Charlie Morton was a complete afterthought in the first nine years of his career. He was essentially what Jordan Lyles is today. He was a zero WAR pitcher capable of giving you innings, but that was about it. When he was bad, he was AWFUL. His 2010 season is one of the worst of the modern age. In only 79.2 innings, Morton had an ERA of 7.57. While he did bounce back from that and had a few okay years in Pittsburgh with the Pirates, his career number through the 2016 season were entirely subpar. In nine years at the Major League level, Morton accumulated a career Wins Above Replacement of -0.7. Then, to many people's surprise, the Houston Astros signed him to a two-year deal following the 2016 season. The move seemed pretty uninspired at the time. The Astros were an up-and-coming team, and signing a thirty-two-year-old starter with a negative career WAR seemed like a lame-duck move. The Astros knew what they were doing, and so did Morton.
Charlie Morton has done something in Major League Baseball that is extremely difficult for most players, especially pitchers. He got better in his mid to late thirties. But it's not just that he got better. He went from being forgettable to elite seemingly overnight. I wish I were smart enough to explain what the Astros saw in Charlie Morton when they signed him before the 2017 season. Something to do with velocity, something to do with spin rate. But to chalk up Morton's success to one organization solely is unfair to him. Yes, he was dynamite for Houston in the two years he was there, making an All-Star team in 2018 and being a postseason hero for them when they won it all in 2017. But what makes Morton such an interesting case is that he sustained it once he left Houston.
Morton signed a two-year deal with the Rays following. All he did in those two years was make an All-Star team, finish third for the Cy Young in 2019, go 5-1 in six October starts, and help get the Rays to the World Series in 2020. He's had a few clunkers, but as a whole, he's developed a pretty solid postseason resume for himself. Once the Rays declined his option following the 2020 season, Morton would either retire or play one more year. I keep waiting for the clock to strike midnight on him, but it just won't. Morton returned to Atlanta, the team that drafted him, after the 2020 season, and he won a World Championship in his first year back with the Braves, putting up great numbers once again. He took a step back a year ago, putting up a pedestrian 4.34 ERA. I figured (once again) that maybe he was on his last legs, but nah. At age 39, Morton has turned the clock back again, staying healthy and putting up an ERA in the low threes while continuing to strikeout over ten hitters per nine innings. His curveball remains one of the most dangerous weapons in the sport.
Morton has become a somewhat legendary figure for three different teams. He'll never have his jersey retired, but the Astros, Rays, and Braves would not have made World Series runs without his presence. His stuff is lethal, but if we're just taking a step back and looking at his career, he is an anomaly. In his first nine seasons, he had a career WAR of -0.7. Over his last seven years, starting with his age 33 season, he has a WAR of 18. And remember, that number would be higher if not for the fact that Covid cut the 2020 season short. His ascension is worth discussing. Charlie Morton hasn't just had a fantastic turnaround. He's had a remarkable career.