since his HR/FB was actually lower with men on base, I’m guessing that it’s mostly a fluke.
in fact, based on the numbers, i don’t think it’s at all obvious that “something isn’t working with this approach” (this is more a response to the article than to your post). the only thing that’s obvious is that more balls in play fell for hits with men on base last year. given that his strikeout, walk and HR rates remain identical, i think it’s much more likely that he had some bad luck/poor defense than that he was actually pitching worse.
Change the word “slider” to “changeup” and you have Rich Harden.
Comment by NoSuchThingasaFairweatherA'sFan — January 27, 2012 @ 4:33 pm
Yeah I’m no mechanical guru, but his consistently bad LOB numbers suggest he has a problem pitching out of the stretch.
Comment by EarlSweatshirt — January 27, 2012 @ 4:36 pm
As a Jay’s fan who’s seen every pitch Morrow has thrown for the team – it has been OBVIOUS that he’s god(ish) with no runners on and pa-thet-ic with runners on. So bad in fact – I actually get sick to my stomach watching his decent into hell every time there’s a base runner.
However, it was clear to me in his last few starts last year that he’d gotten on to something different.If indeed he can get even league average with ANY third pitch he’s going to be a serious winner.
I’m not so sure. His Career splits show the same inflated BAbip with Men on and RISP.
.277 Bases Empty
.331 Men On
It’s more likely that he’s just a different pitcher from the stretch. Didn’t we just do this article a few days ago? I’m not complaining, but I’m not nuts, right? Well, maybe I’m nuts, but we did, right?
Chris’s article on Morrow didn’t get into the pitch selection aspect of it, which I found really interesting. I don’t think he’s physically “tipping pitches” from the stretch (I’d have to watch a lot of video to confirm, though), but based on his pitch use in those situations, I think the end result is basically the same. Hitters know what they’re going to see, and it’s easier for them to dial in.
And the BABIP issues with his slider do seem to happen year to year. Yeah, it’s a SSS each time, so who knows, but I also wouldn’t entirely discount it.
I still don’t buy that a .355 BABIP (.411 in 2010) with runners on base is anything but an outlier. I know we want to explain it, but maybe he’s just “that guy”. The guy who had the 1 in 100 bad luck over the last two years, with a sprinkle of bad defense in there. I think the Blue Jays did well to lock him up before the BABIP from the stretch normalizes, and his ERA starts to move toward his peripherals.
I suppose that’s a sound theory considering that he has only pitched 235 IP with Men on Base, which is roughly the equivalent of one ‘unlucky’ season. AA may realize this, being inclined as he is to that sort of data, and siezed the opportunity.
This is the best analysis I’ve seen of why Morrow struggles out of the stretch. I’ve always believed it had something to do with his limited repertoire and becoming more predictable in such situations (because he’s not throwing the ball any differently or tipping his pitches).
I do hope this cutter that he’s supposedly using now will change things in that regard.
Comment by Fullmer_Fan — January 27, 2012 @ 6:09 pm
he’s allowed under 600 balls in play in his career with runners on base. the standard deviation from luck in that small a sample is 0.020 of BABIP. so his bases empty-runners on gap is about 2 SD from the mean (league-wide BABIP is slightly higher with runners on, so part of the gap is explained by that).
2 SD from the mean makes it barely noteworthy at all. you’d expect 1 in 20 pitchers to exhibit a split that extreme purely due to luck. and there’s really no evidence that he’s tipping his pitches or locating poorly. if he were, wouldn’t we expect that to affect his K, BB, or HR rate? given that those remain remarkably constant with runners on base, the data really aren’t consistent with any of those theories.
so the way i see it, luck is by far the best explanation we have so far.
