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Charlie Morton to the Rays - Fantasy Impact

The latest free agent pitcher to find a new home is former Houston Astros starter Charlie Morton, who signed a two-year deal on Wednesday to take his talents to Tampa Bay.

Morton underwent a career resurgence in Houston, where he won a World Series ring and earned his first All-Star Game appearance after nine seasons of average play bouncing between Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. In one off-season, Morton went from a career 4.54 ERA and 6.3 K/9 pitcher to posting back-to-back seasons of sub-3.70 ERA and 10 K/9 ball. While Morton has been among the more solid fantasy pitchers the past two seasons, the move to Tampa Bay and their unorthodox pitching rotation along with the fact he's 35 years old does raise some concern as to his fantasy value in 2019.

Will Morton's success continue on the East Coast? Let's take a look.


Will Morton "Rays" his Value in Tampa?

Morton earned his first trip to the All-Star Game in 2018 after posting a 2.96 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 11.7 K/9 over 19 starts in the first half. While his numbers ticked downwards slightly down the stretch to the tune of a 3.46 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 9.05 K/9, he was still more than solid for owners in fantasy playoffs. While his 3.59 FIP, 3.42 xFIP and 3.52 SIERA all suggest a slight rise in his ERA for 2019, there's nothing in his advanced metrics that suggests Morton can't put up similar numbers at Tropicana Field this season. What owners will have to take into consideration are several external factors that could affect him.

First and foremost owners will need to consider is that Morton will no longer be throwing under Astros pitching coach Brent Strom. Strom has had some great success in recent years in providing career resurgences for pitchers like Morton, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. All three pitchers saw marked improvements as soon as they joined the Astros and were under Strom's training, with Dallas Keuchel seeing a boost in his numbers as well immediately following the hiring of Strom. With Keuchel and Morton both entering free agency this off-season, this will be the first test for fantasy owners to see whether or not Strom's success stories can continue their level of performance after leaving Houston.

The other thing owners will need to consider is what effect, if any, Tampa Bay's "openers" strategy will have on Morton this season. In 2018, Blake Snell was the only Rays pitcher to surpass 170 innings pitched, and Ryan Yarbrough was the only other Tampa Bay pitcher to throw more than 100 innings. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Rays manager Kevin Cash said that the team intended to use the opener strategy at least twice each time through the rotation. For now, it appears that Tampa Bay will be using Snell, Morton and Tyler Glasnow as traditional starters in their rotation, with regular workloads to be expected for all three. While owners should expect Morton's workload to remain mostly normal, it's entirely possible he might end up losing a start here or there over the course of the season.

OK, we've gone over the possible intangibles that could affect Morton's 2019 fantasy value, now what should owners expect from him? For starters, we should likely expect a bump in his ERA based on the advanced metrics as well as pitching in the AL East. Look for Morton to potentially post a 3.50 to 3.60 ERA over roughly 150 innings of work. Owners should also anticipate Morton recording between 180 and 200 strikeouts, with potentially a slight tick upwards in his K/9 rate pitching in the AL East, where Rays divisional opponents had slightly more strikeouts than Astros divisional opponents. A good comparison for Morton in 2019 would be Masahiro Tanaka, who posted a 3.75 ERA with a 9.2 K/9 over 156 innings last year. So look for Morton to be a top-25 starting pitcher in AL-only leagues, and a solid mid-round pick in 10-team mixed leagues.