Saturday, October 5, 2013

Juan Morillo in the CPBL

Juan Morillo is the hardest thrower in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, and one of the hardest in the Far East as a whole. In case you don't believe me, here is him hitting 99.4 MPH, which is a CPBL record.

Morillo is a former MLB pitcher, appearing in 9 games over four seasons with two different organizations. Especially since not every outing was even a Pitch F/X outing, we do not enough Pitch F/X data to analyze (not to mention that he has not been in the Majors since 2009, so the data would be dated, not containing any possible changes he has made since that time). However, it appears that Morillo didn't get much movement on his fastball (though the sample size was really small and I distrust a lot of Pitch F/X movement data since it varies so much from park to park). So it may be important to look at whether or not his fastball is "straight" when evaluating Morillo

After his brief MLB career and a somewhat odd minor league career, Morillo, who will turn 30 in the offseason, signed with the Rakuten Eagles for the 2010 season, but he didn't pitch in 2011. He was released in April by Rakuten of that year by his own request and was dealing with some elbow problems. He threw just 6.2 Ichi-gun innings for Rakuten, and 17.2 innings for the Ni-Gun team. In both, he struck out a lot of batters, but had a few walks as well. His fastball averaged under 95 MPH (never really got close to 98 MPH on a "cold" gun)  and he threw almost all sliders (with some "cutters" that were the same velocity) as secondary pitches.

Here is what his slider looks like:

If he could control that pitch, then it would be very effective to both lefties and righties. It works as a really good vertical depth pitch, but just from that one pitch alone, you can see why it would be hard to command.

In 2013, Morillo sruggled in the Mexican League in a small sample size to start the year before going to Taiwan. He has only thrown 18 innings for the Rhinos, and his ERA is a 4.50, walking more guys than he is striking out. The only real positive you can say about his statistical line in the CPBL is that he has over twice as many groundouts as flyouts.

I watched one of his outings with the Rhinos and what I saw pretty much matched the data above. He was 94-99 MPH without great command. However, I thought the pitch had good life, and he threw it both high and low. Despite giving up more than a hit an inning, I don't think the fastball, at least in a vacuum, is easy to hit because it is straight. I thought one of the problems he has mechanically is that it looks like he just slings the ball around. His release point, for the most part, is a mess. He uses a delivery that has a lot of moving parts to it, as he goes up, pauses, and then tilts before coming forward. His arm angle is a little non traditional, as it is more of a 3/4 motion that becomes an over the top motion because he falls hard to his left. This "falling" seems like it would be very difficult to repeat on a consistent basis.

He also went that outing without throwing any breaking balls, which is perhaps why it was a successful outing. His fastball isn't an easy pitch to hit for CPBL hitters. It can be an easy pitch to take because it isn't close to the zone.

At age 30 next year, it is hard to believe that he will even figure out how to command his mechanics and throw strikes, but perhaps one could have said the same about Radhames Liz. He found enough command to start effectively in the KBO without losing any of his fastball. Would it make sense for a MLB team to sign him to a no risk minor league deal, try to tinker with his mechanics, and release him when/if he didn't throw strikes? Perhaps. However, I think it would make more sense for the EDA Rhinos to keep him and try to develop him as their closer. He is the hardest throwing pitcher in league history, and even with his flaws, that has real, tangible value. He has a skillset that no one else in the CPBL came even really come close to, and who knows, perhaps he pitches himself back onto MLB radars.

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