The problem with the “predictable with men on base” theory is that, if you look at his 2010 pitch selection, he only threw his FB and SL 54.52% with bases empty and 57.59% with men on base. That’s hardly a big difference, and not at all predictable. Yet, he had a much worse BABIP and Opponent AVG with men on base in 2010 than he did in 2011. His LOB% was definitely worse in 2011 though.
its tough to argue all these points that he is bad with runners on base with that K rate higher. Even K-BB ratio with runners on is great. If it is just his BABIP, then maybe its simply bad luck. The fly ball rate is the really the red flag worth looking into, if that was caused by pitc type or location.
As his 11.5% whiff rate shows, Morrow is one of the best starters in the majors based on pure stuff alone. But until he finds a consistent and effective #3 pitch that he can use with runners on base, I’m skeptical that he will improve that much going forward.
That’s a pretty hefty assertion. What you’re saying is, “I don’t think he should be considered a part of the same set of pitchers (all major league pitchers) on which the theories that say he should improve are based.” Maybe two pitch pitchers really are part of a different set, but I’d need to see this pattern repeated a bunch before I believed it.
Yeah, further down the thread I concede that he’s only thrown 235 IP with Men On, which is still small enough a sample to generate quite a bit of noise.
Looking at the Lefkowitz profile, he doesn’t lose velocity with Men on, in fact he actually gains some. Movement and location by base-state are not as easy to quantify.
Also, it seems to make sense that most pitchers would throw more breaking pitches with Men on any way, at least intuitively. Right? In order to generate more swing-and-miss? Of course off the top of my head I immediately thought of Lee and Halladay as the types to pitch to the base state in this manner but the data does not support the theory.
I watched a lot of Morrow’s starts last year and he really was horrendous with runners on. It was painful to watch him be so good and then have a meltdown inning. What I anecdotaly have noticed is he struggled with location with his FB early in counts and therefore couldn’t throw his slider to get guys out. Guys sat on 3-0 and 2-0 FBs and mashed them.
He also didn’t have a GB DP turned behind him until something like late August/early September. Hard to get out of jams when you can’t get the groundball you need to give your defence a chance.
What about last year when he threw his curveball and change-up a combined 26% of the time? His LOB was still low and he struggled with runners on.
He did manage to cut down his walk rate throwing mainly fastball and slider. So maybe he’ll take the better command from last season and try to incorporate one of those pitches back in. He did add in a cutter towards the end which seemed to help him get some extra groundballs. I’m sure Jays weak outfield defense didn’t help him either as he is an extreme flyball pitcher. His OPS also seems to jump quite a bit when he hits the 76+ mark.
Right now, I’m in-between whether this is just being unlucky or something this will continue to happen throughout his career. He did add in a cutter towards the end of season and it seemed to help him get groundball so I’m hopeful for next season.
Comment by Sniderlover — January 27, 2012 @ 9:00 pm
Steve are we certain its not a stretch mechanics issue? I know i woad this last time and i know its slot of work but we must have release point and pitch fx data on this. If he cant spin his slider enough out of the stretch there is your problem.
Incidentally if this is true it does NOT bide well for his future as a rp.
As for talented pitchers not having a problem learning a third pitch….
Steve meet aj, aj this is Steve. You guys need to talk
The pitch selection is interesting and this is where scouting could come into play.
If the “book” on Morrow is once he gets men on base sit exclusively on fastball/slider this might help the BABIP. Is there a way at looking at whiff rates on these individual pitches with men on vs noone on?
It may not only be about tipping pitches or losing (or not losing) an mph off his fastball… perhaps he is more predictable when pitching with men on base? (this is pure speculation on my part)
The Jays might not be too bad if they can get some more consistent performances from Morrow and a resurgent Cecil/Drabek. The Jays should hit, the bullpen has been revamped, the rotation is clearly on shaky ground.
The pitch-selection argument doesn’t work. Look at his 2010 splits with men on base. He had a much higher BABIP, in the .400s. Yet, his repertoire was much more diverse; he used his FB and SL only ~55% of the time w/MOB.
bpdelia: If he can’t spin his slider as much out of the stretch…how does that explain anything?
