Champ or Chump: Charlie Morton & Jason Vargas

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We're getting to a point in the season when it is tempting to trust a player's numbers, but barring some major change, preseason projections are still a better indicator of future performance. The two names below were selected for entirely different reasons. Charlie Morton was seen as a sleeper based on 2016 success in an extremely limited sample, but does not appear to deserve the sleeper attention some still afford him. Jason Vargas was the definition of a league average arm before this year, when he started posting ace-caliber numbers.

Both pitchers share one trait in common: little 2016 data. This makes them harder to evaluate, as a lot could have changed between their most recent significant playing time and today. Nevertheless, we're taking a closer look at them.

As always, ownership rates provided are from FleaFlicker formats.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Charlie Morton (SP, HOU) 10% Owned

A hamstring injury prevented Morton from throwing more than 17 1/3 IP last season, but his 3.01 xFIP and 26.8 percent K% proved sufficient to generate some sleeper buzz during draft season. He's always boasted a ground ball profile (55.3 percent career GB%), so adding strikeouts to the equation would make him legitimately interesting.

Sadly, last year's strikeouts are proving unsustainable. He has a K% of 19.4 percent so far this year, impressive only in that it exceeds his 2015 rate of 17.1 percent. His 3.92 xFIP is also in keeping with his 2015 total of 3.87, though his surface ERA looks better this year (4.29 vs. 4.81). Morton threw 129 IP in 2015, making it the most recent data with a reasonable sample size. So far, Morton is the same meh arm he has always been.

This does not mean he's not trying to change, as he has cut back on his 2-seamer (44.1 percent usage against 60.4 percent in 2015) to reintroduce a cutter (used 12.9 percent of the time) he has not featured since 2012. Unfortunately, the cutter is proving why it was shelved. Its SwStr% (2.2 percent) is a bad joke. It does not get Morton ahead in the count (Zone% of 40 percent, 25.9 percent chase rate), and batters are teeing off on it when they put it into play (.500/.667/.625 against). The tiny sample somewhat explains these extreme numbers, but this is not the pitch Morton is searching for.

Morton's curve (SwStr% of 20.7 percent) and splitter (18.5 percent) have played up this year, but their career histories (14.1 percent and 12.4 percent, respectively) suggest that regression is in order. Morton isn't even generating grounders as he used to (49.3 percent GB%), leaving him with absolutely nothing worth noting in fantasy save a regular rotation spot on a solid club. If starters with rotation slots are on your waiver wire, Morton should be among them.

Verdict: Chump
Jason Vargas (SP, KC) 69% Owned

For years, Vargas has been a generic league average arm who could be used as a streamer when needed. He hasn't pitched in MLB full-time since 2014, a fact most fantasy owners likely never needed to know. However, this year he has gone 3-1 with an ERA of 1.40. His xFIP isn't quite as strong (2.23), but still qualifies for ace status. Is Vargas an ace now?

The new Vargas is the product of his changeup, which has a ridiculous SwStr% of 30.8 percent, producing an overall K% of 28.9 percent. His career K% is only 15.8 percent! He has also transformed himself into a ground ball pitcher (47 percent GB%) after making a career as a fly ball guy (42.6 percent career FB%). The change was always Vargas's best pitch (18.6 career SwStr%), but this is a completely different level. Vargas the ace needs this new change to be real.

I can't find a reason to trust it, though. His heater is averaging 86.8 mph this year, a significant velocity loss from 2014 (87.3 mph) when you remember that the gun is a mph faster this year. He also hasn't changed his pitch selection, save for mixing in a few more 2-seamers (13.5 percent in 2014, 30.3 percent this year) at the expense of 4-seamers (43.6 percent to 23.3 percent). Kansas City is not the elite defensive unit they used to be, either, as their five Defensive Runs Saved as a team are tied for eighth in baseball.

Vargas has always needed a pitch other than his change to be effective, and he still lacks one. He's lost velocity, and has not changed his approach enough to consider a pitch mix change as the reason for his success. Vargas is sure to revert to the guy he was in the past. You can stream him, but 69% ownership is way too high.

Verdict: Chump

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