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April 30, 2008 | By Alex Eisenberg

Franklin Morales: Where is the Velocity?

This year was supposed to be Franklin Morales' coming out party. After a strong debut season in 2007, I don't think anybody expected numbers like this in 2008:

25.1 IP, 28 H, 14.2 BB%, 7.5 K%, 6.39 ERA

What's more concerning is the drop in the quality of his stuff. I am sure I'm not the only one who was blown away by how dominant Morales looked during the 2007 Futures Game. I have yet to see the same kind of dominance by Morales this year. The pitch f/x numbers support what my own eyes tell me:

2007
Type, Speed - Fastball, 94

Number Thrown - 376

Movement (Horizontal, Inches) - 6.28

Movement (Vertical, Inches) - 9.73

2008
Type, Speed - Fastball, 92.08

Number Thrown - 335

Movement (Horizontal, Inches) - 9.35

Movement (Vertical, Inches) - 6.74

You can get the graphs associated with his pitch f/x data here (2007) and here (2008). Credit to Josh Kalk for his excellent work in putting all this data together.

What do the numbers tell us?

1. A drop in velocity - from 94 mph in 2007 to 92 in 2008

2. Different fastball movements - we now see more horizontal movement instead of the vertical movement his fastball showed in 2007

So why the velocity loss? Let's head to the tape; on the left is Franklin Morales in his start on April 6, 2008, while Morales in the 2007 Futures Game is on the right (if the clips are thrown off, just refresh the browser):

Franklin-Morales-2007Franklin-Morales-2008

The first observation I have is of Morales "sitting" more in 2007, while he is more upright in 2008. Second observation I have is at finish: see the wild swing of his back leg in 2007? This is a sign of an intent to throw hard. Not only does an aggressive finish help in terms of a pitcher's velocity but intent has a hitter gearing up for something hard, which helps play up a pitcher's breaking stuff.

My third observation is the most important in my view: the front leg kick.

At the Futures Game, we see a front leg that kicks out forcefully. You can see how the front leg "firms" or straightens up; look at the ripple in the fabric of Morales' pants as his front leg becomes fully extended and view that as an indication of the kind of force Morales uses. This leg kick triggers an aggressive turning of Morales' hips into foot plant.

The pitch's velocity - 96 mph

From his April 6 start, he still kicks out his front leg, but how do you think it compares to the leg kick in the Futures Game clip?

From my view, his leg kick to enable a forceful hip rotation is softer. This softer extension of that front leg leads to a softer move into foot plant. Ideally, we want to build up as much momentum as possible going into foot plant.

The pitch's velocity - 90 mph

Now go back to the full-length animation and check out the front arm of Morales and then read this quote from Carlos Gomez's article on Brandon Webb from 2006 (referring to the Webb graphic below):

Brandon Webb pitching mechanicsFranklin MoralesFranklin Morales in 2007


"Do you see '04's lead arm/shoulder? It looks like he's telling himself "stay closed. stay closed." As someone who struggles with staying closed, I understand what he's trying to do, although this isn't always the best remedy. Plus, it's another thing you have to think about while in your motion. Remember...Less think, more throw. Contrast it to '06's lead arm. He's still closed, but he's not jamming his front shoulder to his jaw like in '04."

Does it look like Morales is sort of doing the same thing? It could be an indication he is thinking too much about keeping his front shoulder closed.

Let's go back to the leg kick and take a closer look at the sequence of events in which his leg kick occurs:

Franklin-Morales-Finish-08Franklin-Morales-Finish-07

Again you see the more aggressive leg kick and then rotation. This kick-starts his hip rotation and allows him to create a greater separation between his hips and torso. Once at foot plant, Morales' upperbody uncoils toward home plate, bringing the arm with it. Morales is also more upright, not using his legs as much as he did in 2007 to drive toward home plate.

However, we also see something else; where the animation pauses for two consecutive frames. During these two frames, Morales' chest/upper body in 2007 is pointed more toward first base, while the 2008 Morales is more upright. This is better illustrated in the second paused frame. The reason might be because of a change in release points:

Release-Point-08Release-Point-07

If a pitcher has a higher release point, they need to move their head out of the way to make room for their arm to come through. The lower release point might explain why Morales has more horizontal movement on his fastball in 2008. However, lets look at the consistency of Morales' release point the past two years (top is 2008, bottom is 2007):

Release-Point-Chart-08
Release-Point-Chart-07

Morales' release point hasn't been as consistent in 2008 as it was in 2007. I can't say why this might be, but I have read that he may be overthinking (remember the Carlos Gomez quote above?) too much on the mound. All of this could be why his control has been so poor this year. Also, Morales initally has a very slow wind-up before exploding toward hitters. More time for him to think and worry about his control

Final Thoughts

My feeling is the Rockies should think about speeding Morales up. Get back to what made him successful in 2007. Speeding him up may allow him to think less and "throw more". He should worry less about keeping that front shoulder closed, less about his control, and more about just letting it fly. As I write this, I now see Morales is going to be optioned to AAA so he can fix his problems. This is probably a good idea and we'll check back on this article at a later point to see exactly what changes Morales makes.

Now, I'm sure a question many readers have is how do we know this isn't the result of just a tiny sample? As I've stated before about my philosophy in choosing which clips to use of a player, I went back and looked at about three or four of Morales' starts this year as well as a few of his starts last year and the mechanical differences were evident.

In fact, Morales threw a couple 88 mph fastballs and the mechanics he displayed during those pitches really exemplified the differences in the mechanics of a pitcher that throws for a high velocity and a pitcher that does not and I will highlight those differences in a future article.

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