Charlie Morton (mortoch02)

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Charles Alfred Morton IV

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Biographical Information[edit]

Pitcher Charlie Morton is a major league starting pitcher.

Amateur Career and Early Professional Struggles[edit]

He was 4-4 with a 1.18 ERA as a high school senior, fanning 78 in 40 innings. He was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the third round of the 2002 amateur draft, the 95th overall pick; he was Atlanta's fifth selection following Jeff Francoeur, Dan Meyer, Brian McCann and Tyler Greene. He was signed by scout John Stewart and made his pro debut that summer with the GCL Braves, going 1-7 with a 4.54 ERA but allowing only one home run in 11 games. He walked 30 in 39 2/3 IP. He tied Justin Nelson and Matt Bolander for the Gulf Coast League lead in losses while tying for 7th in walks, hardly befitting a third-round pick and future big leaguer. In 2003, he remained spotty with the Danville Braves (2-5, 4.67). He tied Dan Mead for 5th in the Appalachian League with 9 wild pitches and tied Matt Blanton for 8th with 65 hits allowed. Baseball America did rank him as the Appy's #14 prospect, between Tim Tisch and Dusty Gomon. With the 2004 Rome Braves, Charlie had a 7-9, 4.86 record with two saves and a 1.77 WHIP. He was 5th in the South Atlantic League with 67 walks, between Bryan Digby and Zach Dixon.

Baseball America rated him as having the best curveball in the Braves chain entering 2005. Morton repeated at Rome in 2005 and did worse (5-9, 5.20). He was 7th in the SAL in walks (62), tied for 5th in hit batsmen (14, even with Ching-Lung Lo, Jarrett Grube and Maximo De La Cruz) and tied for 10th in wild pitches (12). Moving up to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in 2006, the righty was 6-7 with two saves, a 5.40 ERA and 54 walks in 100 IP. He tied for 9th in the Carolina League in free passes and was 9th in runs allowed (70, between Collin Balester and Clint Everts).

Improvement and entry to the majors[edit]

Pitching mostly in relief for the 2007 Mississippi Braves, Morton posted his lowest pro ERA yet (4-6, 4.29). He was back as a starter for game 2 of the Southern League Division Series and got the win. In the Arizona Fall League, he did very well, going 4-1 with a 2.57 ERA and .205 opponent average; he tied for second in the AFL in wins. That marked the beginning of a major improvement for Charlie. He went 5-2 with a 2.05 ERA and .181 opponent average in his 13 outings (12 starts) for the 2008 Richmond Braves with no home runs in 79 innings. He was promptly called up to the major leagues. Baseball America would name him the #9 prospect in the 2008 International League, between Denard Span and Homer Bailey.

He won his major league debut for Atlanta Braves on June 14, 2008 by pitching six innings against the Los Angeles Angels in an interleague game. He struck out Chone Figgins and Maicer Izturis, the first two batters he faced in the majors and got the first 7 batters before Gary Matthews Jr. tripled. He wound up with 3 runs in 6 innings to outduel Ervin Santana, who entered 8-2. He was not as sharp overall for the 2008 Braves (4-8, 6.15). He got his first MLB hit off Yusmeiro Petit, a double on August 7.

Struggles in 2009-2010[edit]

Morton began 2009 with the Gwinnett Braves and again excelled in AAA (7-2, 2.51). He was shipped to the Pittsburgh Pirates with Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernandez in exchange for Nate McLouth, a move panned by the Pittsburgh media and fan base which turned out well overall for Pittsburgh and poorly for Atlanta. He got one fine outing for the Indianapolis Indians (4 H, 1 BB, 7 K, 0 R in 7 IP) before being called to Pittsburgh. He left his first start for the 2009 Pirates with a hamstring injury, a foreshadowing of his future injury woes for Pittsburgh. He finished the season 5-9 with a 4.55 ERA (92 ERA+) for the Buccos, 4th among their regular starters in ERA behind Ross Ohlendorf, Zach Duke and Paul Maholm. With the 2010 Pirates, Charlie started off miserably (0-5, 12.57 ERA after five starts). He was 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA after 10 starts and then missed over a month with shoulder fatigue. It was the worst 10-start beginning for a season since Roy Halladay of the 2000 Blue Jays. He returned to Indianapolis on a rehab stint and had a 4-4, 3.82 ERA in 14 games for them before being recalled to Pittsburgh. He made some progress over his final 7 starts for Pittsburgh (1-3, 5.45) to finish 2-12 with a woeful 7.57 ERA and 1.73 WHIP. He tied for 9th in the 2010 NL in losses.

