Getting Hit Hard

During yesterday’s 12-0 victimization of the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Sean Rodriguez drove a 92 mph four seam fastball from Brandon Morrow over the fence in left field.

When we see hard hit home runs we’ll often exaggerate by suggesting that the ball hasn’t landed yet or that is was still rising when it went over the fence. Rodriguez’s blast didn’t appear to reach its apex until close, if not at, the wall in left. According to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, the ball left the bat at 122.2 mph, making it the hardest hit home run of the season by almost 5 mph.

While the home run doesn’t relate specifically, it’s tempting to correlate Morrow’s reputation as a high BABIP pitcher with the high velocity of his fastball, or what we assume would be the high speed off the bat when contact is made. In reality, batted ball speed doesn’t necessarily go up with velocity.

While fastballs are more likely to get hit harder than off speed pitches, high velocity fastball (95+ mph) pitchers cause swings and misses and often force weaker contact. What happened to Morrow on Sunday wasn’t that he was pitching too hard, it’s that he wasn’t pitching hard enough.

Before yesterday’s game against the Rays, Morrow’s four seam fastball was averaging 94 mph for the season. Yesterday, it was around 92, which is pretty close to exactly where you don’t want it to be in terms of speed off bat and balls in play. In other words, the way Morrow was pitching on Sunday was a perfect storm for getting knocked around.

Not helping matters at all was his visible lack of stamina.

It’s probably worth noting that even while starting the season on the Disabled List, Morrow has thrown more than 142 innings, compared to his career high 146 last year. Overall, he’s only thrown 44 less pitches this season than the point at which he was shut down last year. If the Blue Jays’ rotation remains the same, Morrow could get five or even six more starts this season. It will be interesting to see if this start against the Rays has any effect on how Toronto doles out his work load over the final month of the season.