Somehow the lower spin does not make batters swing and miss more often (as evidenced by the stable K and BB rates), and doesn’t let them make harder enough contact to hit more homeruns. But it does make it easier for batters to get hits on balls that are hit hard enough to be “in play” but not hard enough to be homeruns?
That just seems incredibly unlikely to me. What am I missing that makes this a reasonable theory?
When Morrow is pitching with no one on he has a pretty significant turn towards second base in his windup before delivering the ball home. In the stretch he has to make this turn much shorter. Could the drastic altering of delivery stretch vs non-stretch be a plausible explanation?
Excellent article, and any Jays fan will agree with you. His fastball command, with runners on, is bad. Often he gets down 2-0 in the count, and grooves the heater down the middle.
Morrow doesn’t really throw a change, either. His two-seamer, or sinker, coincidentally sits in the high 80’s, just like his change. My thinking is that a lot of his changeups aren’t being read correctly.
It really comes down to Morrow being a two-pitch pitcher. His BABIP’s will come down once he gets an average third pitch. Even if you buy into the usage of his curve and change, they’re both terrible pitches. He needs to improve either pitch, or else we will see more of the same.
Durr’s data is incorrect. Morrow’s Fangraphs page indicates that he threw his FB and SL 73.7% of the time in 2010 and 88.2% of the time in 2011. There are also a group of his 2010 pitches that, like his slider, come in at 87 MPH. Fangraphs classifies these as changeups and pitchFX classifies them as sinkers. These account for about 15% of his pitches. If they actually are sliders, then he’s throwing the same amount of sliders and fastballs in both 2010 and 2011 and it’s way more than 50%.
Comment by Greg Foley — January 28, 2012 @ 4:00 pm
His low LOB% stems from 2 issues: 1 his bad luck (as seen from his babip in the stretch) and him elevating the ball from when he pitches from the stretch. Morrow’s pitching form has him really bringing his knee back (almost pointed towards the shortstop) when no runners are on but has to switch to a shorter, faster rocking motion from the stretch. The change in timing is affecting his release point and landing foot often causing him to get up in the zone (where he can still K a lot but also gets hit harder). His last 3 starts this past year he did a much better job staying down in the zone and his pitching coach says he attributes it to working on ways to be more consistent with his delivery and emotions on the mound.
You’re right, I did add up the numbers wrong. But it’s still not that high. I don’t include his split-finger fastball as part of the group, so it’s more like 61.72% with bases empty and 63.93% with men on base.
The stated claim about two-pitch pitchers also made me wonder. I did a quick, non-scientific search of the Fangraphs 2011 leader board of qualified pitchers who threw their top two pitches more often than Morrow threw his and came up with this list:
Justin Masterson 99.3 FB and SL
Ervin Santana 96.8 FB and SL
Bartolo Colon 95.3 FB and SL
Alexi Ogando 95.1 FB and SL
Michael Pineda 93.7 FB and SL
Gio Gonzalez 92.5 FB and CB
Clayton Kershaw 90.8 FB and SL
Brandon Morrow 88.2 FB and SL
There’s some pretty good pitchers and some guys with obvious weaknesses, but clearly, it is possible to have a great deal of success with only two pitches.
Comment by Greg Foley — January 28, 2012 @ 5:22 pm
And here is a list of starting pitchers who threw their top two pitches more than 90% of the time between 2000 and 2011:
Daniel Cabrera 93.2 FB and SL
John Lieber 92.4 FB and SL
Randy Johnson 91.4 FB and SL
Oliver Perez 91.2 FB and SL
Josh Johnson 91.1 FB and SL
Kevin Brown 90.1 FB and SL
Jeremy Bonderman 91.0 FB and SL
Ross Ohlendorf 90.5 FB and SL
Ben Sheets 94.3 FB and CB
AJ Burnett 93.6 FB and CB
Mark Prior 91.6 FB and CB
Rich Hill 91.2 FB and CB
Wandy Rodriguez 89.5 FB and CB
Erik Bedard 89.4 FB and CB
Chuck James 95.4 FB and CH
Tom Glavine 93.4 FB and CH
Greg Maddux 92.4 FB and CH
There’s 3-4 hall-of-famers on this list and few guys who had very good careers and a few more who had promising careers derailed by injury. There’s also a few who never became as good as people thought they would. This list confirms to me that a pitcher can be successful with just two pitches.
