Adam Morgan has been really unlucky. In 2013, Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the third best prospect in the team’s system, saying:
Morgan should get another taste of Double-A, and the results should remain positive. The delivery and arm work well, and despite an average fastball, he should be able to miss bats with the slider and keep hitters off balance with the deep secondary repertoire. He falls under fellow southpaw Jesse Biddle on the rankings, but the profiles are similar and Morgan might end up the better major-league arm despite not being the better minor-league prospect. This isn’t another Cliff Lee, despite the forced comps, but this could be a quality starting pitcher that exceeds expectations.
Then his shoulder went kablooey and his future was in doubt of ever being an effective starter for the team. The results backed that up. When he reached the majors after a ton of hard work in 2015, he was “eh”: 15 starts, 84.1 IP with an ERA+ of 86. On a rebuilding team, like the Phillies, he was exactly what they needed: someone who could eat some innings that wouldn’t kill the team. Unfortunately, when given a starter pitching job in 2016, that’s almost what he did. When he was inserted into the starting eleven games from the end of April to the middle of June, he put up a 6.55 ERA before he was mercifully sent to the bullpen. Alas, the team needing innings to close out the year, so he made eight more starts from mid-August until the end of the year, pitching to a slightly less eye-bleeding 5.11 ERA before the sands of time on the season ran out.
This year, Morgan opened as the team’s long man, but that didn’t go as planned either. In two mop up appearances in April, he gave up seven runs in six innings before being demoted to Lehigh Valley. That’s when the miles started to rack up on his car. He was summoned back to Philadelphia again in May, then sent down two days later when Aaron Nola returned from the disabled list, then brought back again when Daniel Nava got hurt......then was sent back down when the team activated Jeanmar Gomez. Before that last demotion, he managed to sneak in an appearance on May 24, where he put up a line of three innings, three hits, no runs or walks and two strikeouts. Morgan finally made his way back on June 3 (get on the 40 man roster any way you can, kids) where he has remained up to this point. It’s there that we pick up our story.
Morgan has thrown 13.1 innings since that recall, giving up eight runs, walking five and striking out 15. If we eliminate his first outing in that time frame, a 1.1 inning debacle where he was charged with four runs allowed, his numbers look more palatable (12 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 BB and all 15 K). That’s a 3.00 ERA for those keeping score at home. It’s a impressive small sample size, but a small sample size nonetheless. However, it’s how he’s done it that has interested me.
His velocity numbers are interesting. Here is a shot of how hard he’s been throwing everything this year by game:
Both his fastball and his sinker have seen an uptick this year, which is to be expected when a pitcher knows he doesn’t have to reserve his pitches for the lineup seeing him the second and third time around. His slider, though, has seen a sharp decrease of almost 5 miles per hour as this season has progressed. The reason behind this is because he is sacrificing velocity for some serious extra movement on his slider:
It’s become his primary pitch, the one he throws 35% of the time. It’s his out pitch as well, the one he is throwing 45% of the time when he has two strikes on a batter, hoping to put the opposing hitter away. Against lefties, he throws the pitch a whopping 58% of the time. And this is where Morgan has done his most damage as a reliever this season. Right-handed hitters have feasted on him to the tune of a 1.170 OPS, yet lefties have found him much more difficult to hit with only a .618 OPS. Using Fangraphs’ splits leader board, we can see that has held left-handed hitters to a .264 wOBA, good for 21st in MLB among left-handed relievers and better than some highly sought after relievers in Brad Hand, Tony Watson and Aaron Loup. Shrink down the time frame even further, Morgan has only allowed a .207 wOBA to lefties since the beginning of June.
I know we’re only talking a small sample size of work here and considering his past performance, I wouldn’t fault you in you were skeptical. Yet if you rub your eyes hard enough, adjust your reading glasses just enough, it looks like the team has found something pretty good in new lefty killer Adam Morgan.
For as much grief as people, myself have included, have given to Bob McClure, we must also give him credit in helping Morgan discover a method to not only adjust to his new role, but to flourish as well. He’s been given the tools to become an effective reliever this team can use, especially with Joely Rodriguez flaming out this year. We must also give due credit to Morgan. It has to be incredibly difficult to see your promising career hit the skids the way his did. Instead of moping about, Morgan has dedicated himself to finding a way to keep himself in the majors any way possible. If he’s able to keep the effectiveness up this year and in the future, it’ll be a great story for the team and Morgan personally.