park home run) off Morton on Wednesday was disproportionate.
There are other numbers that indicate Morton is on the right track. He is striking out nearly a batter an inning to go with only one walk on the season. His fastball, on average, has been about 2 MPH faster than it was in 2009. He is generating swings-and-misses at an above average rate. He is stranding only 37% of base runners, which is well below both the league average (71%) and his career rate (65%). Opponents are bunching hits against him, another trend that suggests bad luck.
There are plenty of reasons to expect Morton to improve as we get deeper into the season, simply based on the law of averages. Of course, it would also help if he stopped leaving balls up in the zone to guys like Eli Whiteside.