Back in March, before all the bullpen/closing drama happened, Jeff took a look at Brandon Morrow's fastball. Now with about an equal sample size in 2009 as to 2008, as well as Morrow's fabulous 16 missed bats the other day in Boston, I figured it would be a decent enough time to follow up.
First, I will fess up that I do not recall how I cut off the data that I gave to Jeff that yielded the percentages he quoted in his article. Therefore, I had to redo everything and came to slightly different numbers. Pitch classification is a tricky subject. Either way, it does not make much difference so here are the figures:
In 2008, Morrow's fastball was electric coming out of the pen, inducing a swing and a miss 14.5% of the time (sample size (n) = 435), a remarkably high rate for a fastball. However, when Morrow moved to the rotation, that rate (n = 317) dropped to 7.9%. As Jeff pointed out though, 7.9% is still good for a starting pitcher.
Moving on to 2009, there is a clear case of why Morrow struggled so much at the start of this year out of the pen - his fastball swinging strike rate dropped to 7.0% (n = 329). From 14.5% to 7.0%; whether that was from a lack of effectiveness of the pitch itself, a result of fewer strikes being thrown and thus batters just not swinging as often or some combination of the two, that is a dramatic drop off. I would have only needed to see that comparison to conclude that Morrow needed some tuning up in the minors.
Instead, they shifted him to the rotation and kept him in Seattle. This had all the makings of a disaster but instead it seems to have flipped a switch in Morrow. His fastball missed bat rate (n = 292) as a starter stands at 9.6%, over a point and a half improvement from his starting times back in 2008. Make no mistake, generating a swing and a miss on nearly 10% of your fastballs is crazy good for a starter. The average is 5.2%. Among starters with at least 250 fastballs thrown, Morrow ranks third behind Max Scherzer (11.1%) and Justin Verlander (11.0%).*
In fact, breaking down Morrow's three pitches, here are his swinging strike rates to date while in the rotation
Changeup (n = 27) 11.1%
Fastball (n = 292) 9.6%
Slider (n = 100) 18.0%
If Morrow had enough innings to qualify, he would rank third in baseball in swinging strike rate behind Rich Harden and Javier Vazquez. He would be first in the American League.
* A list of other Mariner starters on the list:
Bedard, 7.7%, 21st
Felix, 7.5%, 26th
Washburn, 5.7%, 61st
Vargas, 4.4%, 110
Olson, 4.2%, 121st
Jakubauskas, 4.0%, 133rd