Bryan Morris was taken by the Dodgers in the first round, 26th overall, in the 2006 draft. A 2007 scouting report by Baseball America, who had him ranked as the #12 prospect in the Dodgers’ system at the time, stated that Morris’ fastball was around 93-94 MPH before going down with Tommy John surgery.
The injury caused him to miss the entire 2007 season. Morris returned in 2008, again listed as the number 12 prospect in the Dodgers’ system by Baseball America. He put up some nice numbers in low A, with a 3.20 ERA, and a 72:31 K/BB ratio in 81.2 innings pitched. His fastball was also reportedly back to where it was before the Tommy John surgery.
On July 31st, 2008 Morris was acquired from the Dodgers as a part of a three team trade that sent Jason Bay to the Red Sox, and brought Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, and Morris to the Pirates. Morris was reportedly the final piece in the deal. Once he was added, the Pirates agreed to trade Bay, which made it all possible in the final minutes leading up to the trade deadline.
Morris pitched just 14.1 innings with Hickory last year before the Pirates shut him down with shoulder pain. Morris was sidelined again to start the 2009 season, thanks to a restricted range of motion in his shoulder. After returning and putting up not-so-encouraging numbers in Lynchburg, Morris was suspended for “unprofessionalism”. Since returning from the suspension, Morris has looked a little bit better, but not really the dominant pitcher we expected in return for Jason Bay.
I was in attendance for Morris’ start on Monday night, and recorded every pitch thrown. Take a look at the video, then check out my analysis below for my theory on what has been going on with Morris.
Final Numbers for Morris:
Total Pitches: 89
1st Inning Pitches: 26
2nd Inning Pitches: 11
3rd Inning Pitches: 7
4th Inning Pitches: 23
5th Inning Pitches: 22
First Pitch Strikes: 17/26 batters
Fastball Speed: 90-94 MPH
The first thing I noticed was that Morris threw a lot of fastballs. If you look at my video recaps of Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, or Matt McSwain, you’ll notice that those pitchers all throw a decent amount of breaking balls.
The next thing I noticed was that Morris was really wild at times, with balls either skipping to the plate, or sailing over the catcher’s head.
Finally, all of the scouting reports I’ve read from the early part of Morris’ career talk about his funky delivery where he throws across his body. That’s been suggested as a possible reason why he not only had Tommy John surgery, but also has had shoulder problems. While Morris still throws across his body a bit, the delivery doesn’t look funky, and it’s not a drastic throw across his body.
So what do we have here? We’ve got a guy throwing a lot of fastballs, with a delivery that seems to have changed from his previous scouting reports, and several wild pitches. It seems that the Pirates are focusing on restructuring Morris’ approach, possibly in an attempt to avoid his injury problems.
Morris was already adjusting his approach last year with the Dodgers before the trade. According to this interview, Morris worked on smoothing out the delivery across his body after his return. We also know that the Pirates stress fastball command and control with their lower level pitchers. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the Pirates are having Morris work on a new delivery, while focusing mostly on the fastball to perfect that delivery. After seeing him in action, and seeing a majority of fastballs, that idea seems very likely.
It would also explain the wild pitches. If Morris skipped one ball to the plate, that would be one thing. If he sailed a ball over the catcher’s head just once, that would be another. But Morris was doing that all night. That tells me that Morris is struggling with a release point, which could also indicate a new pitching style.
Finally, go back to that interview I linked to, specifically this part about half way down:
Morris was slow to accept the mechanical changes, however, because his results didn’t come back. While he was again throwing his fastball between 93 and 96 mph, his out pitch was different.
I’m only speculating here, but could the outburst a few weeks ago be frustration over some possible changes that don’t seem to be working on paper? The interview tells us that Morris was slow to accept the changes in the Dodgers’ system because he didn’t see the results. Heading in to his outburst start, Morris had a 5.70 ERA with a 20:18 K/BB ratio in 42.2 innings with Lynchburg. He then allowed three runs in three innings in his final start, before the incident occurred.
We saw with State College last year that a heavy fastball approach doesn’t do well for that season’s ERA, as most hitters know what is coming. That doesn’t mean the approach can’t be a success, as we’ve seen with Rudy Owens this year. It’s a reasonable assumption that the frustration by Morris could be over the perceived lack of success with the current approach.
It seems that Morris is really struggling with his control, which is strange, since his control was fine with the Dodgers in 2008 (7.9 K/9, 3.4 BB/9). He joined Hickory and posted 12 walks in 14.1 innings, although you could chalk that up to the shoulder problem. Overall he has struggled since joining the Pirates (4.6 K/9, 4.7 BB/9) in almost the same amount of innings as his time in the Dodgers’ system in 2008. He’s throwing the same speed, but the control and dominance is off. That tells me that the Pirates immediately changed his approach after the trade.
I’m not about to judge Morris on one start, especially when he put up two very nice starts the outings before this one. We’ve also seen the Pirates approach of focusing on fastball command, and it seems that this is what is happening with Morris. Morris is only 22 years old, so the book is far from being closed on his future. Finding a way for Morris to pitch with minimal risk should take the first priority. Finding a way to improve the control and command of his fastball should be priority number two. With those two things worked out, we could start to see the true potential of Morris. It seems that the Pirates are working on the first two things this year, which could make the 2010 season a very interesting year for the development of Bryan Morris.