Comment by Greg Foley — January 28, 2012 @ 6:04 pm
When nobody is on base, Morrow is able to work in his sinker and curveball 9% of the time — not a huge amount, but often enough to at least keep hitters honest.
As his 11.5% whiff rate shows, Morrow is one of the best starters in the majors based on pure stuff alone. But until he finds a consistent and effective #3 pitch that he can use with runners on base, I’m skeptical that he will improve that much going forward. With some better luck on balls in play, he could end up in the 4.00-4.30 ERA range, but I think he’ll be hard pressed to do better than that with only two pitches.
While just about every pitcher would benefit from adding another plus pitch, wouldn’t Morrow get the same results with runners on if he simply kept his pitch usage the same? If the two-pitch thing is creating his problems with runners on base, then we should expect that by simply taking his existing pitch selection with no runners on and using it in every situation would eliminate the problem.
As a pitcher, you are able to be a lot cuter with your pitches without runners on. Paint corners, throw me-over pitches, etc.. But with runners on, it’s much easier for a hitter to sit on a pitch, as the pitcher has to come into the strikezone.
I think he and the catchers are mostly worried about bouncing the CB and CH…valid worries, I think. No one on, doesn’t matter. Throw in the deceptive windup and “normal” stretch delivery, and hitters are likely just picking the ball up better. Delivery matters – pitchers make entire careers out of being harder to pick up, and Morrow might be one of those types out of the full windup, powerful stuff and all.
The concern about wild pitches I think is only really relevant to the curveball; even then, if the worry is a .080 differential in BABIP, I’d take the odd WP – he’s only throwing the curve 5% of the time anyway.
Anyway, I’m sceptical that there’s anything to Morrow’s difficulty with runners on base than bad luck. We always seek reasons to explain outliers, when usually it’s just random chance.
Roughly 60% of his pitches result in grounders or line drives. When the fielders are on the bases holding the runners, they aren’t getting to those grounders/LD as much, resulting in more singles/doubles on Balls in play (in other words, higher BAbip without adjusting any of his other rates)
It’s just hitting him harder then others since he is inflicted with the curse of a 2-pitch pitcher; especially one with a definitive out pitch.
After you have a man on, as a hitter you know you will see roughly 65/35 fastball/slider; with the fastball coming early and the slider showing up once you fall behind in the count. So sit on FBs early in the count and try to run one up the gap. If you fail, you know the slider is headed your way and you can try and do with it whatever you can.
Knowing what is coming, when it’s coming and realizing all you need is a hard grounder/soft liner to a gap – well, it makes your job so much easier, no matter your skills with the bat.
read my post above – its as simple as counting to 3
He’s a 2 pitch pitcher, with a clear out pitch.
Runner on, you will see almost exclusively FBs until you have 2 strikes, and will have the advantage of the gap from runners being held on base.
The only thing you need to do is make contact to the light-side of the infield off one of the early fastballs and you have a drastically increased chance of at least a single.
Because we are talking about a relatively small amount of AB here, an extra Five or so such hits means the difference between a .300 and .340 BAbip.
Unless he manages to learn another pitch he is comfortable throwing out of the stretch, it will stay the same. Right now, he is just way too predictable. Add in the defensive alignment change, and hitters have a gigantic advantage when runners are on
why do people just assume that because he was experimenting with pitches he had no control over, that he would also use said pitches when runs were actually on the line?
