Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Watched - Matt Morris

I can't say that I exactly feel bad for Matt Morris - he has earned $56,311,850 playing baseball (according to ESPN.com) - but there is something sad about watching the downside of his career. Matt was the 12th pick overall in the 1995 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He came up two years later and finished second to Scott Rolen in the Rookie of the Year balloting. He was injured in 1998 and missed all of 1999 after having Tommy John surgery. He came back in 2000 and made 31 appearances in relief.

Matt broke out in 2001, winning 22 games and striking out 185 batters while posting a 137 ERA+. He was third in the Cy Young balloting. At the age of 26, the Cardinals thought they had found their Ace for years to come. But 2001 was the last time that Matt put together a truly great season. He was very good in 2002, with a 117 ERA+ and striking out 171, but thereafter settled into the "solid, but unspectacular" category, reaching double digits in wins every year and eating a lot of innings, but never dominating. He was an integral part of the Cardinals teams that led the majors in wins in 2004 and 2005, but he wasn't their best pitcher. Many people viewed him as the heart and soul of the pitching staff, though.

I think what I like so much about Matt is that he had been great and had great potential and even though injuries and age sapped him of that potential greatness, he still gave everything he had and found ways to be a successful pitcher. What makes me sad about Matt is that he was not on the Cardinals team that won a World Series in 2006. He was so much a part of the build up to that World Series - the close calls in 2004 and 2005 - that he seemed like he should have been celebrating with the team on the field in 2006.

I watched Matt's start last night against the Florida Marlins for old time's sake. Unfortunately, the experience was a little depressing and made me feel old (I am about two months older than Matt). During his early, dominant, years, Matt threw in the low 90's with his fastball and had a put-away 12-6 curveball. As he settled into his career, his fastball was about 89-91 and he still had a great curveball. He also learned to mix in a cutter to give hitters a different look. Last night Matt had the same repertoire, just slower. His fastball was anywhere from 83 to 88 (but it still had great movement), his cutter was in the upper 70's, and his curveball was in the upper 60's. The curve had a bit of a loop to it and he hung a couple.

Matt is clearly not the pitcher he was even three years ago, but I think that it is possible to be a league average pitcher with the stuff that he has. He is willing to throw any of his pitches on any count and if Matt could locate his fastball on the corners and low in the strike zone, he can still be successful. Unfortunately, Matt's biggest problem last night was that he couldn't locate any of his pitches consistently.

Matt lasted only four innings, giving up eight runs on nine hits, a walk and a hit batsman. He struck out two and threw 99 pitches. He gave up a couple of homeruns, the first to Hanley Ramirez on a 71mph hanging curveball that looked like it had been set on a tee for Ramirez. The second was on an 83mph fastball that was right down the middle to Josh Willingham. The first homer didn't bother me as much as the second. When a pitcher relies on his curveball as much as Morris does, he will hang a few on occasion. The pitch to Willingham, though, looked like Matt was just out there throwing batting practice. Unfortunately, it looked like that a lot in the four innings Matt threw. Almost all of the nine hits were hit hard - he also gave up 5 doubles - and seven of the nine hits were off of the fastball.

I hope for the best for Matt, because he has always been one of my favories, but the Pirates can't afford to keep sending him out there the way he's been pitching - no matter how much they are paying him.

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