Tightening Up With Logan Morrison
You would have to be a fool to not notice that Logan Morrison is pretty toasty right now. The guy that the majority of fans were ready to give away for nothing has started to look something like what the Rays front office envisioned when they took his final year of arbitration off of the hands of the Seattle Mariners. As with any player going streaking it can be beneficial to look at what they are doing differently to try to get an idea of if this is sustainable or not.
Without breaking my arm patting myself on the back I can’t help, but think that maybe LoMo is a reader of the site. Back in late-April I took a look at Morrison and saw that he wasn’t exhibiting the traits that had led him to have success in the past. The notion was supported by the fact that throughout his career he was a guy that could do damage on pitches within the strikezone, but had not had much success translating that to pitches out of the zone. He might have hit the occasional dinker or dunker for a base hit, but he rarely saw this balls in play go for extra bases. This tightening of his zone is the one of the key determinants for his ability to contribute. It is something he has worked to improve:
We can see that he made a concerted effort to tighten up his swing rate a couple hundred pitches ago that lead to that step down and then stabilization of a new philosophy. Pitcher’s had consistently thrown him strikes up until that point, but have recently started to adjust by going out of the zone even more. If that continues, and Morrison is able to adjust to the adjustment then you may see him start walking a ton. You’ll also notices that his run values, which use Ian Malinowski’s updated values, have trended up throughout the season, but really took a jump once he stopped swinging quite so often.
As it happens, the data, which does not include yesterday’s game (5-25), broke out so that exactly half of his pitches/games were in April and half were in May. This gives us a pretty good cleaving point to examine the data. Let’s start with those run values as a heatmap of pitch location:
LoMo stands about where the legend is as a left-handed batter so the pitches on the left-side of the chart would be away and those on the right would be in. You can see that other than a couple of cool spots inside he has seen (much) better results throughout the majority of the zone with away pitches yielding the greatest improvement. Let’s look at this in another way:
I have plotted his swings (red) and his takes (blue) for the month of April with highlights of three areas. Look at all those swings in the wide zone and off the plate away, and then two portions down and in. The wide zone is weird, because you know that an umpire may call those pitches strikes, but the batter is unlikely to do much damage on those pitches away. The inner zones are also bait territory as those are pitches that are most likely starting on the plate and then moving off. Flip forward to May:
While he still showed some tendency to swing at pitches away you can see a lot more takes on those pitches compared to April. On the inner portions he is basically spitting on those pitches allowing himself to get in more favorable counts forcing a pitcher to give him something that he can actually thump. Let’s put some numbers to all of this:
The biggest change in approach comes at exactly what I said he needed to improve. He is swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone, which has shifted the balance of his swing rate to offerings within the zone. All of this despite seeing nearly identical zone rates over the two halves. The process has improved, and the results have come with that change as he is putting more balls in play, and whiffing a ton less within the zone. He is seeing more balls falling, and his SLG percentage on pitches in the zone has seen tremendous gains. All of his in zone run values have seen tremendous improvement, and those takes out of zone are rising the tide on his overall run values on pitches he shouldn’t be swinging at. Let’s zoom in on some of this stuff a little more starting with his contact versus whiff profile:
Foul rates for most guys stay pretty steady, and this seems to be the case here as you can see the two trends diverging, and continuing to separate into the most recent days. This is a pretty stark contrast so I would expect some rebound here, but if he can keep his whiffs on swings under 25% while seeing his balls in play around 35-40% then I think he’s going to be living in a workable range.
His batting average on contact has mostly trended up from the impossibly bad results he saw early on, and with that he has seen his SLG on contact come up with it. The power has really played up of late, and this does not include his homer yesterday, but the BACON is starting to get into a realm that seems unsustainable. I’d expect him to be in the low to mid-.300s, which should be able to support something like a .450ish SLGCON. He’s not going to continue to be quite as good as he has been of late, but I think that he can be a contributor going forward provided he maintains this new approach that sees him spitting on hard to hit pitches and thriving on those that he can get to.
The guy that we saw in Spring Training was a batter that had no problem recognizing that pitchers pound him away so he needs to have an up the gut and away approach on those pitches while still being able to protect inside when he gets busted in there. By the eye test it looks like he is doing a better job of spraying to all fields instead of trying to pull everything into the heavy shift that he has routinely seen. The numbers confirm this somewhat with fewer balls pulled, but also fewer hit oppo with all of this remainder going to balls up the guts.
Prolific analyst Jeff Sullivan is fond of saying something along the lines of what a batter is doing tells you some stuff about the batter, but what the pitcher is doing to the batter can also tell us some other stuff. If a batter is seeing more fastballs then pitchers probably aren’t all that intimidated and vice-versa when they’re throwing more secondary stuff:
The breaking ball has been fairly consistent, but you can see pitchers trading spaces between the fastball and the change up. As pitchers tear their hair out figuring a way to get this beast out I would expect that change up rate to increase again with the fastball being the reservoir drawn from. LoMo is squarely on the opposition’s radar by this point so more adjustments will be coming sooner rather than later. How Logan Morrison re-adjusts to this new matter of treatment will be the key of whether he settles in as a somewhat useful guy or the type of mid-order bat this team can’t seem to get enough of lately.