Charlie Morton just keeps chugging along. Three months shy of his 40th birthday, and in his 17th big-league season, the right-hander is 12-10 with a 3.54 ERA over 24 starts with the Atlanta Braves. His most recent outing was especially impressive. Relying heavily on his knee-buckling bender, but also topping out at 96.9 mph with his heater, he dominated the New York Yankees to the tune of six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts.
How much longer can he continue to defy Father Time and excel against baseball’s best hitters?
“I don’t think about that,” Morton replied in response to that question. “I think about, ‘When am I going to go home?’ I always thought the game was going to dictate when I went home. If you look at my career, there was no reason why I wouldn’t think that. There was no reason to think that I was going to start having the best years of my career at age 33, or that my best years would be in my late 30s. There was no reason to think I would still be throwing the ball like I am now. It would have been illogical.”
Morton’s career has indeed followed an unforeseeable path. From 2008-2016, playing primarily with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he went 46-71 with a 4.54 ERA over 161 starts. Since his 2017 age-33 season, he has gone 82-40 with a 3.54 ERA over 185 starts. Morphing from “Ground Chuck” into more of a power pitcher played a major role in the turnaround, but whatever the reason, Morton went from mediocre to a mainstay in frontline rotations. Since his transformation, only six pitchers have started more games, and only two (Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer) have been credited with more wins.
And again, how much longer he’ll be excelling on a big-league mound isn’t so much a matter of “can,” but rather of “will.” When I asked Morton if he’s more likely to hang up the spikes a year too soon, as opposed to a year too late, he chewed on the question for a full 10 seconds before responding.
“I went into this year thinking that I wanted to go home,’” admitted Morton, who has a wife and four kids. “That was my mentality, but I can’t have that mentality right now. I’m trying to win a World Series. I don’t want to think about either retiring or keeping going. Frankly, it’s kind of exhausting to think about next year in any shape or form. My attitude is that I’m going to carry the good parts of my year into the offseason. Then it’s up to me.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Which team got the better of the January deal that saw Luis Arraez go from Minnesota to Miami in exchange for Pablo López in trade that also included a pair of prospects? That question can’t be answered for at least a few more years, but we can look at the first-season performances. As the prospects are playing in the lower levels of the minors, let’s focus on the centerpieces.
Arraez, who flirted with the .400 mark for the first three months of the season, is currently slashing .360/.404/.464 with a 139 wRC+. He has 3.3 fWAR and 4.7 bWAR.
López, who has allowed five runs in 20 innings over his last three starts, is 9-6 with a 3.51 ERA and a 3.17 FIP. He has 3.8 fWAR and 3.2 bWAR.
The better season to date? A valid argument could be made either way.
Which 25-year-old outfielder is the better hitter, Kerry Carpenter or Lars Nootbaar? I asked that question in a Twitter poll earlier this week, and the results — quite possibly influenced by my having more followers who are Detroit fans — were fairly one-sided. Only 21.9% of the votes went to the Cardinal, while the Tiger garnered 78.1%.
Possible voter bias aside, I believe that the right player won the poll. Nootbaar has a 125 wRC+ and a .348 wOBA to go with 31 home runs in 859 career plate appearances. Carpenter has a 134 wRC+ and a .360 wOBA to go with 23 home runs in 410 plate appearances. Carpenter’s current season edge in wRC+ is 137 to 132, while his home run edge is 17 to 12.
Nootbaar, who is the younger of the two by six days, broke into the big leagues 14 months earlier than did Carpenter. He’s the better overall player, but the better bat belongs to Carpenter.
Barry Bonds had 1,951 hits while playing for the San Francisco Giants from 1993-2007, the most on the team over that span. Which player had the second-most hits for the Giants over those 15 seasons?
The answer can be found below.
Dale Mitchell and Manny Ramirez were formally inducted into the Cleveland Guardians Hall of Fame yesterday. Ramirez slashed .313/.407/.592 for Cleveland from 1993-1999. Mitchell slashed .312/.368/.417 from 1946-1956.
SABR announced this week that next year’s national convention will be held on August 7-11 in downtown Minneapolis. The Twins will be hosting the Guardians for a weekend series during the 52nd annual event.
The Cleveland Guardians announced that former outfielder Alex Cole has died at age 58. A speedster who swiped 40 bases for the Tribe in his 1990 rookie season while appearing in just 63 games, Cole also suited up for the Pirates, Rockies, Twins, and Red Sox over his seven-year big-league career.
Dick Tomanek, a left-handed pitcher from Avon Lake, Ohio who went 10-10 with seven saves while playing for the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Athletics in a career that spanned the 1953-1959 seasons, died on August 11 at age 92. Per his B-Ref bio page, Tomanek’s father walked 20 miles to see him make his MLB debut.
Dae-ho Lee had a stellar career. A native of Busan, South Korea who played both corner infield positions, he logged 2,909 hits while batting .304 with 488 home runs. A legend in his homeland, he spent 17 seasons in the KBO (2001-2011 and 2017-2022), four in NPB (2012-2015), and one with the Seattle Mariners (2016). Just how good was Dae-ho, and how might he have fared had he played in MLB for an extended period of time? I asked those questions to a pair of his former teammates.
