Age: November 12, 1983 (34)
Traditional Stats: 15-3, 3.13 ERA, 30 G, 30 GS, 167.0 IP, 201 K, 1.162 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, 10.8 K/9
Advanced Stats: 129 ERA+, 2.59 FIP, 3.5 bWAR, 3.1 fWAR
After coming off a disastrous 2010 season, then 27 year old Morton decided one of the best ways to get his career on track would be to emulate the best pitcher in the game. As a result, Morton remodeled his delivery after Roy Halladay. What ensued was a breakout season which served as a launching point for a decent Major League career.
While Morton has since abandoned the Halladay delivery due to elbow surgery, the retooling of his delivery is illustrative of Morton using all the information available to him to try to improve as a pitcher. To that end, Morton found the perfect home in Houston.
Before joining the Astros, Morton was a reliable back of the rotation starter who pounded the strike zone with his sinker to induce hopefully weak contact. Since joining the Astros, he has not only changed his delivery again, but he has also revamped his approach. Now, he’s not trying to hit bats. He’s trying to miss them. The results have been stark with his strike out rate going from 6.3 batters per nine innings over the first nine years of his career to 10.4 batters per nine over the past two.
There are a few reasons for the jump. For starters, Morton throws fewer sinkers and more two seamers. Perhaps more importantly, Morton has been a part of what is seen by many as a spin rate revolution in Houston. Before even joining the Astros, Morton had one of the best spin rates on his curveball. Since joining the Astros, his spin rate has improved drastically even if he still trails Seth Lugo on that front.
With Morton once again recreating himself, he became a World Series hero as the winning pitcher in Game 7 of last year’s World Series, and he was a first time All Star this year. The question is where the soon to be 35 year old goes from here.
The answer is not as simple as it may seem. In an April interview with Jake Kaplan of The Athletic, Morton indicated he is nearing his retirement, and that his retirement could come as soon as right now. If he was to return, he would be interested in remaining with the Astros as he is prioritizing things like clubhouse environment and the team’s ability to win. He reiterated that desire this postseason.
All that said, Morton does feel the pull to return to the East Coast. While Morton did grow up as a Mets fan in New Jersey, his wanting to return to the East Coast is more related to his wanting to move closer to his wife’s family in Delaware. On that front, assuming he does not retire, it seems as if Morton will be deciding between the Astros, Mets, Nationals, and Phillies this offseason.
There are many variables to Morton’s contract including the possibility he could receive a qualifying offer this offseason. Although, if the Astros were to offer one, it is very likely Morton would accept the offer. Another important variable is his wanting to restrict himself geographically. There were rumors last offseason Todd Frazier had a very short list of teams he would consider in free agency which was part of the reason why he signed a two year $17 million deal some believed was lower than what he should have received.
Taking everything into account, Morton is likely going to sign for a one to two year deal worth approximately $15 – $18 million per season.
Last year, the Mets depleted much of their starting pitching depth. Lugo and Robert Gsellman, their top two depth starters were moved to the bullpen, and even with Lugo preparing to start next year, it appears both should return to those roles next year. Behind them, P.J. Conlon, Chris Flexen, and Corey Oswalt cast doubt about their ability to be counted upon as a fifth starter.
That is an even bigger issue considering the season Jason Vargas just had. With his peripheral numbers and declining stuff, it would be foolhardy to pencil him in as the Mets fifth starter for 2019, especially if the team intends on competing next season. Given the current situation, the Mets would ideally sign a starter on a one or two year deal to serve as a stopgap until Justin Dunn and David Peterson are ready to contribute at the Major League level. To that end, Morton is the perfect fit.
Morton comes with championship pedigree. He fits into the Mets pitching philosophy with his pitching inside, using more two seamers, utilizing pitches with a high spin rate, and using all information at their disposal to become the best pitcher he can be.
Overall, Morton is exactly what the Mets need this offseason, and the team should pursue him aggressively should he not receive a qualifying offer.