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Charlie Morton throws like Roy Halladay can he pitch like him?

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SOUTH HILLS – If you pair achieved video of Roy Halladay with Charlie Morton footage you’ll be struck by how remarkably similar they throw, and not all of it is by accident. Back in 2011 when Jim Benedict and Ray Searage had Morton drop his arm slot and bring back his two-seam fastball, Morton was looking for comparable right-handed pitchers in size and delivery type to study.

From a 2011 Sports Illustrated article prior to Morton’s Tommy John Surgery and comeback:

Morton threw live batting practice next. Lyle Overbay stood in. Overbay, 34, is in his first season with the Pirates. He played three years in Arizona, two in Milwaukee and five in Toronto. Morton came at Overbay with a 95 mph sinking fastball and, then, well. . .

“He threw a curveball that dropped off the table,” Overbay recalled last week. “I said, whoa, he’s got that, too? Then he threw me a 92 mile-an-hour cutter (fastball) and I’m saying, ‘What is going on here’?”

That’s when Overbay compared Morton to reigning NL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay of the Phillies. Last week, Overbay added this: “This is Roy Halladay with better stuff. Roy’s location makes him the elite of the elite. Charlie’s not there yet with his location. But once he is. . .”

Morton started watching video of Halladay. “They tell me they want me to go three quarters. I need a reference. Overbay tells me I look like Halladay, so I watch some video. I want to see what he’s doing with his body,” says Morton. Morton resists the notion he “copied” Halladay’s delivery.”

Morton does not like the narrative that he copied Halladay, and maybe their bodies are each wired to throw similar ways from three-quarters, but even he will recognize he did borrow some traits from the deliveries.

What Morton also shares with Halladay is an incredibly effective two-seam fastball. But entering 2014, Morton is more Derek Lowe than Halladay. Now Lowe was a very useful major league starter but he was  more a groundball specialist than a complete starting pitcher with multiple ways to attack hitters.

Halladay had a five-pitch mix at his best, he could attack hitters with a variety of movement and velocity. Morton was essentially a two-pitch pitcher in 2013.

Morton’s 2013 pitch mix:

Four-seamer: 11.9 percent

Two-seamer: 60.1 percent

Curveball:       21.9 percent

Changeup:         5.8 percent

Halladay’s last healthy, quality season in 2011:

Four-seamer: 26.6 percent

Two-seamer: 15.6 percent

Cutter:              24.9 percent

Curveball:        17.1 percent

Changeup:        15.5 percent

 

While it’s folly to expect Morton to morph into a multiple Cy Young Award Winner over the next several years, I do think Morton can continue to improve and I do think Halladay’s evolution is a wise choice  to study.

 

Here’s Halladay with the Blue Jays in 2007:

Four-seamer: 54. 1 percent

Cutter:               16.4 percent

Curveball:         22.1 percent

Changeup:           4.1 percent

 

Halladay was once nearly out of chances like Morton. He had a 10.64 ERA in 2000. Halladay was once also a fastball-curveball pitcher. He evolved over time and was helped by rare athleticism and work ethic.

Morton is also trying to evolve.  He know he needs to.

Start with the key: the changeup … or at least some sort of changeup.

On the road last season, LHHs hit .425 against Morton, RHHs hit .236. Those are remarkable splits. That’s why Morton began searching for a new changeup grip last season, he’s always struggled to throw the traditional circle change. He began having some more success with a hybrid split-changeup this spring.

He only threw one split-changeup in his first start last week against a heavy left-handed Cubs linuep. He’s likely to face another loaded left-handed lineup against the Cubs tonight.  So keep an eye out for more split-changeups, which Morton typically throws around 85 mph.

It could be a key pitch in Morton evolving from more of a mid-rotation, groundball specialist to a top-of-the-rotation arm who can neutralize lefties and well as silence righties.

No one expects Morton to be Halladay, but I do think Halladay’s evolution offers Morton another road map to follow, perhaps to near the top of a major league rotation.

- TS

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Comments

  1. MJS says:

    Travis,

    Really enjoy your work in the paper and the blog as always. Do you have any information on Vin Mazzero I thought he was in DFA limbo was until April 7th. I can’t imagine he would get threw waivers without a claim is the delay based on a pending trade?

  2. Nate83 says:

    The nice thing is we know the work ethic is there with Morton. We have heard from many different resources how hard he works. If there is a way to get better he will do it. I think his mental make up has always been his biggest obstacle. It seems as if he has overcome that to an extent.

    It couldn’t hurt having a bulldog like AJ the last few years and a player like Cole who seems like he may have the same you can’t beat me mentality. I think sometimes that attitude can rub off on other players especially with the coaches also reinforcing the own the plate and control the at bat philosophy.

  3. Travis Sawchik says:

    Nate, you bring up an interesting question. Speaking with Morton this spring he took exception to the idea that he has a baseball makeup issue. It’s true his body language doesn’t scream badass/fiery competitor … but there are scouts who believe competitiveness is an internal trait that doesn’t always trickle out to the exterior. I mean Greg Maddux and Halladay were not screaming into their gloves too often, coming off the mound. If anything I wonder if Morton is too analytical at times.

  4. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, MJS. I don’t have a Mazzaro update but we have reached the 10 day deadline. I assume we’ll receive and update shortly. I don’t think there was much of a trade market but I don’t think he clears waivers.

  5. Nate83 says:

    Thanks for the response. I always enjoy your insight.

    I thought he had an issue with trusting his stuff and pitching inside. I know I heard some of that was coached into him by the Braves but it took a long time to convince him that his stuff is good enough. I can’t imagine Cole being afraid to pitch any pitch in almost any situation. I really like Morton and think we haven’t seen his best yet. I like the signing and the person and I’m rooting for him.

