The evolution of Brandon Morrow

What jumped out at me watching the highlights of Brandon Morrow dismembering Tampa Bay’s lineup last week was not the 17 strikeouts or the one walk or even being one out away from a no-hitter. It was actually his mechanics—something was different. There was a little more torque, a little more violence, and most importantly a better rhythm and flow.

This evolution has been ongoing for some time now—at least since 2008. And the changes have been frequent. This year alone, Morrow has featured several variations of his delivery, both from the windup and the stretch before finally settling on its present form. But let’s start with Morrow’s mechanics from 2008 (left) and 2009 (right):

*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Comparing the two deliveries, Morrow in 2008 was a little more compact and had a quicker pace, a faster tempo. By tempo, I’m referring to the point in which the knee reaches its uppermost point, and the time it takes him to get to the point of release. Tempo is measured in frames. These clips are synchronized to release. Based on the fact that Morrow’s 2009 delivery is further along in the process and still releasing the ball at the same time as the 2008 version tells you Morrow’s body is moving faster in 2008 than it did in 2009.

Personally, I liked the compactness and faster tempo of the 2008 delivery compared to what he was doing in 2009.

Morrow came into the 2010 season with a few new tweaks to his delivery and for much of the season he seemed to be battling himself, trying to find a delivery he was comfortable with. Below from left to right is Morrow on May 16, May 31, and Aug. 8, the night of his masterful performance over the Rays.

*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Comparing just Morrow’s May 16 start to his 2009 mechanics, Morrow added a little more movement to his hands, ultimately bringing them higher than before. He also added just a little more turn in the hips as he reached his “balance point.” These adjustments were simply pit stops on the path to the mechanics he used in his Aug. 8 start.

However, there were bumps along the way. Something was off in that May 31 start. Morrow had made another adjustment to his mechanics (actually, the adjustment was made a start or two prior). The adjustment was to the way he would lower his hands as his front leg began to drop. This had an effect on how Morrow would break his hands, which subsequently changed the first phase of his arm action. I don’t want to spend too much time on the changes made here since in the grand scheme of things, they didn’t have much impact, but you can see these differences in the graphics above.

Rather, I’d like to go back to that Aug. 8 start and address what Morrow was doing differently compared to his starts from earlier this year. Some key adjustments by Morrow to get to where he is now:

1. He got rid of that new arm action he was using in his May 31 start.

2. Morrow increased his tempo and eliminated a lot of the random pauses he would have in earlier versions of his mechanics. Instead, Morrow’s delivery was smoother with a more continuous motion, and that resulted in better rhythm and timing.

3. He added a much more distinct turn of the hips. He had a small turn of the hips before, but it is much more pronounced now. Some notable pitchers have made similar adjustments. Erik Bedard added a hip turn before he turned into one of the elite pitchers in baseball. Felix Hernandez made a similar adjustment last season, and Zack Greinke used the adjustment to catapult himself into the conversation of baseball’s best pitcher.

As I said earlier, the hip turn adds a little more torque and a little more violence to the delivery, and that can help increase a pitcher’s overall velocity. It also makes the ball a bit tougher to pick up because the pitcher turns his back to the hitter. However, in Morrow’s case, the biggest benefit was the improved timing and rhythm of his delivery.

4. The hip turn is often accompanied by an adjustment of the hands. In Morrow’s case, the hands are brought about as high as they were before, but now they end up next to his ear.

5. Rhythm is an extremely important part of pitching. If you don’t have it, you’re going to get inconsistent results. The segment in Morrow’s delivery where the knee reaches its upper most point and—along with the hands—begins to move downward has always been a tricky spot for Morrow, never being particularly smooth or consistent. However, that changed on Aug. 8. His motion was much more consistent and fluid. And this extended to his delivery from the stretch as you can see below:

*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

You’ll notice how Morrow’s leg kick from the stretch is a little bigger in his Aug. 8 start and he’s probably a little more susceptible to the opposing team’s running game, but he’s also generating more power by using both the higher leg kick and the bigger turn of the hips than he was before.

But again I have to point to the newfound rhythm of the delivery. One of the reasons for the better rhythm is that the hands and leg kick are in sync with one another. The hands go up and come down at the same time as the leg goes up and comes down. Look at Morrow from the stretch earlier in the season and you’ll notice that, as the hands begin to move downward, the leg is still on its way up. It’s much easier to coordinate and correctly time a delivery where the entire body is moving in sequence

So what does this all mean for Morrow’s future? It’s not yet clear. He’s always had top-of-the-rotation stuff. It’s always been a question of command. The mechanical adjustments he has made indicate that his recent run of success (which goes beyond his Aug. 8 start) cannot be chalked up to a simple streak of good luck. I believe it comes down to consistency.

The difference between a top-of-the-rotation starter and a No. 3 starter often comes down to consistency. The difference between a successful major league pitcher and a pitcher who can’t hack it often comes down to consistency. Consistent quality of stuff and consistent command from start-to-start and pitch-to-pitch. And that’s what it will ultimately come down to for Morrow, who is not known for being a consistent performer. These recent mechanical adjustments may be just the thing Morrow needed to elevate himself into top-of-the-rotation status.

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  1. tdotsports1 said...

    Excellent piece, I love this kind of stuff.

    I wrote a piece on his one-hit performance with a bit of pitch f/x data, in particular to his slider and how it compares to Liriano/Greinke in terms of movement.

    Great read man.

  2. Alex Eisenberg said...

    Thanks for the kind words.

    You can link to your piece here if you like…I’m sure many would be interested in reading it.

  3. Alex Eisenberg said...

    Thanks for the kind words.

    You can link to your piece here if you like…I’m sure there are many people that would be interested in reading it, myself included.

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