“He was really good,” said Bobby Scales, who was with NPB’s Orix Buffaloes in 2012. “One thing that always struck me about Lee Dae-ho is that he had really good feet in small spaces at first base. He didn’t have a lot of range, but he was good with the glove. But his ability to hit was obviously his carrying tool. He was a really good hitter who used the whole field. He had big power, probably 70 power (on the scouting scale).
“He was  when he played in Seattle,”continued Scales, who became a farm director after his playing days and is now a broadcast analyst for the Detroit Tigers. “I thought he would do a little bit better than he did [a .740 OPS in 317 plate appearances with the Mariners], but it’s difficult when… it’s not just the baseball, it’s a new culture and everything else. I made a similar adjustment when I went to Japan at 32. It’s hard, man. Had he come over to the United States earlier, I think it would have been different.”
Brooks Raley was Dae-Ho’s teammate with the KBO’s Lotte Giants from 2017-2019, this during the latter’s age 35-37 seasons. His recollections and opinions are similar to the ones offered by Scales.
“He was older when I played with him,” said the New York Mets southpaw, who spent five seasons in Korea before returning stateside in 2020. “He couldn’t run very well, but he could really hit. And a really good glove, soft hands, at first base. Even at his age, he was one of the best players over there. Hyun-Soo Kim, who played for Baltimore a little bit, was also a really good player. And then here was the home run king, Lee Seung-yuop, who retired in 2017 or 2018. Dae-ho was up there with those guys. I head a lot about him when I got over there. He was a triple crown winner [three] times.
“He could have been [a productive big-league player] had he come over earlier, for sure. Dae-ho was a real presence. Really good power. Unbelievable ability to handle spin. Like I said, a solid first baseman. I have no doubt he could have had a good career over here.”
The LG Twins boast the KBO’s best record at 62-36. Former Guardians and Orioles right-hander Adam Plutko is 11-3 for the Seoul-based team, while former Cardinals, Giants, and Marlins outfielder Austin Dean is batting .312 with 16 home runs.
Niko Goodrum is slashing .268/.346/.330 in 110 plate appearances for the Lotte Giants. The former Tigers, Twins, and Astros outfielder joined the KBO club after being released by the Red Sox in early July.
Chunichi Dragons outfielder Yuki Okabayashi hit safely in 29 consecutive games before going 0-for-5 yesterday. The NPB record is held by Yoshihiko Takahashi, who hit in 33 straight for the Hiroshima Carp in 1979. The 21-year-old Okabayashi is slashing .306/.352.404 over 476 plate appearances on the season.
José Osuna is slashing .246/.315/.433 with 16 home runs in 387 plate appearances with the Yakult Swallows. The 30-year-old former Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder is in his third NPB season, all with the Tokyo-based club.
Carter Stewart is 2-3 with a 2.33 ERA over 38-and-two-thirds innings with the NPB’s Softbank Hawks. The 23-year-old right-hander signed with the Fukuoka-based club rather than signing with the Atlanta Braves, who drafted him eighth overall in 2018 out of a Melbourne, Florida’s Eau Gallie High School.
Ethan Hankins was 19 years old and pitching for then-Low-A Lake County when I first interviewed him for FanGraphs late in the 2019 season. Drafted 35th overall by Cleveland the previous summer, the 6-foot-6 right-hander had a propitious arm and a bright future. Four years and fewer than 100 professional innings later, he is back in the Midwest League with his future no longer on firm footing. Injuries have been the stumbling block.
“Tommy John [in 2021] was the biggest part of it,” explained Hankins. “But then once I figured out my elbow — this was a year post surgery — my shoulder started barking. I’d been out of the game for so long that once I started upping my workload my shoulder got the blunt of the fatigue.”
The Gainesville, Georgia native ended up pitching just one inning last year, in the Arizona Complex League. He then had a delayed start to the current campaign due to a hamstring injury suffered in spring training. When he finally took the mound in early May, it was for the first time — with the exception of that lone ACL frame — in nearly four years. With no minor league season in 2020, and his subsequent surgery and recovery hurdles, Hankins has essentially had to relearn his craft.
”I feel like I’m getting back to normal,” Hankins told me earlier this month. “At the same time, I’ve been removed from baseball for three-plus years and am getting used to it again. I mean, I’ve touched 99 [mph] this year, but none of that matters. A lot of guys throw hard. My stuff just hasn’t felt normal. When I was here in 2019, I was 19 years old and had been pitching for a long time without ever getting hurt. When I had to stop… you have to relearn stuff. I’m relearning stuff right now.
“Each time I get out there, I feel better. That’s just the way the process goes. All I’m really worried about is feeling healthy and getting my innings. Next year will be different — I’ll be another year removed from surgery — but right now I’m not worried about results. I could go out and give up nine runs on two pitches — that’s not possible — but I could do it and it wouldn’t matter. Our pitching coaches and coordinators wouldn’t care. It’s all about the process.”
