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.