Everyone in the organization and fans alike expect Morrow to make great strides this season and become much more than a strikeout pitcher.
Morrow led the American League last season with 10.19 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) among starters, but his ERA of 4.72 was average at best.
Morrow has worked hard this offseason and spring to show that he can be a consistent No. 2 starter for the Blue Jays and one of the anchors of the rotation.
Here are 10 reasons why Morrow looks like he is ready to become a dominant pitcher.
Morrow began this spring showing excellent improvements over last season. Although you should analyze statistics in the spring with a grain of salt, they were still excellent.
In 17 and one-third innings in the spring, Morrow gave up one earned run (a home run) and only walked three batters. He also posted a 0.75 WHIP that also showed improvement.
Morrow has always been hampered by the base on balls.
In his first year as a starter he averaged 4.06 BB/9 and last year it declined to 3.46. Even with his high strikeout numbers, a K/BB ratio of under 3.00 is not the sign of a great consistent pitcher (e.g. Roy Halladay's K/BB: 6.29).
As the spring numbers have shown (three BB in 17-plus innings) he is really looking to improve his control. The Blue Jays organization expects his BB/9 to continue to decline. As he said in an interview: “My ability to keep it in the strike zone is a lot better.”
Although he walked three in his first start, it was only coupled with one hit, thus keeping his WHIP low (0.57).
Throughout Morrow’s first five years in the majors, he has been asked to be a reliever, closer and starter.
Now after two full seasons as a Blue Jays starter, he understands what it takes to become a starter and has much more experience.
He is still a fairly new/young starting pitcher with lots to learn. With more experience of pitching two full seasons as a starter for the same club, it would only improve his statistics and success.
Starting his third season as a member of the rotation with the Blue Jays, there is an element of consistency that breeds success.
He has built a close connection with his pitching coach, fellow starter Ricky Romero and many other teammates and coaches alike.
This element of being comfortable in the organization (he also signed a three-year extension in the offseason) and knowing his job is secure allows him to focus on improving his mechanics and be every comfortable with his surroundings.
It is tough for a young pitcher to come to a new team and asked to change roles. Now that his role is defined and he is in his third year in this role, his comfort level will definitely help his consistency.
Morrow is currently 27 years old, which is often known as the breakout age for many baseball players.
Although this is usually attributed to positional players, Morrow’s time with the club, the fact that he is looked to as one of the older starters on the team, and his comfort with his pitches show that he is ready to breakout.
He turns 28 in July and I believe he has enough maturity to make some real strides this season. He understands that winning is the ultimate goal, saying: “I’m there to be a 1-2 to Ricky’s 1 and we’re out to win a lot of ball games.”
Morrow has worked hard this offseason and spring to change speeds, so now not all of his pitches are near the same speed. He said: “It’s a lot harder to stay on pitches when you gotta look between 78 and 95 miles an hour, instead of, like, 87 to 95 miles an hour,”
He has worked on mastering his changeup (one of Romero’s go-to pitches) and working on other off-speed pitches.
Morrow has focused on keeping the batter off balanced with many different pitches while having the confidence to throw them in key situations. This will actually help the efficacy of his fastball as the batter won’t key on the heater.
One of the problems with many fireball pitchers is their overreliance on their fastball. They have become accustomed to throwing it by batters when in trouble. MLB batters prepare for this and will hit the ball a long way (hence Morrow's 21 HR allowed in 2011).
Morrow will now even change the speed on his fastball to make the batters a little less comfortable at the plate. Coupled with his revamped changeup, his more focused and controlled fastball will help him not rely on blowing batters away with his fiery fastball at all times.
Less reliance on his fastball will also help decrease his pitches per inning.
Morrow averaged fewer than six innings per start last season. In many cases this was due to the fact that he averaged 17.35 pitches per inning, second highest in the majors.
A better strategy on the mound that incorporates more pitches and actually allows the opposition to put the ball in play will help him get deeper into games and thus become a more successful pitcher.
During the spring and in his first start he has averaged less than 17 pitches per inning. He said: “That comes with changing speeds, getting guys out in front, more contact. I plan to continue to use that and hopefully get some quicker innings, quicker outs.”
His new strategy will definitely help him improve and he feels confident about it, saying: “I've been feeling really good about it. I think I've been doing a great job of changing speeds and throwing those pitches you know in fastball counts 2-1, 3-1 and getting some ground balls on it. Behind in the count and throwing that change-up and it's a great equalizer.”
He didn't show this full arsenal on Friday and he gave up the long ball.
Confidence breeds success, and success breeds confidence. With a team that is expected to compete for a playoff spot and be a very strong offensive team, Morrow does not have to pitch shutouts game in and game out.
Sure it can be argued that this was the case last season, but with a revamped bullpen and an emphasis on team defence, his win total will definitively improve from 11 last season.
Moreover, as he achieves some success with his new changeup and off-speed pitches, it will only improve his overall effectiveness on the mound.
The Blue Jays have focused on a stronger team defence this offseason.
The additions of Brett Lawrie at 3B (who has been exceptional in the early goings this season) and Colby Rasmus in centre field have definitely improved the overall team defence.
The rest of the infield has also shown great improvements and with Jose Bautista’s arm in right field, many runners won’t test their luck.
Having a strong defence working for you and helping you out pumps up the pitcher and only increases their confidence.
As Morrow works to pitch more to contact this season, having this strong defence behind him will only increase his willingness to let his teammates make plays.
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