The 9th inning yesterday featured the third save in four games for Brandon Morrow, who has been perfect thus far in save opportunities as the Cubs’ new closer.
In the process of closing things out, he threw a pitch that stopped me – and many other folks, including The Pitching Ninja – in my tracks:
My initially-tweeted reaction to that pitch was basically, “What the hell was that?”
It was both a compliment to the nastiness, and also a genuine question. If you pause the GIF, as I did many times because I am a nerd, you can see that it wasn’t like Morrow just buried that pitch right out of his hand. Instead, it looked like a sinker that is designed to look like his four-seamer (which does not sink nearly as much) coming right around the knees. But 10 feet in it starts to dive, and then completely falls off the table. Bonus points to Willson Contreras for somehow gloving that ball.
But here’s the thing – I didn’t think Brandon Morrow threw a sinker. From a pitch classification standpoint, I don’t really know what to make of Morrow’s outing yesterday, as all but one of his fastballs registered to Statcast as sinkers, but he’s almost exclusively a four-seam guy, not having thrown a sinker – according to Brooks – since 2014. As you can see, though, that pitch to Travis Shaw extremely clearly looked like a sinker.
Thankfully, I hadn’t yet completed this post when Sahadev Sharma tweeted out his latest, which includes conversation from Morrow on this very point:
Talked to Morrow about the nasty two-seam action he's getting, "I don’t throw a two-seamer, they’re all four-seam fastballs." Explanation of that and the dominance of him and Edwards in here: https://t.co/RU5FsL2UJx https://t.co/Qi8cr2Yd3t
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) April 30, 2018
It turns out, the pitch was indeed a four-seamer, but thanks to some struggles with his command, some of his fastballs are moving on him like two-seamer/sinkers. It’s actually – to Morrow – not a good thing, and he’s working to get more consistency on his four-seamer. Read Sharma’s piece at The Athletic for much more on that, and on Carl Edwards, Jr.
Morrow’s had an interesting first month with the Cubs, probably in no small part owing to those early-season command imperfections (and terrible weather). After allowing an inherited runner to score in his first outing – which was his only appearance in the first 10 days of the season – Morrow has pitched 10 straight scoreless single innings. They have been wholly uneventful for the most part, though they have not necessarily been nothing but strikeouts. Indeed, Morrow’s 24.3% strikeout rate is rather pedestrian in today’s game for late-inning relievers.
Moreover, his 8.1% walk rate is – for him – poor. Yet just one of those walks came in his last five appearances, and he has yet to give up a single earned run. He might be fighting his command a little – which could also explain why he’s been lighter on the slider so far this year, since he first wants to establish the fastball, off of which the slider plays – but he’s getting results.
When you watch, the dominant ability is as obvious for him as any reliever you’ll see, even now. Heck, Morrow even hides the ball very well in his delivery to add some deception (a hell of an add for a guy with a 98 mph fastball and a wipeout slider). I think as the weather improves, we’re going to see him commanding the four-seamer, throwing the slider more, and that’s when he becomes truly nasty.
Bonus fun fact:
Brandon Morrow has given up an earned run in 1 of his last 30 regular season appearances dating back to last season
— Cooper (@RushingBaseball) April 30, 2018