Furthermore, look at the splits of the Curve (a Knuckle Curve, no less) and Change-up. He almost never threw them after the 2nd pitch, and never when behind in the count. He had zero confidence in them; which is understandable considering they were piss-poor pitches he has rightfully near abandoned after the failed experiment.
Again, if you want to know why Morrow cant keep runners from scoring, look no further then the extremely predictable pitch selection because of his inabilities with variety, and an already high infield-hit ratio which goes insane with runners being held.
(compare his infield hit ratios with some of the other 2-pitch guys mentioned above)
Brandon Morrow – 7.3% BE, 7.6% RO, 10.1% RS
Josh Johnson – 6.0% BE, 3.6% RO, 4.7% RS
Ben Sheets – 6.2% BE, 6.0% RO, 6.5% RS
AJ Burnett – 6.3% BE, 5.9% RO, 6.5% RS
Glavine (02-08) – 6.2% BE, 4.4% RO, 4.7% RS
(the old and drastically less effective:)
Big-Unit (02-09) – 8.4% BE, 7.1 RO, 7.1% RS
You are not going to succeed when hitters basically know what you are going to throw before you throw it, and have an extremely high likelihood of reaching first if making even infield contact.
A look at his home/road 10/11 splits suggests his issues might mainly be in his head. Maybe, for whatever reason, he can’t seem to get comfortable in certain settings at certain times and loses trust in his raw stuff/spends too much trying to paint the corners/etc./etc.
In 10, his control was pretty awful during road starts. In 11, he was far too hittable during home starts.I’m sure luck plays a role in all this, and blah blah small sample size blah blah, but if the issues were purely mechanical or pitch selection related they would carry over regardless of the setting, no?
Comment by Captain_Oblivious — January 29, 2012 @ 7:10 pm
But doesn’t that tie into sample size? His road numbers in 2010 were awful, and home numbers were awful in 2011. That’s where it balances out, IMO. He could’ve had a bad stretch, where he pitches 3 or 4 straight at home, and vice-versa concerning the road in 2010.
SOB: that is false. two pitch starters overall do NOT have a bigger men-on-base BABIP split than 3+ pitch starters.
Among the 7 starters who threw their top two pitchers more often than Morrow last season (Masterson, Ervin Santana, Colon, Ogando, Pineda, Gio Gonzalez, Kershaw), they had a .275 BABIP with bases empty and a .288 BABIP with runners on base. That’s about the same as the overall league numbers.
I am a STRONG supporter of sabermetrics. That being pitched all the way through college and I will be the first to tell you that the combination of things that happens when someone is on base changes a lot of things that you can not measure statistically.
-You throw from the stretch
-You are checking the baserunner
-You throw fastballs in running counts
-Most pitchers either become less aggressive (lower FB%) or more aggressive (higher FB%) with runners on base, and the scouting reports let the batter know of this.
Most importantly, every individual will react differently to the pressures applied to them when runners are on base. I believe that some pitchers are BETTER at leaving runners on base because of immeasurable mental skills. Simply saying that Morrow allows a higher than avg. number of runners to score and assuming it’s bad luck is poor form.
As a Mariners fan I can tell you when Morrow had the bases empty he generally threw a lot of strikes to the corners. When runners were on it seemed he could not MISS the middle of the plate.
Isn’t the obvious counter argument to the idea that it can’t be problems pitching out of the stretch resulting in pitches higher in the zone a and a less deceptive delivery because his HR rate doesn’t change be that the HR rate is the outlier and not the BABIP?
Comment by MaxPower417 — January 30, 2012 @ 1:00 pm
Generally speaking, pitching to a 1-2 count (as opposed to 2-1 or 3-0 in the first 3 pitches) is the best way to a pitcher to reduced BABIP. I would suggest Morrow gets behind in the count more often when pitching with men on base.
A couple of things that need correction:
1) Brandon Morrow doesn’t throw a sinker. That 88mph sometimes downward-moving pitch is actually a changeup, which he throws so fast, FanGraphs even calls it a splitter sometimes. Whatever. It’s not a great pitch unless he can deceive people into thinking it’s his fastball. If he gets better at doing that, then this pitch could make him far more effective all-round.
