The Blue Jays acquired Brandon Morrow over the winter of 2009-2010. He came to the Blue Jays with a wicked fastball, and almost total inability to find the strike zone. He walked 26 batters in his first 35 innings. Then Bruce Walton and he decided it would be prudent to drop his arm slot.
Morrow’s fortunes turned around, and he’s been the Blue Jays’ de facto ‘Number 2’ starter ever since. He has had his ups and downs, but after a strong finish to last season he seemed mentally ready to take the ‘Ace’ label and run with it. He signed a 20 million dollar extension over the winter of 2011/2012. His quotes from that day, (go ahead, click the link, I’ll be here when you come back), indicate his confidence was quite high. Mine would be too, on the day I got extended.
I was curious to see what Brandon Morrow had actually changed in the 400 or more innings he’s logged since 2010. Especially since there was all the excitement last year over his having developed a cut fastball.
So, just for fun, I grabbed 2 months from Brooksbaseball.net and took a look at Morrow’s pitch selection, and the kinds of outcomes he’s generated from his pitches. I took June of 2010, the first full month after the arm slot change, and the first 2 starts of 2012.
First, the pitch mix.
First off, the sinker has disappeared. From 18% of the time to 2%. It also doesn’t sink nearly as much when he does use it, with three inches less vertical break than back in the old days. Second, the four-seam fastball is much straighter, with only 2 inches of horizontal movement now, compared to almost 7 inches in 2010. The rest of his pitch usage is quite similar, and the change-up has really been falling off the table, with 7 more inches of vertical break. The cutter? Don’t see it on the chart do we?
Now, Brandon started 5 games in June of 2010, and only 2 so far this month, so when we chart outcomes, 2012 is only looking at a good game against the Indians, and a homer happy night at Rogers Centre against Baltimore. I should probably revisit this chart in May.
From the top down, the first thing I would note is that the lack of movement on the fastball has had a huge impact on Morrow’s results. When the whiffs go from 28% to 11%, all that contact has to go somewhere. Same number of grounders, and a 15% jump in fly balls means a bunch of balls leaving the yard. The change-up used to be one of his better groundball options, but even with the extra break I noted above, two-thirds of those that are hit are getting lifted in the air too. Also interesting, its only a 46 pitch sample over these 2 months, but none of Morrow’s curveballs were put in the air, maybe that’s his better double-play inducing pitch.
So, to summarize, the fastball looks almost as hard, but much too straight.I would think he has, indeed made an effort to master the change-up, but it hasn’t got him a single whiff yet this year. Looks like the cutter was an experiment that’s been put on the shelf for now.
I am fascinated by Morrow and his electric arm, so I’ll be sure to come back to this in a couple of weeks and see what adjustments he’s made. Hope you’ll join me.