There is a lot we can talk about in regards to opening day. From bullpen mismanagement by both sides to a ridiculous game ending that had me questioning all I knew, there’s a bunch of fun stuff. But I want to give more time to what happened as the bottom of the 8th inning began.
At the plate was Ozzie Albies. He was 0-for-3 with a strikeout against Aaron Nola before Gabe Kapler removed his ace. For reasons. In fact, Albies was the final batter Nola faced right before Hoby Milner gave up a two-run home run to Freddie Freeman.
On the mound was Adam Morgan of the Phillies. He entered with two outs in the seventh after Lane Adams reached on a single. Morgan induced a groundout by Ender Inciarte to end the frame. Morgan wasn’t still in the game for Albies, though. He was in the game for Freeman and Nick Markakis, the two batters that would follow Albies. Over his career, Morgan has limited left-handed hitters to a .224/.289/.365 clip. Or, to put it in more sabermetric terms, a .286 opposing wOBA. However, righties have owned him to the tune of a .370 opposing wOBA. The big reason? For every nine innings, Morgan has given up nearly 2 homeruns to right-hand hitters. Nearly 16% of all flyballs righties hit against him become souvenirs. Nearly 35% of all contact is rated hard-hit.
Was this a bad decision? Ryan Cothran didn’t mention it earlier in his column and I don’t really think it was. Morgan is in the majors because he gets left-handed batters out. Because of the lineup Brian Snitker utilized, Morgan would face three lefties and just one righty with a three-run lead. This is an easily defensible move.
Morgan, who increased his velocity significantly after moving to the bullpen, started Albies with a 94-mph fastball on the outside edge that Albies swung-and-missed at. The Phillies tried to take advantage of Albies’ aggressive nature early in the count frequently on Thursday and it often worked.
Next, Morgan went with his changeup. It came in at the shins on the outside corner for Albies, who didn’t bite. Albies not swinging at this pitch changes the at-bat. With an 0-2 count, Morgan could try to bust Albies inside with a fastball or even go with a slider or curveball. But with the count even in this situation, throwing a strike becomes paramount and that benefits the hitter.
Here’s one reason Morgan struggles heavily against right-handed hitters. While they have access to a scouting report that will be much more refined than one I can find, even I can guess Morgan’s next pitch has a good shot at being a changeup just by looking at the most basic of pitch data. In 2017, Morgan threw changeups 41% of the time he faced a righthander. It was his best pitch against righties when he needed a strike – 32% of the time, that’s what it was. Falling behind 2-1 would have been hard for Morgan to come back from. He needed a strike.
He got the strike, but Morgan painted himself into a corner. The “take” by Albies on the second pitch, again, changed the entire at-bat. Morgan also needed to locate the changeup on the outside corner. However, everything he had thrown at Albies was essentially in the same spot.
Put yourself in Albies’ shoes here. Morgan needs a strike. You know that his best pitch for that while facing right-handers is a changeup. You also know that he’s not going to risk throwing a changeup over the plate and he’s not going to come in with it. In a usual fastball count, Albies was looking changeup. To be fair, it was a good one. Location was spot on.
The problem is that the first two pitches and situation in the game made this pitch easy-to-predict for smart hitters.
And Ozzie Albies is a smart hitter.
Again, Morgan made the quality pitch under the circumstances. He’s not going to risk walking Albies with Freeman on deck. He’s also not going to be forced into a fastball on a 2-1 or 3-1 count. He wants to throw his best pitch against right-handers. Unfortunately for him – and fortunately for Braves fans – Morgan found himself in a situation where throwing a changeup was both the right and wrong pitch. It was the right pitch for all of the reasons we have cited about the situation and Morgan’s limitations against right-handed hitters. It was the wrong pitch because it was the predictable choice if you looked at Morgan’s tendencies. It’s also the wrong pitch when you consider Albies has done most of his damage as a major leaguer on pitches around the strike zone below the belt – especially as a right-handed hitter.
Morgan needed Albies to bail him out. He needed Albies to think fastball. Or foul off the changeup. Or maybe Albies was looking at a different location.
But Albies was thinking right with Morgan.
The result was a solo homer to deep left-center. Morgan would walk Freeman next before striking out Markakis to end his day. Freeman would later score on a wild pitch-and-error. And the rally was on from there. It started with Albies, though, being smart with predicting the right pitch from the right pitcher in the right count.
Have I mentioned yet that Ozhaino Jurdy Jiandro Albies is just 21 years-old?
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