Blue Jays: Kendrys Morales and the slow stuff

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 9: Kendrys Morales
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 9: Kendrys Morales /

The book is out on Blue Jays slugger Kendrys Morales – he cannot hit the breaking balls. An excellent fastball hitter, opposing pitchers have heavily leaned on offspeed pitches to get Morales out.

We’ve all seen the at-bats before. Hopeless swings at curveballs diving and dancing down in the zone, and quick, three-pitch at-bats that seem to frustrate us endlessly. Yes, I am talking about a fair bit of Kendrys Morales’ at-bats with the Jays.

Since moving north of the border, Morales has slashed .248/.306/.439 with 29 home runs in 647 plate appearances. He’s struck out in 22% of his at-bats, which Fangraphs considers “average” for a major league level player.

The most surprising aspect of Morales’ one-dimensional game is his extreme inability to hit breaking balls. It appears as though he can never seem to put the barrel of the bat on a slider, and can never hammer a hanging curveball. But just how bad as he been?

Fangraphs uses an elegant pitch type system that calculates how many runs a hitter has produced against 100 of a certain type of pitch. The statistic is made possible by a complicated analytical algorithm that assigns a certain numerical weight to each possible situation that a batter could appear in, and then assigning grades to a hitter’s ability to succeed in those situations. You can read more about the calculation of that statistic here.

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While the stat has limited predictive power, it is often referenced when assessing the offensive capabilities of a given batter in specific in-game scenarios. Morales has scored a -4.04 wCU/C (against curveballs), a -8.06 wFS/C (against splitters), and a -4.96 wSL/C (against sliders). Taking these numbers into account, it’s easy to see why his strikeout numbers have spiked so dramatically.

Conversely, Morales has scored an 11.06 wFC/C (against cutters) and an 8.71 wSI/C (against sinkers), further solidifying his reputation as a prominent fastball hitter. It’s not a good quality to have, but Morales has such an obvious weakness to a specific pitch type.

Unfortunately, there’s not much to do with that information. Sure, it helps us understand just how good or bad he’s been in certain situations, but opposing pitchers are not going to alter their approaches in Morales’ favour. In fact, just the opposite. Morales has continuously seen more and more breaking balls as the year’s progress.

There’s no getting around it, pitchers all around the league have figured out how to pitch to this guy. Now, he’s left with a choice: he can either continue to helplessly swing at balls in the dirt or can make the adjustment to zero in on the heater.

For the Blue Jays’ sake, here’s hoping he lays off the slow stuff, and looks for the fastball. If there’s one thing we know about Kendrys Morales, it’s that he can hit the ball hard, and with authority, it’s just a question of getting his pitch, and not missing it.

Next: Blue Jays: We should really be giving J.A. Happ more credit