Brandon Morrow returned to Seattle to face his old club last night, dominating the bats (and faces) of the Mariners over 6 innings. Morrow struck out 12 of the 24 batters he faced (that’s very good) while inducing a whopping 21 swinging strikes (also exceedingly good.)

The Mariners aren’t much of an offensive club, they might even be historically terrible. We cannot fault Morrow for the level of his competition, we can only revel in his mastery of the not-so-good M’s. Except for Dustin Ackley, that is.

Dustin Ackley is a Big League Hitter, of this I am convinced. Only 23, Ackley walks at a high rate without striking out much at all while maintaining a good amount of pop. Looking for a 2011 comparison, he relates well in terms of walks, strikeouts, ISO and wOBA to Andrew McCutchen. Good company to keep.

Against Morrow last night, Ackley looked unlike one of the best young hitters in baseball. He looked like just another Mariners stiff, striking out twice and drawing a walk from a quickly-tiring Morrow. How did Morrow and Molina approach the only viable bat(non-Ichiro! division) in the M’s lineup? Using Pitch f/x strike zone plots, we can delve into the battery’s thinking as they attack the only bat worthy of their close attention.

Reminder about these charts – they are from the catcher’s perspective. Ackley – a left-handed batter – stands on the right side of the graph. The rounded rectangle represents a physical manifestation of the hypothetical strike zone, which should just about blow your mind. The legend will dictate what each dot means, the number indicates the sequence of the pitch. On we go!

First PA – Bottom of the First Inning, Strikeout

In the great words of Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow – good morning, good afternoon, good night. Three straight fastballs, all at least 96 mph and Ackley goes to sit down. Climbing the ladder 0-2 is obviously a good idea as Ackley can’t help but have curveball in the back of his mind.

Not much to discuss here, just gas on the outside half and one at his eyes. Power pitching 101. Would Ackley put up more of a fight the second time around? Note the legend as this chart is much busier.

Second PA – Bottom of the Fourth Inning, Strikeout

A battle! The kid put up a fierce fight but succumbs to Morrow’s awesomeness. To recap:

  1. Morrow misses outside with a slider.
  2. Throws a nasty change up (pitch f/x says sinking fastball but I’m not having it) for a called strike.
  3. Misses high and wide with a fastball.
  4. Fastball up that Ackley swings right through. 97 mph.
  5. Morrow tries to end the at bat with a back door slider but misses the corner to run the count full.
  6. Goes back to the same spot but with the fastball, Ackley fouls it off to his eternal credit.
  7. Gets away with a fastball down the heart of the plate as Ackley fouls it straight back. The things you can do when you sit 96 and the batter is in “please don’t hurt me” two-strike mode.
  8. Tries for the swing-and-miss with a slider but it catches too much plate. Ackley tips it directly into Jose Molina’s head. Catching is fun.
  9. Fastball on the outside black at 97. Good night, nurse.

Really, a decent at bat against a pitcher in complete command. Morrow made two pitches that might have hurt him but he had Ackley at his mercy. Mostly hard away (there really isn’t any other gear for Morrow) and he hit his spot when he really needed to.

Anyone else wish Morrow would throw that change up a little more? I thought so. On to the final confrontation of the night.

Third PA – Bottom of the Sixth Inning, Walk

This was the beginning of the end for Brandon Morrow. Though he was still lightning up the radar gun at or around 97 mph, he started missing to that same spot in the upper-left corner of the graph. Two batters after this AB, that spot would be occupied by Casper Wells’ nose. Hopefully he is okay today.

  1. Fastball at the top of the strike zone. Morrow doesn’t get the call. Molina turns to inquire about where this pitch actually missed, up or away?
  2. Morrow goes right to the same spot and blows the fastball past him again.
  3. Change up down in the zone that Ackley barely grazes. Nasty pitch. 1-2 count.
  4. Molina and Morrow waste a fastball in the other batters box.
  5. Rather flat slider stays up but off the plate. Full count.
  6. Molina wants the ball away but Morrow leaves it down and in. Still throwing 96, Ackley only fouls it away.
  7. Change up is out of the zone for ball four.

As much as I’d like to credit Ackley for turning in a good AB here, I don’t know that I especially can. Morrow made a couple nice pitches but couldn’t put the rookie away when he had the chance.

Fun to watch Molina and Morrow try to work Ackley – they kept the ball away from him and worked in the change up to keep him off balance. Surprised he didn’t go back to the high fastball with the count full in the final at bat but, if I had to guess, I’d say they’re more comfortable throwing ball four than giving up a home run that might have made it a whole new ball game. Your thoughts?

Pitch f/x data courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz.