Editors Note: After reading this article, we encourage you to read part 2, where Chris delves deeper into Morrow’s injury history and mechanics, while also discussing the Blue Jays and their reluctancy to adopt biomechanics.
If you’ve followed the Jays over the past year, which considering you’re reading this post is most likely the case, I’m sure you’ve heard the narrative surrounding Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow. He makes too many changes to his delivery, he’s injury prone, he will be a borderline ace once the BABIP dragon shows him mercy, so on and so forth.
The one thing that has gained the most attention recently has been this incessant need to give Brandon Morrow the injury prone label. It is a little bothersome to me, because people use the phrase to make it seem like he’s never on the field—which is simply untrue. He has had his issues with injuries, however. His first season in the bigs was his only one with a clean bill of health, and he has two consecutive seasons with 60-day DL trips under his belt, so I can understand where that line of thinking comes from.
He’s only pitched more than 150 innings once, although if he wasn’t shut down early in 2010 it would likely be two. That all looks really bad, but to me an “injury prone” player is someone that can never stay on the field—someone like fellow Jay Dustin McGowan, for instance. Until 2012, Morrow simply did not have that problem.
He was officially converted to a full time starter when the Blue Jays acquired him from Seattle in December 2009. In four seasons with the Jays he has started 26, 30, 21, and 10 games respectively and is second in starts among Blue Jays over the last five seasons, which, admittedly, isn’t the highest of accolades in the post-Halladay era. There is some reason for concern going forward given his age and consecutive 60-day DL stints in 2012 and 2013, but in some sense it seems to be getting blown out of proportion. Maybe I have a different definition than others of what being an injury prone player means, but I think this all boils down to semantics.
Instead of placing focus on this supposed injury proneness, what we should instead be looking at is the fact that Brandon Morrow had still failed to reach his ever so highly touted potential.
A lot of internet analysts looked at Morrow’s traditional stats in 2010 and 2011 and brushed off his poor performance as bad luck. They drooled over his strikeout rates, other peripheral numbers, and at times, dominant performances. They thought the laws of nature would magically fix his woes going forward. In 2010 he led the majors in K% and was third in 2011 by mere decimal points. The right stuff was there. The ability to dominate was there. His problem has been his inability to put together a repeatable set of mechanics.
In part one of this two part series I will dissect Morrow’s mechanics from his time in Toronto thus far and point out some concerns I have going forward.
Various Mechanical Adjustments
A major factor to any successful pitcher is repeatable mechanics. Morrow made his first appearance in the show back in 2008 and has been struggling to find consistent mechanics ever since. Below is a GIF montage of Morrow from the windup every year since joining the Jays. The first thing you’ll notice is the drastic differences in his mechanics each season.
Click to Enlarge
Shortly after arriving in Toronto in 2010, Morrow made immediate and consistent tweaks in his delivery throughout the year. This affected his timing in the delivery and as a result, his command. He struggled to find a consistent arm path because he kept tinkering with small parts of his mechanics. Throughout the year, his hand position at maximum leg kick changed more than a few times. These seem like small insignificant changes, but they directly affected his arm path, wrecking his timing and command.
By the end of the year he had found something that finally stuck. He was able to find the right rhythm and tempo in his delivery by adding a slight twist at maximum leg kick, as well as changing his hand position. Below you can see the hand changes. When lowering his hands in the picture below, he waits longer to separate the ball from glove creating a more fluid action in the kinetic chain. The negative here of course it that Morrow is over rotating which can cause the back leg to stall. However, it appeared as though Morrow had finally found the mechanics he needed to be successful and the future was promising.
However, in 2011 he changed his mechanics again. He took the slight twist that he had brought in near the end of 2010, but modified it towards the creation of a much more exaggerated movement. The new twist that he had implemented, once again, negatively affected his timing. Below you can see the difference in the twist.
His overall timing from the windup remained repeatable despite the exaggerated twist—where the timing suffered was from the stretch. One of the biggest mistakes pitchers make is altering their stretch mechanics. Ask Mitch Williams how he feels about the slide step, and you will most likely have to cover your ears due to profanity.
A slide step is when a pitcher is in the stretch position and instead of using their usual leg lift, they just fall forward to the plate. As stated before, repeating mechanics are vital for a pitcher’s survival in the bigs. Therefore it’s never made sense to me that you would alter a pitchers mechanics in a small attempt to control base runners—one that’s never really been proven to help much anyway.
Morrow saw a home run and BABIP spike with runners on base in 2011 as a result—assumedly—of his altered mechanics and the implementation of the slide step in his delivery. Below you can see a clear difference from 2010 to 2011.
While it’s not a full version of a slide step, he makes an half hazard attempt at a leg lift, rushes his hands into a lower position and everything that follows is completely out of sync.
His homerun issue wasn’t isolated to men on base. He was giving up HR’s at an above average rate from the windup and from the stretch. Again, the changes with the exaggerated twist affected his timing towards the plate and resulted in him losing command. Fast forward to 2012 and we saw yet another change in Morrow’s delivery. He and the coaches recognized the problems with the exaggerated twist and lessened it to mirror the 2010 version.
Morrow went back to a slight twist and pause at his maximum leg lift. This time he avoided lifting his hands too high. This helped him avoid unnecessary movement and created a much smoother flow to his delivery. They also recognized his painfully obvious struggles with men on base and made the necessary mechanical adjustments from the stretch.
Morrow brought back a more 2010-style approach when pitching from the stretch. He reaches the same level of leg kick as he does from the windup which helps with overall repeatability. 2012 was easily his most repeatable and smoothest delivery since arriving in Toronto. Once again Jays fans were delighted as we saw Morrow reach his full potential as a starter. 2013 saw yet another regression when it came to Morrow and mechanical adjustments. We saw the return of a more exaggerated twist and the worst slide step of his career, as evidenced in the GIF and picture below.
You can see how the multiple mechanical changes have affected the way Morrow releases the ball from here to year here
Release Point Graphs via Texas Leaguers
Some will look at 2013 as a write off because he only started 10 games and the forearm issue started to rear it’s ugly head after only 3 starts. It’s possible that his arm was uncomfortable and affected his ability to repeat his mechanics. Frustrations with not being able to get loose prior to games could have affected his mental focus. Regressing with his mechanics after finally living up to his ceiling in 2012 is a concern no matter what excuse you come up with. Having said that, I’m willing to give Morrow a mulligan for the 2013 season, but it would be impossible to disregard it completely. In part two, I will look further into the nerve injury that sidelined Morrow in 2013. How this could have been avoided, the warning signs, and my concern with the overall pitching philosophy of the organization.