Clayton Mortensen: Four Pitches, Hot Hand

Clayton Mortensen seems intent on showing that the Red Sox gained more than $5 million in payroll flexibility when they traded Marco Scutaro to Colorado in January. The 27-year-old right-hander has been outstanding in a pair of long-relief appearances since being called up from Triple-A. Were it not for Mark Reynolds, he would be almost perfect. The Orioles third baseman has homered and doubled against Mortensen — while hitters not named Mark Reynolds are a combined 1 for 20 with 11 strikeouts. Eight outs have come via ground balls.

Mortensen credits an ability to mix and match within the zone for his success. Of his 104 pitches during the two games, 44 have been either a two- or four-seamer, 32 have been changeups and 28 have been sliders. He has thrown strikes with 66% of his deliveries. Nearly 70% of his changeups have been strikes.

Mortensen talked about his repertoire over the weekend at Fenway Park.


Mortensen on his slider: “My slider isn’t a typical slider. It doesn’t necessarily break right-to-left. It has more depth to it, so it’s more of a down-ball. It also has three different movements, depending on where my release point is. When I really accentuate staying on top of it — away to a righty — it will have a little depth and a little right-to-left movement. If I try to throw it down the middle, it’s more straight down. Sometimes it kind of screws. It’s basically because of the way I grip it. I kind of cock my wrist a little bit. To be honest, I try to throw it as hard as I can and it just kind of does what it wants to do.

“I threw one to Brandon Inge that he took for a strike, and then I threw another one that had a little more sideways action. I could see that he was kind of like, ‘What was that?’”

“How it moves is kind of by chance right now. It’s kind of a new pitch for me. I’ve always had a slider, but it’s been inconsistent over the years. In Spring Training, I was messing around with what I was originally calling a cutter, but it’s not like a true cutter, because it doesn’t go sideways. It depends on my release point, and I’m starting to get a better idea of where it’s going to go.”

On his two-seamer: “I was happy with the way my two-seamer was moving the other day. It’s nice to see that movement again. I felt like I could throw the ball hard and not try to manipulate the ball for it to do certain things. I could just throw a normal fastball and it would move — rather than trying to manipulate it to make it move. My ball had some life to it.

“One reason hitters can have a hard time with me is that I keep my arm speed pretty consistent with all of my pitches. I’m throwing each one pretty much as hard as I can. It’s three different speeds and three different movements. My fastball is about 87 mph and my slider is about 84-85. My sinker is going one way and my slider is going the other way, and the hitter doesn‘t know which one it‘s going to be. It’s tough for him to pick that up and get a barrel on it. ”

On his four-seamer: “My four-seam sinks, so [PITCHf/x] probably can‘t tell the difference between it and my two. Just by the way I pronate, it’s always going to have a little bit of movement. A straight four-seam fastball is a hard pitch for me throw, because of the way my arm operates. Nothing is ever really straight with me. It’s something I wish I could do. I wish I could throw a 92 mph straight fastball.

“A lot of it depends on where I’m at on the ball. Usually, when I finish on top of it, it’s going to have some kind of run to it. If I stay behind it, I’m going to have more of a backspin. It will still be moving a little bit, but not as much as when I’m on top.”

On his changeup: “My change is a circle-two-seam change [averaging 81 mph]. I grip it the same as I would my sinker, but I spread my fingers out on it and kind of get it deep in my hand; I just let the action of my arm do the rest. I don’t try to roll over the top of it, or anything. I just try to stay on top and finish down, out in front.

“It kind of has a split-finger action — a straight-down action. It has a little left-to-right, but mostly just down. I have a three-quarter arm slot, so the way I throw it, it’s going to have kind of a sideways spin and some depth.

“I’ve had a lot of people tell me, ‘You threw a lot of changeups.’ And, I do throw a lot of changeups. It’s a good pitch. I’m throwing it for strikes and if guys aren’t putting good swings on it, I’m going to keep throwing it. If a guy has an electric fastball, he’s going to throw a lot of fastballs. If guys aren’t hitting it, stick with it. Right now, guys aren’t squaring me up.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA

15 Responses to “Clayton Mortensen: Four Pitches, Hot Hand”

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  1. Matty Brown says:

    He’s a smart cookie. Interesting read, rare to hear of someone being so informed and open about their pitches.

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  2. chiefglockandhummer says:

    more articles like this, please

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    • Rt.Hon. John McDonald says:

      Would love to read more articles like these, only, can Fangraphs please drop their incestuous love-in with the Red-Sox and perhaps delve into other teams?

      There are probably 75 other pitchers like Mortenson grinding it out in the fringes of MLB. But only when they don a Red Sox uniform is it worthy of a piece in Fangraphs?

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      • Regarding Red Sox coverage, I am aware that some people think we provide too much of it. I am also aware that there are a lot of Red Sox fans out there. As for how much of it I personally provide, my home base is Boston. I could easily crank out multiple Red Sox pieces each week.

        Taking a quick look at my log, it appears as though I’ve done seven Red Sox pieces in my 12 months at FG. I’ve done an equal number of Indians and at least four for five other teams. While I’ve written more about the Red Sox than any other team, I do attempt to strike a balance.