2) By virtue of his slider being virtually unhittable, Morrow is a fly-ball pitcher by default. He’s only been a full-time starter for just under 2 years now, and no doubt he has a few things to learn about using his stuff to get guys out. But while there is something to the notion that he becomes more predictable with runners on base (i.e. he’s a 2-pitch pitcher and guys sit on his FB), we also need to remember that his stats were skewed by poor outfield defense last year (note how his ERA dropped after Rasmus’s arrival in CF).
That said, he was way better with the cutter and the 2-seamer he threw occasionally. If he keeps it up with those pitches and can mix in his change or curve occasionally, he’ll be tough to hit. And if any of his secondary pitches get any better this year, he’ll be giving Romero a run for his money.
except you’d also have to explain how his K rate and BB rate stay stable. if he were really tipping his pitches, you’d expect the K rate to drop substantially. if he loses control out of the stretch, you’d expect the BB rate to rise.
literally the only thing that changes with runners on base is that more balls in play become hits. that’s really hard to explain by anything other than random variation/luck. considering his career split is only about 2 SD from the mean, and that it’s so difficult to come up with a coherent theory as to what could be wrong, i think by far the most likely answer is that it’s just random variation/luck.
most two pitch pitchers don’t have such a drastic effectiveness difference and predictable usage of hem though.
Look at his pitch splits – you can see clear as day that the FB is used early and the Slider late. Me and you could sit and watch one of his starts and almost certainly be able to predict the pitch at an extremely high rate; and we aren’t paid to study such things or getting our info from those who are.
Also, you can see my below post to show just how drastic his infield hit percentage is, and how insane it gets when he has runners on/in scoring. That is the issue he has, the stats back that up.
Here are the differences in BABIP, between runners on, and bases empty (positive value indicates that runners on was higher, brackets bases empty):
2007 – .055
2008 – .189
2009 – (.109)
2010 – .068
2011 – .062
By these numbers, I think we can assume that it’s more than bad luck. Morrow’s BABIP with runners on has been SIGNIFICANTLY higher in his four of five years in the league.
However, there are oddities, which may help to prove it isn’t luck.
His HR/9 rates, were higher (bases empty) in 2007 and 2008, lower in 2010, and relatively even in 2009 & 2011. We can therefore determine, that these have not affected his numbers with runners on.
Finally, we can see that his career K/9, BB/9, and K/BB rations are all almost identical, whether he as runners on or not.
So, now I ask you, has Morrow been unlucky his 4 of 5 years in the league? Or can we now say that he has issues from the stretch?
SOB: again, that’s just false. Morrow threw 65% fastballs, 18% sliders in 0-0 counts. in 0-2 counts he threw 55% fastbals, 40% sliders.
For comparison, Kershaw threw 87% fastballs, 9% sliders in 0-0 counts vs. 35% fastballs, 44% sliders in 0-2 counts. Pineda threw 70% fastballs, 25% sliders in 0-0 counts, and 60% fastballs and 37% sliders in 0-2.
So Pineda had a similar approach to Morrow, but Kershaw was MORE PREDICTABLE than Morrow. Yet Kershaw actually had a LOWER BABIP with runners on base than bases empty.
I could go through all the 7 pitchers listed, but I think I’ve made my point: there is no evidence that two pitch pitchers perform worse with runners on base than 3+ pitch pitchers.
One last thing, having runners in scoring is 2nd or 3rd, where “runners on” opens it up to include 1st. With solely a man on first, it is unlikely he is being held on for a starter; which means the lane isnt opened up so you cant lay one into a gap as easily.
Once a runner is past first, and being held on, Morrow allows a huge percentage of infield hits. Those hits influence the “BAbip with Runners On” despite not a single hit even needing to be present when a runner solely on first.