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Entries in Brandon Morrow (4)


Jays' Johnson, Morrow Feature Wipeout Sliders

The Toronto Blue Jays' starting rotation in 2012 was both pained (Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison underwent Tommy John surgery) and painful to watch (they ranked 10th in the American League in ERA). GM Alex Anthopoulos hopes he solved those rotation woes by taking on salary in the Marlins' latest roster purge, acquiring Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle as part of a 12-player deal.

Johnson will team with the Jays' other brittle-but-brilliant ace, Brandon Morrow, to give the club arguably the game's best pair of sliders among starting pitchers. Johnson and Morrow unleash upper-80s breakers that they bury at hitters' knees, producing precious little hard contact. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has his Picassos, but Anthopoulos and the Jays are fine slider connoisseurs.

Both right-handers feature power sliders, with Johnson averaging 86.9 MPH (10th-highest among qualified starters) and Morrow sitting at 87.2 MPH (sixth-highest). But these guys do more than merely throw hard -- they command their sliders exceptionally well. Take a look at Johnson and Morrow's pitch location with their sliders this past season:

Johnson's slider location in 2012


Morrow's slider location in 2012


Johnson threw his slider to the bottom third of the strike zone about 78% of the time, trailing only Zack Greinke among starters. Morrow also stayed low, locating the pitch down about 66% of the time. For comparison's sake, the MLB average for starters is about 54%.

Why does that matter? Pitchers thrive when they keep their sliders down. MLB starters surrendered just a .266 opponent slugging percentage on low sliders this past year, far lower than their .472 mark on middle-zone sliders and .367 slugging percentage on high sliders. By routinely cutting off batters at the knees with sliders, Johnson and Morrow limited extra-base knocks. Morrow had the lowest opponent slugging percentage on his slider among all starters, and Johnson also cracked the top 15:

Lowest opponent slugging percentage among qualified starting pitchers, 2012

PitcherSlugging Pct.
Brandon Morrow .197
Nathan Eovaldi .209
Matt Moore .227
Matt Cain .229
James McDonald .232
Yu Darvish .236
Colby Lewis .238
CC Sabathia .244
Felix Hernandez .250
Jarrod Parker .253
Mat Latos .254
Homer Bailey .259
Jason Hammel .265
Kyle Lohse .267
Josh Johnson .271



Brandon Morrow's Slider

With a 2.38 ERA and .912 WHIP, Brandon Morrow seems to be off to a great start for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012.  However, his 4.33 FIP may indicate he's in line for some regression soon.

What's interesting about Morrow's season so far is that he's been recording the majority of his outs on sliders, while his fastball has been getting hit fairly hard.  Through his first six starts, Morrow's fastball has a .397 wOBA against, and his .681 slugging percentage against is third worst in baseball. All seven of the home runs yielded by Morrow have come off the fastball, as well as eight of ten doubles.

Click image to enlargeBy contrast, Morrow's slider has just a .107 wOBA against.  Batters are only making contact on 60.5% of their swings on his slider, compared to 91.3% on his fastball.

Morrow's slider is hitting the strike zone 41.4% of the time.  Batters are chasing his slider out of the zone 39.0% of the time; eventually, they'll lay off the pitch more and sit on the fastball, which could precipitate that regression.


Where Are Morrow's Misses?

Toronto's Brandon Morrow was a trendy breakout candidate entering 2012. The 27-year-old right hander, equipped with a power fastball/slider combo and coming off a season in which he struck out the highest percentage of batters among American League starters, had the stuff and the stats to suggest he was far better than the 4.72 ERA he posted in 2011.

Morrow's ERA has indeed dropped this year, down to 3.71. But the way he's getting those results, as SBNation's Jeff Sullivan notes, is downright peculiar. "Brandon Morrow, Power Pitcher" has vanished:

Morrow's started just four games so far this year. So, again, caveats. But over those four games, spanning just over 26 innings, Morrow's whiffed 12 batters. Last August 17, in a start against the Mariners, Morrow whiffed 12 batters. On August 23, 2010, Morrow whiffed 12 batters. On August 8, 2010, Morrow whiffed 17 batters. Brandon Morrow presently has approximately the same strikeout rate as Clayton Richard and Lucas Harrell. He has a lower strikeout rate than Barry Zito.

After punching out 26.1% of the batters he faced in 2011, Morrow has whiffed just 11.3% in 2012. That's sixth-lowest among starting pitchers. It is early in the season, but changes in strikeout rate become significant after a pretty short period of time (about 150 hitters faced; Morrow has battled 106 to this point). Morrow has also seemingly changed his approach with his usually dominant fastball -- and not necessarily for the better.

Morrow's fastball is averaging 93.2 mph in 2012, which isn't much different from last year's 93.8 mph. His location of the pitch, however, is markedly different. Take a look at Morrow's fastball location and hitters' contact rate by location against the pitch in 2011:

Morrow's fastball location, 2011


Hitters' contact rate by location vs. Morrow's fastball 2011

Morrow threw lots of fastballs high in 2011 (43 percent). He also tossed many of those high fastballs out of the zone, with just 37% going over the plate. The result for Morrow was the highest fastball miss rate (22%) among AL starters. Now, look at his fastball location and hitters' contact rate by location in 2012:

Morrow's fastball location, 2012


Hitters' contact rate by location vs. Morrow's fastball, 2012

Morrow's throwing fewer high fastballs (35 percent), and the high heat he does unleash is in the strike zone. Fifty-one percent of his high fastballs have been located in the zone, compared to last year's 37%. Morrow's percentage of low fastballs has increased from 24 to 31, and hitters haven't missed a single low heater that they have swung at.

That combination -- throwing more low fastballs overall, and putting the high fastballs that he does throw over the plate -- has resulted in a dramatic dip in miss rate. Batters have come up empty just 8.1% of the time they have swung at Morrow's fastball in 2012.

Morrow's pitch-to-contact approach has resulted in fewer walks and more ground balls, but the big hit in strikeouts would be a bad trade-off in the long run. His peripheral stats suggest his 2012 ERA should be closer to 4.70 than 3.70. Maybe Morrow can eventually make this strategy work, but he might just want to let his fastball ride high once again.