        I always welcome feedback, both on what I am doing and what people feel I should be doing.

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      • Synovia says:

        Could Fangraphs stop catering to the Vocal Minority’s complaints that there is too much coverage of two of the teams that are consistently among the best in baseball, heavily engage in advanced statistics (the focus of this site), and have tons of fans?

        The coverage here is pretty even. There’s plenty of articles about the Mariners, Royals, Reds, Astros, and every other team.

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      • everdiso says:

        Not really the amount or articles that’s the problem. It’s really more the fact that even as the Red Sox continue their implosion of the last 8 months or so, it’s still all sunshine and roses on here, or at least a determined blind spot covering the team’s struggles. I think it must have been a little jarring even to Red Sox fans this morning to come on here, after one of the more fascinating and exceptional defeats you’ll ever see last night (one that certainly would seem to deserve a fangraphs article), and on the heels of getting swept by the Orioles at home no less…..and see that the leadoff article on fangraphs this morning is an article about one of their borderline MLBers discussing his variety of junkballs, with the headline telling us how “hot” he’s been.

        That being said, this article itself was very interesting because you don’t often get a firsthand account as in depth and honest as this one, so it more than deserves to be an article here IMO at least.

        Still, the timing is pretty funny. I mean at this point even Red Sox fans must be hoping for a little critical analysis of their team’s struggles right now, but for some reason fangraphs refuses to give it to them, despite their high Red Sox content in general.

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      • Simon says:

        For articles like these, I’d much rather read about someone interesting than worry about which team they play for. If that means more Red Sox or whatever, I really don’t care. Having articles about boring people to create artificial balance would be a bad thing.

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    • Synovia says:

      What sort of article do you want?

      “The Red Sox have $85M on the DL, and a starter with a broken back”

      I don’t know that we need an article telling us why the Sox are playing so poorly.

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      • everdiso says:

        That’s exactly what I’m talking about, I think. Implying that everything has gone wrong for the Sox this year (and last year), without acknowledging all the things that have gone right for them (i.e. all of Ort, Sweeney, Ross, Aviles, Middlebrooks, Bard, Doubront, Albers, Atchison, Hill exceeding expectations), just like last year when everyone acted as if they were unlucky despite having career or near career years from all of Gonzo, Pedey, Ellsbury, Ortiz, Beckett, Lester, Papelbon, Bard.

        And also talking about payroll lost on the DL, when that payroll wouldn’t be anywhere near cost efficient even if those players were healthy, or ignoring that tying up all that money in aging players sort of lessens the excuse of them then getting injured (and of course all the current DL guys are guys who have had major injury concerns in the recent past that we knew about coming into the season). Not to mention that the Sox’ active payroll is still one of the top payrolls in baseball.

        I mean, nobody’s saying they’ve had extraordinary good luck but blaming everything on bad luck and injuries seems to be just wrong, especially since this is the 3rd year in a row that the team is performing well below fangraphs’ expectations.

        There seems to be plenty of interesting things to talk about with the Sox, and a good deal to be critical about, but instead we keep getting articles talking about how Beckett losing critical mph on his fastball is actually him brilliantly changing his approach to pitching.

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  3. Booth says:

    That’s cute, everdiso is pretending that he’s actually objective again.

    Let me summarize the Red Sox struggles: it’s one month. And they’re only struggling with pitching. There. Didn’t need an article.

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  4. Booth says:

    Example: The “everything has gone wrong for them” thing is a total strawman. Maybe that’s what your jealous Blue Jays fan mind interprets when people simply state facts about things that have gone wrong for the Red Sox, but it’s not reality. Everything doesn’t go wrong for any team. What you do is look at the things that go wrong, and the things that go right, and you weigh them together.

    In 2010, you really can put it all on injuries. Sorry. It’s just a fact.

    Last year, they performed much better than a 90 win team. They just didn’t have the uncontrollable things, i.e. clutch hitting etc, go their way. And injuries were a significant factor as well.

    This year, it’s a month. Meaningless. Same record as last year, and by September they were like 30 games over .500.

    Just the way it is. Sorry. Still a loaded team. Still a top tier organization. You can use words like “implosion” all you want, they’re not going anywhere.

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  5. everdiso says:

    well, it’s not one month – it’s well on to the third year of them vastly underperforming your guys’ “objective” opinions, and performing more along the lines of my apparently “super-biased jealous” opinion.

    But maybe you red sox hometown fans are the more objective ones anyways, come hell or dirty water.

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    • adohaj says:

      I’m from the midwest and have zero rooting interest for the redsox. I think they are a loaded team and a well run organization. I also think they are not imploding. Maybe I am just brainwashed by the “east-coast-bias” at Fangraphs

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  6. Dan Greer says:

    “I threw one to Brandon Inge that he took for a strike, and then I threw another one that had a little more sideways action. I could see that he was kind of like, ‘What was that?’”

    I feel like this isn’t an unusual reaction for Brandon Inge.

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