  6. The absolute key with Morton, and you can tell that he gets it now by what he did last year, is to stick his ownership stake on the inside corner. Last year he led the league in 16 HBPs. 13 were against left-handed hitters. He knows he has to back them off to make his sinker effective.

  7. Travis Sawchik says:

    UPDATE: Vin Mazzaro has cleared outright waivers and has been out righted to AAA-Indy. Has three days to accept or reject assignment, per Pirates

  8. Travis Sawchik says:

    Good point, HV. Morton did take ownership of inner half, which is a key tenant of Searage’s philosophy

  9. Jim S. says:

    If he rejects it, he can then sign with anybody. Right, Travis? I’ve been saying all along there was virtually no trade market for him, but I still think he is one of the best 200 or so relievers available and should be on a roster. If he goes to Indy, someone will have a setback on the Bucs staff and he could be back fairly soon.

  10. Jim S. says:

    FWIW, Morton seems to immediately step up and defend teammates if he thinks they may have been thrown at. I’m not making a judgment as to whether that is a good baseball move or not, but I think it shows competitiveness and a bit of fire on his part. He knows he will be going to bat after he does it.

  11. Jim S. says:

    Great observation, Hidden.

  12. Andrew says:

    Yes, Pitch/Fx has him throwing inside with his hard stuff to LHP.

    http://www.brooksbaseball.net/profile.php?player=450203&gFilt=&pFilt=FA|SI&time=month&minmax=ci&var=count&s_type=2&startDate=01/01/2013&endDate=01/01/2014&balls=-1&strikes=-1&b_hand=L

    His split change was fairly awful, he got more whiffs with his fourseamer. While I am not fan of looking at pitches this way, batters had a .444 wOBA against his change up.

  13. Travis Sawchik says:

    Morton changed changeup grips late last season for what’s its worth

  14. Andrew says:

    Also a good illustration of what Hidden is talking about, look at the progression of where Morton throws his four-seamer and two-seamer to lefties from 2010-13.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/heatmap.aspx?playerid=4676&position=P&pitch=FT&size=10&inty=25&pal=0

  15. Andrew says:

    I was just looking at last season, but like you have said, watching his change up usage and results should be interesting this season.

  16. 21sthebest says:

    I never thought his mental makeup was an issue. I thought he just stunk until Searage changed his delivery. Then he was pretty good, IMO, and he persevered through a couple of major surgeries and rehabs and has pitched very well since coming back last June. That’s as mentally tough as it gets if you ask me.

  17. Nate83 says:

    I pulled the below directly from today’s ESPN game preview. It certainly sounds like Morton problems where more then 50% mental and less the 50% mechanics. I personally think that’s a good thing. I don’t think you regress as easily once you conquer the mental side. As Travis pointed out above now he can refine his craft and add pitches.

    I really like the direction Morton’s career is going. Pirates are lucky to have stuck with him. It says a lot about his work ethic. I’m sure he isn’t on the team currently if he didn’t have that quality. Many didn’t like the fact that the Pirates gave him 2 million last year to pitch a half year coming off of TJ surgery.

    “At first, it was never, ‘What I have is good enough.’ I was always questioning myself,” Morton told the team’s official website, “and making things more complicated. Now I’m good with what I’ve got. I just have to throw it in the right place. The key for me is still to have the count in my favor, to put batters on the defensive, where they are more likely to chase the sinker.”

  18. Steelkings says:

    SK’s This and That

    There’s this:
    Morton 6.0 innings pitches 8 Hits 5 Runs 5 earned 2 Dingers.

    Way to put the Kabosh on Charlie Halladay Morton, Travis!

    There’s that:

    Cincinnati Reds 2-6 and floundering. Tony Cingrani and Alfredo Simon are there 2nd and 3rd leading hitters. Nuff said there.

    There’s this:

    AJ Burnetts last outing of 5 – 2/3rds brought about some kudo’s for Ray Searage when mechanics changes were questioned after AJ displayed an unusual amount of lack of control. 6 walks and one hit batsman. The announcer wondered aloud if AJ missed his old pitching coach in Pittsburgh.

    Theres That:

    Colorado as a team is hitting .306 as well as leading the league in runs scored. For those wondering, Morneau is off to a .345 start.

  19. Leo Walter says:

    Any numbers as per Morneu’s OPS ? I would think that might tell us a little bit more than his BA.

  20. Jim S. says:

    Good point, Leo.

    31 plate appearances, 29 ABs, 10 hits, 1 XBH, 2 RBI.

    .345/.387/.379/.766

    He’s playing in CO. He should be able to hit with decent pop this season in that park. If not, then it was a bad signing.

  21. Jim S. says:

    Good point on his rehabs, 21. He easily could have packed it in if he wasn’t tough.

  22. Jim S. says:

    That was very un-Charlie-like. Even when he gets hit hard, he doesn’t usually get taken deep a lot.

    I read a tweet last night saying that the first HR by Castro was something like only the 2nd time in Charlie’s career that he had given up a HR after starting with an 0-2 count on the batter.

    Then, Castro got him again – on an 0-2 pitch. That was the first time in Charlie’s career that he gave up an 0-2 HR.

    Charlie was missing his spots much of the night. His stuff seemed to flatten out for a few innings. He got hit hard in the 2nd and 3rd, then seemed to get it back together for awhile, then lost it again, then worked his way through 6. I thought it was at least a bit of a positive that he got through 6, and finished pretty strongly.

    He needs to keep working on that other pitch, because if his sinker or curve is not sharp on a given night, he isn’t left with much.

  23. Jim S. says:

    The results between Halladay and Wainwright are pretty similar, if you ask me. A couple of horses.

 
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