The Major League leader in strikeouts per nine among starting pitchers, with 11.9, is Brandon Morrow. He is second among starting pitchers in BB/9 with 5.9. If you put that together, and add in his three hit batters, 84 of the 187 batters Morrow has faced have struck out, walked or been hit by a pitch: a hair under 45%. That is tops among qualified starting pitchers, Clayton Kershaw is next with 43%, then Rich Harden with 41%, and those are the only three pitchers above 40%. So Morrow is something of an outlier in terms of keeping the ball out of play on a per plate appearance basis.
Morrow’s strikeouts are a product of his second-lowest 70.9% contact rate (only Tim Lincecum‘s is lower). His fastball is electric and the key to that tiny contact rate. Thanks to Harry Pavlidis we know the average fastball generates 16% whiffs (misses/swing not misses/pitch), but Morrow’s has a 23% whiff rate. Since fastballs are thrown about 65% of the time, those extra whiffs add up quickly over the course of a game.
As you would expect for whiff-generating fastball from a fly-ball pitcher, the fastball is generally found up in the zone. Here I plot how much more (red) or less (blue) often you find Morrow’s fastballs in each bin compared to the average RHP’s four-seamer.
You can see they tend to be up in the zone. Against RHBs they are more often inside compared to the average RHP, and against LHBs more often outside. High fastballs tend to be whiffed more often, but also give up more fly balls.
All those extra fastballs up-and-in to RHBs and up-and-away to LHBs are also a big reason for Morrow’s big walk rate. The secondary effect of all those walks is that Morrow has not been able to go deep into games for the Jays, getting to the 7th inning in just one of his eight games. Morrow’s huge strikeout rate makes him an exciting, flashy pitcher, but until he gets his walk rate down that excitement has to be tempered.
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