Hankins is 1-7 with a 6.06 ERA in 32-and-two-thirds innings with the now-High-A Lake County Captains this season. He has allowed 29 hits, issued 19 walks, and fanned 39 batters. His best outing came yesterday when he allowed one run over five innings and was credited with his first professional win.
Miami Marlins infield prospect Ian Lewis stole five bases for the Low-A Jupiter Hammerheads on Wednesday despite not recording a hit. The 22-year-old Nassau, Bahamas native, who walked once and reached on an error twice, swiped second, third, and home in the fifth inning.
Abimelec Ortiz is slashing .297/.359/.621 with 28 home runs in 377 plate appearances between Low-A Down East and High-A Hickory. The 23-year-old first baseman from Bayamón, Puerto Rico is No. 9 on our Texas Rangers Top Prospect list with a 45 FV.
Junior Caminero is slashing .321/.379/.564 with 22 home runs in 412 plate appearances between High-A Bowling Green and Double-A Montgomery. Currently No. 21 on The Board with a 55 FV, the 20-year-old third baseman/shortstop from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic was acquired by the Tampa Bay Rays from the Cleveland Guardians in exchange for Tobias Myers in November 2021.
Tsung-Che Cheng leads all minor league hitters with 10 triples. No. 34 on our Pittsburgh Pirates Top Prospects list with a 35+ FV coming into the season, the 22-year-old infielder from Pingtung County, Taiwan is slashing .298/.370/.489 with 11 home runs between High-A Greensboro and Double-A Altoona.
Wen Hui Pan is 4-1 with a 2.81 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 57-and-two-thirds innings with the Low-A Clearwater Threshers. The 20-year-old right-hander from Hualien, Taiwan was signed as an international free agent by the Philadelphia Phillies this past January.
Joey Votto is a Cincinnati Reds icon. Since debuting with the N.L. Central club in 2007, the 39-year-old native of Toronto, Ontario has amassed 58.2 WAR while logging a .410 OBP and a 145 wRC+. A strong candidate to one day be enshrined in Cooperstown, he’s a shoo-in to elected to the Reds Hall of Fame.
According to a new book by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, Votto might very well have spent his career in pinstripes, and not in a Cincinnati uniform.
“I’m sorry, I wanted to be a Yankee,” Votto told then-New York scout Dick Gooch after the Reds had selected him in the second round of the 2002 draft. As Mayo explained in Smart, Lucky and Wrong: The Origin Story of Baseball’s Unexpected Stars, the Yankees had planned to take Votto later in that same round and had already made out a contract for more money than the Reds were preparing to offer. Both teams had gone out of their way to hide their interest, as Votto hadn’t been heavily scouted and wasn’t widely viewed as a high-round pick.
Mayo’s book, which tells the behind-the-scenes stories of eight big-league stalwarts who weren’t highly regarded prior to being drafted and signed, is a must read.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Bleed Cubbie Blue’s Al Yellon wrote about how fights between unruly fans have plagued Cubs-White Sox games this season.
MLB.com’s Michael Clair wrote about Genevieve Beacom, an 18-year-old, two-way player from Australia who drew Shohei Ohtani comparisons while excelling in the WBSC Women’s World Cup, in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Boston’s Justin Turner has come up with a runner on third base and less than two out 31 times this year and is 12-for-25 with one walk, five sacrifice flies, 25 RBIs, and an 1.139 OPS. He has fanned just five times.
Texas Rangers shortstop Kevin Elster had 99 RBIs in 1996, with 92 of them coming with him batting in the nine hole. A .228 hitter with an 81 wRC+ over 13 big-league seasons, Elster had 376 RBIs over his 6.1 WAR career.
On today’s date in 1945, Tommy “Buckshot” Brown accounted for Brooklyn’s only run with a round-tripper as the Dodgers fell to Preacher Roe and the Pittsburgh Pirates by a count of 11-1. Brown was 17 years, eight months, and 14 days old at the time, making him the youngest player in MLB history to leave the yard.
Dwight Gooden had 16 strikeouts in a complete game effort as the New York Mets topped the San Francisco Giants 3-0 on today’s date in 1985. It was the 20-year-old right-hander’s 13th consecutive winning decision on his way to a 24-4 record.
Players born on today’s date include Beau Bell, an outfielder who logged 806 hits in a big-league career that spanned the 1935-1941 seasons. More than half (430) of his hits came with the St. Louis Browns in 1936 and 1937 when he slashed a combined .342/.397/.506 with 91 doubles, 20 triples, 25 home runs, and 240 RBIs.
Also born on today’s date was George Zuverink, who pitched for four teams, primarily the Baltimore Orioles, from 1951-1959. The right-hander from Holland, Michigan led the American League in appearances (62) and saves (16) in 1956. Per his B-Ref bio page, Zuverink went 0-7 as a high school senior.