2011-2015: Success with the Pirates[edit]

Morton changed his mechanics and repertoire over the next summer, going to the three-quarters delivery Halladay used when he bounced back from his 2000 woes and adding a sinker with the help of Mike Crotta. He was vastly improved for the 2011 Pirates at 10-10, 3.83, though control remained iffy (77 BB in 171 2/3 IP). He was third in the rotation in ERA behind Jeff Karstens and Duke and second to Kevin Correia in wins. His ERA+ was a solid 97. He was 7th in the 2011 NL in walks (between teammate James McDonald and John Lannan) and tied Randy Wolf for third in hit batsmen (13) but his sinker was so sharp he had the lowest home run rate in the entire league, beating out Matt Cain. His 7 sacrifice hits led the team and were tied for 7th in the NL.

In 2012, though, injuries resurfaced. He missed the beginning of the season due to hip surgery. After going 2-6 with a 4.65 ERA and only 25 strikeouts in 50 1/3 IP (though he walked just 11), he had Tommy John surgery (performed by James Andrews) and missed the rest of the season as Pittsburgh made a run for the division before collapsing and finishing under .500 for the 20th straight season.

Morton wasn't the only member of the 2013 Pirates staff to open the season on the Disabled List as he rehabbed from the Tommy John surgery; Karstens and Francisco Liriano also were on the DL, forcing Pittsburgh to use a makeshift rotation to open the season. While Karstens did not return, Morton and Liriano did and played key roles as Pittsburgh not only ended its run of losing seasons but went to the playoffs. Morton got 9 rehab starts in the minors (1-2, 3.32) before returning to the majors. He had a 7-4, 3.26 record for the 2013 Bucs, with some big starts down the stretch, part of a superb rotation with A.J. Burnett, Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke. The lone negative was a 2013 NL-high 16 hit batsmen (3 ahead of runner-up Julio Teheran). He had a 108 ERA+. With Locke's late struggles, Morton was the 4th starter in Pittsburgh's rotation for the 2013 Postseason, getting the call for game 4 of the NLDS with the Bucs having a chance to either eliminate the St. Louis Cardinals or having to go back on the road for Game 5, a crucial outing against hot Cards rookie Michael Wacha. Morton was excellent, tossing shutout ball for five before Matt Holliday hit a two-run homer in the 6th, but Wacha beat him with a one-hitter. After the season, he re-signed with the Pirates agreeing to a three-year contract worth $21 million.

Morton started the 2014 season with 6 straight losses before finally earning his first win on May 23rd, 4-3 over the Washington Nationals. He had not pitched badly during the losing streak, as his ERA of 3.45 was good for an ERA+ of 101. He had gone 14 starts without a victory, dating back to the end of the previous season. He had more bad luck on July 7th, when he limited the St. Louis Cardinals to one hit over 7 innings but left with the game still scoreless; the Cards eventually won, 2-0, on Matt Adams' two-run, 9th-inning walk-off homer against Justin Wilson. On August 17th, he was placed on the disabled list with inflammation in his right hip. He was 5-12, 3.84 in 25 starts at the time, having managed to retain his place in the contending Pirates' starting rotation all this time in spite of his lopsided won/loss record; his ERA was actually a quite respectable 3.43 before the hip problem surfaced, causing him to give up 10 runs in 8 innings over his last two starts before going on the DL. He underwent surgery in late September.

Morton was unavailable to pitch at the start of the 2015 season, as he was still rehabbing from the previous year's surgery. He had to rebuild his delivery from the ground up, spending time with the AA Altoona Curve and AAA Indianapolis Indians before making it back to Pittsburgh on May 25th. He did very well that day, holding the Miami Marlins to 2 runs in 7 innings to gain credit for a 4-2 win. That marked the start of the best streak of his career as he went 5-0, 1.62 over his first five starts with the Bucs, a string that coincided with the Pirates quickly moving up the standings. He finished with a record of 9-9, 4.81 in 23 starts. On December 12th, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in return for minor leaguer David Whitehead.

