Houston Homecoming: How a Former Astros World Series Hero Might Try to Beat Them in Game 1
Ahead of the opener in Houston, we’re using TVL data to reveal how the Braves’ Charlie Morton is attacking righties differently and examine how the Astros’ Framber Valdez can match his ALCS performance in Boston.
The last time he pitched in a World Series game in Houston, Charlie Morton pitched a gem that had the Astros in position to take a commanding series lead.
The right-hander allowed one run and three hits while striking out seven in 6.1 innings before the bullpen faltered late in a 6-2 loss that evened the 2017 World Series.
Morton, however, forever became a part of Astros lore in Game 7 when closed the deal himself by giving up just one run over four innings of relief in the title-clinching 5-1 win at Dodger Stadium.
Now four years later, he’s back pitching in the World Series at Minute Maid Park, this time for the National League champion Atlanta Braves against the Astros in tonight’s opener.
“I’m sure there’s going to be emotions there that I’ve experienced before,” Morton told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I got to come back here in 2019 (with the Tampa Bay Rays) and pitch a regular season game. I pitched against them in the postseason in 2019.
“In 2019, they had a little video before the game trying to get me distracted, and then I pitched against them a couple times last postseason. I’ve already revisited that, and obviously a couple years have gone by. I’ll always have really fond memories of the guys over there. But coming back here, it’s only natural you’re going to feel something. What that is, I don’t know.”
Morton should feel right at home in Houston.
He’s gone 20-6 with a 3.44 ERA over 36 appearances, including the playoffs, since the start of the 2017 season. Only Gerrit Cole (24-5) has a better winning percentage at Minute Maid Park among those who have made at least 20 starts over that span.
Morton hopes to have better command in Game 1 after he allowed two runs but walked six over five innings in a 6-5 road loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series. He had walked two total while striking out 14 and giving up four runs over 9.1 innings in two starts against the Milwaukee Brewers in the division series.
One thing we have noticed from the TVL data is that Morton has faded away from his cutter in the postseason. After throwing it 8.5% of the time during the regular season, the veteran has only thrown it nine times in 250 pitches (3.6%) in the playoffs. At the same time, his four-seam fastball (39.2-36.1%) and curveball (39.6-36.7%) usage is up.
But the biggest change Morton has made in the postseason has been on two-strike counts against right-handed batters. He’s preferred to throw them a four-seam up and away 52.3% of the time in the playoffs compared to 36.4% during the regular season. And the curve down and away has been the intention just 34.1% of the time after he used it 43.3% prior to the playoffs.
However, he’s become a little bit more curveball heavy versus lefties. During the regular season, he tried to throw them either a four-seamer up and away (41.5%) or a curveball down (52.0%) on most occasions. In the playoffs, he’s thrown the curve down and out of the zone with it 60.0% of the time.
Charlie Morton Pitch Usage with Two Strikes
|Pitch Type||Regular Season Count||Regular Season Usage||Playoff Count||Playoff Usage|
|Four-Seam Fastball (vs. LHH)||174||41.5%||14||40.0%|
|Curveball (vs. LHH)||218||52.0%||21||60.0%|
|Four-Seam Fastball (vs. RHH)||174||36.4%||23||52.3%|
|Curveball (vs. RHH)||207||43.3%||15||34.1%|
Martin Maldonado isn’t known for his offensive prowess – he’s 2 for 29 this postseason – but he’s 4 for 8 with a double and four walks against Morton since the start of 2017. Jose Altuve is 4 for 13 with a homer and a double off him in that span, but Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker are a combined 1 for 20 with nine strikeouts.
Morton will have to be careful with Yordan Alvarez, who went 9 for 13 with a homer, triple, three doubles and five RBIs in the final three games of the American League Championship Series. He had a BIP+ of 169 on four-seam fastballs and 257 on curveballs from righties during the regular season, and his contact+ was above the league average on both pitches.
The Astros, making their third World Series appearance in five years, will be in position to take the opener if Framber Valdez can come close to matching his performance the last time out.
After allowing six earned runs and 13 hits over 7.0 innings in his first two postseason starts, the left-hander held the Boston Red Sox to one run and three hits over 8.0 innings in a 9-1 win in Game 5 of the ALCS at Fenway Park.
So what changed? Valdez leaned on his two-seam fastball more – 66.7% compared to 53.4% across his Game 2 start against the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS and Game 1 versus Boston. And he nearly ditched the changeup altogether, throwing it once after using it 12 times in his previous two outings.
Framber Valdez Pitch Type Comparison – Postseason
|Pitch Type||1st 2 Starts||Usage 1st 2 Starts||ALCS vs. Boston||ALCS Usage|
|Two-Seam Fastball (Overall)||71||53.4%||62||66.7%|
|Two-Seam Fastball (vs. RHH, 2 Strikes)||4||18.2%||11||50.0%|
|Curveball (vs. RHH, 2 Strikes)||18||81.8%||11||50.0%|
Valdez also made a huge adjustment with two strikes against right-handed batters. After throwing them a curveball down 81.8% of the time in his first two playoff starts, he threw 11 two-seamers with a low-and-away target and 11 curveballs down and in.
It should be interesting to see if the four-year veteran attempts to stick with this game plan against the Braves, who are making their first World Series appearance since 1999.
Eddie Rosario is one of the few Braves who have faced Valdez previously, going 1 for 5 lifetime in the matchup. Rosario has hit safely in all 10 of his playoff games and is 13 for 21 (.619) with three home runs, a triple, a double and nine RBIs in his last five.
He’s also 6 for 13 against left-handers this postseason, though the Braves ranked 24th in the majors with a .239 batting average versus lefties during the regular season.
Graphic design by Matt Sisneros.