MLB

2021 World Series: What to expect from Braves’ Charlie Morton, Astros’ Framber Valdez in Game 1

The Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros will begin the 2021 World Series on Tuesday night. The Astros had the better regular-season record, meaning they’ll have home-field advantage in Games 1 and 2 (and potentially Games 6 and 7). 

Every game is important in a series of this magnitude, but there’s something about Game 1 that makes the math feel a whole lot easier. Indeed, MLB teams who have gone up 1-0 in a best-of-seven set have then won the series some 64 percent of the time.

The Braves and Astros, then, can only hope their Game 1 starters put them out on the right foot. Atlanta will be sending Charlie Morton to the mound to begin his third career World Series (he previously pitched with the Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in their respective Fall Classics); the Astros, meanwhile, will counter with lefty Framber Valdez.

What do those two have to offer? Let’s answer some question to find out.

Charlie Morton, RHP, Braves

What does he throw? Morton technically throws five pitches: a mid-90s fastball that he’ll sink and sometimes cut, a curveball, and a seldom-used changeup. Morton’s curveball is his most effective pitch at generating whiffs, coercing chases, and coercing soft contact.

Is there anything distinctive about his pitches or his delivery? Morton’s delivery features just a touch of crossfire action, as he lands closed after starting on the extreme first-base side of the rubber. He has a short, deceptive arm stroke and a low-three-quarters release point. Morton’s fastball had the second-most horizontal break among right-handed starters this season, trailing only Aaron Nola. His curveball, meanwhile, ranked in the 99th percentile in spin rate. It also had the second most horizontal break among righties, behind Corey Kluber

What pitch does he prioritize when he’s behind in counts? Morton leans heavily on his four-seamer when he falls behind a left-handed hitter. He’ll also throw a curve to keep the batter honest, with his changeup and cutter making occasional appearances. Morton favors his sinker against righties, though he’ll still throw plenty of four-seamers, cutters, and curves. Just don’t expect to see him throw a changeup unless he has the platoon advantage.

And when he’s ahead? Morton essentially becomes a two-pitch pitcher when he’s ahead in the count. He threw his four-seamer and curveball more than 90 percent of the time in pitchers counts against lefties, and about 75 percent against righties.

Anything else? Morton allowed seven stolen bases on seven tries this season. What’s more is that he failed to pick off a runner on 48 attempts. He did make three throwing errors, however, suggesting the Astros would be wise to bait him into taking action.

How has he fared against the Astros? Morton’s most recent outings against the Astros came as part of last fall’s ALCS. He started twice in that series, tossing 10 2/3 scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts.

Framber Valdez, LHP, Astros

What does he throw? Valdez keeps it simple: he’s by and large relying on his low-90s sinker and his curveball. He will break out a changeup and every once and a while he’ll go to his four-seamer. Both of his secondary offerings are capable bat missers, and everything in his arsenal generates grounders.

Is there anything distinctive about his pitches or his delivery? Valdez’s delivery sees him stand on the third-base side of the rubber and land open. He has a short arm action and he delivers from a three-quarters slot. Valdez’s sinker and changeup benefit from the seam-shifted wake concept. You can read more about that here, but it basically allows his pitches to move differently than you’d expect based on their spin axis. Additionally, his curve ranked in the 90th percentile in spin and boasted the fourth most horizontal break among lefties.

What pitch does he prioritize when he’s behind in counts? Regardless of the platoon situation, Valdez takes on a fastball-first mindset when he’s down in the count. He’s never more likely to throw a four-seamer and that tendency, plus his sinker, equals a fastball usage rate exceeding 80 percent.

And ahead? When Valdez is in a plus count versus a righty, it’s nearly a 50-50 proposition that he’s going to throw his curveball. Against lefties, his curveball usage rate exceeded 50 percent in pitchers’ counts.

Anything else? Valdez allowed three stolen bases on as many tries this season. He picked off one baserunner on 46 attempts, with that coming against Carlos Santana in August. Valdez did not make any throwing errors on pickoff attempts. 

How has he fared against the Braves? The Braves and Astros haven’t met since 2017. Valdez made his debut in The Show in 2018. In other words, Valdez has never faced the Braves in a meaningful contest.

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