2016- : Moving On[edit]

On April 23, 2016, Morton tore his left hamstring while running to cover first base on a sacrifice bunt attempt. He had to undergo surgery a few days later, ending his season. He was making his fourth start of the year, and he ended up at 1-1, 4.15. After the season, he signed a two-year contract with the Houston Astros worth $14 million. He made the team's starting rotation at the start of the 2017 season and on April 28th set a personal best with 12 strikeouts in a 9-4 win over the Oakland Athletics. He went 14-7, 3.62 that year, tying for the team lead in wins with Dallas Keuchel and generally posting the best numbers of his career as the Astros won over 100 games. He pitched 146 2/3 innings in 25 starts and struck out 163 batters. He made 4 starts in the postseason, being used in all three rounds. He won the decisive Game 7 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees on October 21st when he pitched 4 scoreless innings before handing the ball to Lance McCullers who completed the 4-0 shutout win that put the Astros in the World Series. He had a no-decision in a start in Game 4 of the series on October 28th, when he limited the Los Angeles Dodgers to 1 run in 6 1/3 innings in a game the Astros eventually lost, 6.-2. Then, in Game 7 on November 1st, in a mirror image of what had happened in the ALCS, it was McCullers who started the game but left the game early without allowing any runs, and Morton who came in at the start of the 6th inning as the Astros' fifth pitcher of the game, nursing a 5-0 lead. he gave up a run in the 6th, but was masterful after that, pitching the final four innings to receive credit for the 5-1 win that gave the Astros their first-ever championship.

He started the 2018 season very strong, as he pitched 6 innings in each of his first three starts and gave up 0 runs, 1 unearned run and 2 runs respectively in those three games. He finished his first month with another great performance against the Yankees, giving up just 2 hits in 7 2/3 innings while striking out 10 in a 2-1 victory. He ended the month at 4-0, 1.72. On May 12th, he racked up a career-high 14 strikeouts in 7 innings in a 6-1 win over the Texas Rangers, improving to 5-0, 2.03. On June 9th, tied an American League record with 4 hit batsmen while walking 6 batters in just 3 2/3 innings in a start against the Rangers, but he gave up just one hit and 2 runs and ended up with a no-decision as Houston won the game, 4-3. He was named to the All-Star team for the first time, as an injury replacement for Aroldis Chapman. He finished the season with a record of 15-3, leading the AL in winning percentage and setting personal marks for wins and strikeouts (201). he also led his league in hit batsmen for the fourth time, with 16. he made just one start in the postseason, in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, but allowed 3 runs in 2 1/3 innings as the Astros went on to lose the game, 8-6.

Following the season, he became a free agent. While it was expected that he would be nicely rewarded for his last two outstanding seasons, it was the destination he chose that was surprising, as he signed with the usually tight-fisted Tampa Bay Rays for two years and $30 million. The Rays had made headlines for their liberal use of bullpen games in 2018, but were also willing to use established starters, like Cy Young Award-winner Blake Snell, in a more conventional way, which was likely to be the case for Charlie. It proved to be a solid signing, as Charlie started the season strong, going 6-0 in his first 12 starts, with an ERA of 2.54. On June 5th, he defeated the Detroit Tigers, 4-0, pitching 7 innings. It was his 20th consecutive start without a loss. He went 16-6, 3.05 on the season, and was selected to play in the All-Star Game for the second time, and then to start the Wild Card Game against the Oakland Athletics on October 2nd. Even though he struggled with his command, he gave up just one unearned run in 5 innings to gain credit for the 5-1 win. He was the first pitcher ever to have won three different winner-take-all games in the postseason, after his exploits in Games 7 of the ALCS and World Series in 2017.

On November 24, 2020, he signed a one-year, $15 million contrat to play with the Atlanta Braves in 2021.

Personal Life[edit]

Off the field, he has been active in charities for military families, including the National Veteran Wheelchair Games in Pittsburgh.

His grandfather is Robert Pfeilsticker.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 2-time AL All-Star (2018 & 2019)
  • AL Winning Percentage Leader (2018)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 2 (2018 & 2019)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 2 (2018 & 2019)
  • Won one World Series with the Houston Astros in 2017

Further Reading[edit]

  • Scott Boeck: "Two-time All-Star pitcher Charlie Morton signs one-year, $15 million deal with the Braves", USA Today, November 24, 2020. [1]
  • Anthony DiComo: "Morton in disbelief after earning Game 7 win: Astros righty's lengthy journey reaches pinnacle in stellar relief outing", mlb.com, November 2, 2017. [2]
  • Chris Haft: "Morton makes MLB history with 3rd clutch win: Veteran starter prepares to face former club in ALDS Game 3", mlb.com, October 3, 2019. [3]
  • Gabe Lacques: "Rays All-Star Charlie Morton, peaking at 35, has no regrets about long road to stardom", USA Today, August 27, 2019. [4]
  • Mike Lupica: "Plucky 7s: Morton, McCullers reflect on heroics: Astros pair proved indispensable in biggest moments last postseason", mlb.com, February 14, 2018. [5]

Sources[edit]

Related Sites[edit]