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Where did Charlie Morton come from?

After humble beginnings, velocity gains have helped make him a formidable starter.

MLB: Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Just a couple of years ago, Charlie Morton was a bit of an afterthought. After coming up with the Braves, Morton settled in with Pittsburgh after being included with Jeff Locke in a trade for Nate McLouth. In his seven years with the Pirates, he was never as much as a 2 win pitcher and was often less than replacement value. Now, Charlie Morton is a part of the Astros’ playoff rotation, and for good reason.

In his final year in Pittsburgh, he was hampered by injury problems. His hip issues limited him to only 129 innings and led to him being dealt to the Phillies in the offseason. His season with the Phillies was even more injury-filled, as Morton only made four starts thanks to ongoing hamstring problems.

In his limited time with the Phillies, Morton did show enough to get the Astros interested in offering the then-33-year-old a multi-year deal. In his four starts, he posted career highs in average fourseam and sinker velocity at 95.2 mph and 94.8 mph.

Their bet on that velocity bump continuing into 2017 has paid off. This season, his fourseamer has sat at 96.0 mph on average, and his sinker at 95.3 mph. His max velocity for each has also reached career highs of 98.8 mph and 99.1 mph.

The effect of this velocity increase has been clear. Morton’s K rate is a career high at 26.4 percent. His next highest seasonal rate (excluding the year with those four isolated Phillies starts) was just 18.9 percent. He also posted a walk rate of 8.1 percent, just below his career average of 8.5 percent.

Looking at Morton’s pitch data, there’s an across-the-board effect of his velocity increase.

Charlie Morton Pitch Data Pre-2016

Pitch Type Freq Whiffs BIP Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.)
Pitch Type Freq Whiffs BIP Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.)
Fourseam 17.60% 6.19% 18.30% 93.29 -7.71 7.22
Sinker 48.68% 6.01% 22.99% 92.08 -9.54 2.28
Change 4.13% 13.55% 18.01% 81.98 -10.01 3.92
Slider 1.39% 10.20% 15.82% 83.33 2.27 -0.09
Curve 19.97% 14.68% 12.37% 78.84 7.93 -6.63
Cutter 3.05% 7.89% 20.88% 87.77 -1.11 3.83
Split 5.08% 9.61% 21.59% 84.97 -7.02 -0.03
Brooks Baseball

Charlie Morton Pitch Data 2017

Pitch Type Freq Whiffs BIP Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.)
Pitch Type Freq Whiffs BIP Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.)
Fourseam 13.22% 11.21% 9.39% 95.99 -8.71 7.4
Sinker 41.09% 6.14% 18.52% 95.3 -10.13 3.56
Change 0.16% 0.00% 50.00% 86.66 -10.08 3.33
Curve 28.31% 18.25% 13.72% 80.96 8.19 -5.8
Cutter 11.33% 13.78% 16.96% 88.47 0.77 2.58
Split 5.81% 12.41% 23.45% 86.97 -10.92 1.5
Brooks Baseball

His fourseamer is clearly a more reliable pitch. Though he still only throws it 13.2 percent of the time, the whiffs on the pitch have almost doubled and it’s generating half the balls in play. The introduction of the cutter, as well, has gone fairly well. It gives him a fourth pitch that he hasn’t really had for his entire career (or at least not confidently).

Results-wise, Morton has had the best season of his career. The aforementioned gains in his K and walk rates show thoroughly. His career high in pWARP and fWAR was previously 1.8. Now, with both his FIP and DRA sitting at 3.46, those numbers have jumped to 3.4 and 3.3. Regardless of what happens in his start tonight, he looks like a newly reliable piece of a contender’s rotation.

Velocity gains are pretty good for a pitcher. Charlie Morton is the latest example of how much just a few MPH can help a pitcher accomplish his goals on the mound. Tonight, Morton will start game 7 of the ALCS. Seems like a pretty good track for a guy who was barely a major league-caliber pitcher a few years ago.

Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a Stats Intern at Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.