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.


Comments (5)

  1. Probably didn’t help that he threw something like 31 pitches in the 2nd inning.

  2. Seemed to me that he started throwing his FB much slower after he was down 5-0, thus bringing down avg velocity for the game. His 95 mph heater was getting crushed.

  3. something thats been bugging me for a while is how Morrow is seen as a great pitcher because of his high K/9. Using 9 innings as reference point seems kind of pointless to me because an inning isn’t a finite thing. It may be 3 outs but it might take 10 batters and 80 pitches to get those three outs. I understand that you have to use that stat in conjunction with others to get a complete picture but why bother with K/9 at all? why not K/batter faced? …maybe I missed this chapter of moneyball

    • I think the reason for K/9 versus K/batter-faced is that the latter inevitably invokes a consideration of batted ball statistics, and a pitcher exerts very little control over batted ball.

      In individualized cases, if someone were to conduct indepth research of a particular pitcher, he or she might find evidence to demonstrate that a pitcher is inefficient and still manages to post high K/9 ratios. However, because there are so many metrics that measure a pitcher’s success, it may be hard to conduct this type of research on a very large scale.

      The important lesson I take from your comment is that it is necessary to look at a number of variables before determining the relative success/failure of any player.

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