Today, the Braves continued what’s actually been a pretty busy start to their offseason. They stayed in a similar lane to the Josh Tomlin and Drew Smyly signings, in that they signed a veteran pitcher to a one-year deal. This time, the veteran pitcher joining Atlanta on a one-year deal is a guy who actually started his big league career with the Braves back in 2008. Once 2021 rolls around, Charlie Morton will be putting on a Braves jersey for the second time in his time as a major leaguer and he’ll be doing so for $15 million next season.
The initial reaction is that the Braves have clearly made a point of shoring up their rotation. I mean, we all saw what happened last season. It’s a miracle that the Braves were on pace to win around 94 games in 2020 considering that they basically went through 95 percent of the regular season with a starting rotation being held together by prayers and bubblegum. Based off off these two signings, the Braves should at least have some solid depth when it comes to their rotation. That alone is going to help the Braves improve on what they did last year — while the bullpen and the lineup did an amazing job in order to help drag the team to another divisional title, surely those units will be excited to know that they’re likely going to get a decent amount of help from their starting rotation in 2021.
It also helps that the pitchers are actually pretty good and not just here to eat up innings and mentor the younger pitchers while they’re here for a season. I can understand some fans having trepidations and concerns that both of these guys could end up turning into pumpkins while pitching for the Braves. Fortunately, the one-year deals offer a bit of cover for the team in case things go sideways. Obviously, we all want them to come in and live up to their expectations and there’s evidence for both guys that they can come in and do pretty well for the one season that they’re under contract for. I went over that with the Smyly signing last week. If there’s one concern with Smyly, it’s his injury issues. With that being said, the Braves have recently rolled the dice on a one-year injury risk for the 2019 season and that ended up working out pretty well for them, so maybe things will work out just as well for them in 2021.
That brings us to Charlie Morton. While his injury risk is still there, it’s not as high as Smyly’s is. When it comes to Morton, the bigger issue could simply be Father Time potentially putting him in the Koji Clutch and ending this nice late-career surge that he’s been on since 2017. On the other hand, it’s not often that you see a baseball player wait until he’s 33-years-old to suddenly turn into a hot commodity. That’s what happened with Charlie Morton, who has basically had a career renaissance at an age when most pitchers are starting to hang it up. The 2021 season will hopefully be a fifth successful year of renaissance for Charlie Morton instead of being the end of the line.
If all goes well and the Braves do indeed make it back to the postseason for the fourth year in a row, they can feel really comfortable when it comes to giving Charlie Morton the ball for any particular game. He was a key cog in that Houston pitching staff that ended up winning a World Series that is now clouded in controversy. Morton had two Pitcher Wins to his name during that particular postseason: Game 7 of the ALCS and Game 7 of the World Series. This is probably the only time where I will ever cite Pitcher Wins as a viable stat, since throwing five shutout innings against the New York Yankees in the deciding game of the ALCS and then picking up the final 12 outs of the World Series are both pretty huge feats.
Aditionally, he just got done having a really good postseason with the Rays in 2020. He just got done tossing 20 innings against the likes of the Yankees, Astros, and Dodgers where his ERA was 2.70 and his FIP was 2.79. The only reason why those numbers are even that “high” is because the Dodgers got to him in the World Series, which is something they couldn’t do during that 2017 run that Charlie Morton was on. So there’s evidence that Morton can get it done in the postseason, and the obvious hope now is that the Braves can get back there so they can have peace of mind knowing that Charlie Morton should be able to give them five good innings in a high-pressure situation.
As far as the expectations for the regular season go, I think it’s reasonable to expect his ERA and FIP to be somewhere around the mid-to-low 3s in both categories. His FIP in 2017, 2018 and 2020 was remarkably consistent (not gonna include his 2019 because that amazing season was clearly an outlier), and it’s pretty safe to assume that his aberration of a BABIP in 2020 was the reason why his ERA was where it was to finish this past season. Assuming that Father Time does not put him in the Sharpshooter and his BABIP luck goes back to normal, Charlie Morton seems primed to have another good season. Age is definitely a concern, but it’s hard to ignore the consistency when it comes to his front-facing numbers.
When it comes to the outlook for the rest of the offseason, it’s encouraging to see that the Braves have gotten off to a really good start here. They’ve done a solid job in shoring up the rotation by bringing in Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly. This may not be the huge free agency splash that some fans may have wanted when it came to starting pitching, but this is definitely enough to make the Braves a better team than they were in 2020 — especially when it comes to the rotation. There’s still some work to do and it appears that the Braves are going to make an earnest attempt to retain the services of Marcell Ozuna. If they whiff on bringing back Ozuna, I’ve got confidence that the Braves can find a way to bounce back and keep the good offseason going. Most of that confidence stems from the Braves making a couple of shrewd and astute signings to kick things off in what may end up being a very interesting Hot Stove season.