Monday, February 22, 2016

An early debate on the Opening Day starter

We all have those friends we love to debate. My friend John has surpassed all of my other buddies in this category. Though we both love the game and are both Phillies fans, we have very different takes on the sport and our team. He's great fun to argue with and recently challenged me to a public duel over one issue. I wasn't sure I'd pick up the gauntlet, but his hot take was so absurd it needed a public flogging.
John wants Charlie Morton to be the Opening Day starter.
Are you still with us? Do you need a drink, dear reader? I know I did after hearing this.
Charlie Morton. The guy with a 4.54 career ERA. Well, I read John's post (Do if you dare) and he brings up some really good points. Wait. No he doesn't.
We'll go at this in Aaron Nola fashion. Three quick strikes to put him away.
Of course, we need to leave aside the points that it's still very, very early in spring training and we should let the guys figure this out on the mounds in Florida. However, we're going to point out why not only should Aaron Nola be the favorite to be the Opening Day starter, but that Morton probably isn't even in the top three on the list.

Points for Morton

First, we'll recap John's points.
1. Morton's a veteran.
2. MacPhail sees the Sixers' issues with veteran leadership and doesn't want that happening in the Phillies rotation.
3. Charlie Morton pitches inside/hits batters.

So yeah, Let's knock these down a bit. 
1. Charlie Morton is indeed a veteran. This can't be argued. But does it matter that he's a veteran when considering Opening Day starts? Not really. Jose Fernandez and Dwight Gooden both started their season's first game their second years in the Big Leagues. Nola is actually older then several other recent Opening Day starters, including Josh Beckett. It's not like he was a September call up. He got 13 starts in.
2. The Sixers' veteran leadership issues is the hokiest narrative in all of sports.  Ron Artest had plenty of veterans around him and he still got in trouble. Veterans aren't going to keep Jahlil Okafor from getting in trouble and the reason the Sixers have lost so many close games is talent. Back to the Phightins. Sure, the Phillies rotation needs veterans who have proven they can eat innings. But those guys don't have to be in the No. 1 slot to eat said innings.
3. Can Charlie Morton not show his teammates the benefits from pitching inside if he is the No. 3 starter?

Who is better?

Now let's talk about why Aaron Nola is better. But first, we have to admit, these numbers come from a small sample size.

Nola averaged 5.97 innings per start;  Moron averaged 5.60 innings per start. Advantage Nola.
Home runs
Nola gave up 1.3 homers per nine, which isn't great; Morton gives up an insanely low number of long balls. Advantage Morton
Nola whiffed 7.9 batters per nine; Morton's career high is 7.2 K's per nine innings. He whiffed 6.7 per nine last year. Advantage Nola
Nola gave up 1.2 baserunners per inning; Morton gave up 1.4 base runners per inning. Advantage Nola.
Nola gave up an extra-base hit in 6.6 percent of his at-bats. Morton gave up an extra-base hit in 8.9 percent of his at-bats. Nola gave up a .403 slugging percentage; Morton gave up a .429 slugging percentage.

So yeah, I think it's evident Nola is the better starter. And this doesn't deal with Jerad Eickhoff, who pitched fewer big league games than Nola, but outpitched him in that cameo.

Is Morton even the best veteran in the rotation?

Let's say we really believe a veteran needs to start on Opening Day. Is Morton the best vet?
Let's compare the traditional numbers between Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton.
With 135 starts under his belt, Hellickson is 49-48 with a 3.94 ERA. With 157 starts under his belt, Morton is 45-70 with a 4.54 ERA.
Hellickson wins that battle in a landslide, right.
Well, let's delve a wee bit deeper.
Both are coming off years that were below their career marks. But even there, Hellickson carried a 4.62 ERA while Morton carried a 4.81 ERA.
Carrer-wise Hellickson has a 1.274 WHIP; Morton has a 1.443 WHIP.
Hellickson strikes out more batters per nine, 6.7 to 6.3. Hellickson gives up fewer walks, 2.9 to 3.4.
Hellickson pitched at least six innings in 13 of his 27 starts;  Morton did so in 15 of 23 starts. So we'll give the innings eating crown to Morton on that.
But you probably have to give Hellickson the slight edge in being the better pitcher.


It would be trite to say Charlie Morton's best chance at starting Opening Day would be if he got sent to Lehigh Valley or was released and found a job in the Atlantic League.
Morton's better than that, and the Phillies need him to be better than that. But he's not going to be the Opening Day starter unless Nola, Eikhoff and Hellickson get hurt.

Bonus point

By the way, It's worth noting  Adam Morgan had a lower ERA, WHIP and fewer walks and hits per nine innings than Morton last year. Morgan did give up more home runs and get more strikeouts per nine innings, though.

One thing that does make me excited about his year's rotation is the walk rates of the possible starters.
Morgan: 1.8
Oberholtzer: 2.1
Nola: 2.2
Eickhoff: 2.3
Hellickson: 2.9
David Buchanan 2.9
Jake Thompson: 3.2 (minors)
Morton: 3.4
Vincent Velazquez 3.4

To put that in perspective, the Royals had four starters who walked 3.1 or more batters per nine innings.


Anonymous said...

Now I can't wait to hear Mr. Carson's take.

GM-Carson said...

You want my honest take? Not only should Charlie Morton NOT be the Opening Day starter, he shouldn't even be in the Phillies rotation. Had he been a free agent, he might have needed to take a minor league deal (that's how unreliable he is).

Hellickson would be my #1, but not because he's the staff ace, but because I want to keep pressure low on Nola and Eickhoff. No need to tag them with "No. 1" just yet. Wait until we're contending to do that.

Anyway, here are the 5 I would want in the rotation:
1. Hellickson
2. Nola
3. Eickhoff
4. Velasquez
5. Morgan
*Oberholtzer, Appel, Thompson, Eflin, Buchanan, and Lively are all ready, or nearly ready to go too.

jhilton32 said...

The problem there is Hellickson is several years younger and still has designs on a solid ML career, IF he can get back on track. He's a July trade candidate. Morton is winding down, they hold an option for '17 and he is embracing the mentor role. Talked about it effusively the other day.

GM-Carson said...

Let me be blunt, Morton is bad. I don't want him this season and I certainly don't want his option exercised. The Phillies have better options.

jhilton32 said...

Let me be blunt: you're making no sense. You want Hellickson to be No. 1 and claim Morton isn't even good enough to make the team. Last three years, Hellickson has a 4.86 ERA, while Morton checks in at 3.94. 69 starts for CM; 71 for Hellickson. All moot, since both will be pitching and Nola has probably a 75 percent chance of starting opening day. But if you don't recognize Morton's value, you're not really getting it.

Bob D said...

I am not worried about who pitches first, I do think it will be either Nola or Hellickson.
I am hoping that Hellickson and Morton do well enough to be traded midseason and some of the AAA arms are ready full time.

GM-Carson said...

I don't really want Hellickson either, for that matter. Between him and Morton, they're pretty redundant.

jhilton32 said...

No I think you're on the right track with a veteran No. 1 to take the pressure off. That's part of the leadership scenario. And the phillies and their fans should know better than anyone the importance of leadership. The success of the 80, 93 and 08 teams can be attributed to it. Meanwhile we see the failure of leadership with the Nationals.

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