Despite his recent controversial claim that he was snubbed from the home run derby, nobody can deny that Logan Morrison is having a breakout season. Logan Morrison, or LoMo as Rays fans call him, has already surpassed his career high in home runs before the All-Star break by clobbering 24 long balls in just 82 games.
LoMo has been part of the flyball revolution this season, hitting fly balls at a 46.0% clip, which is nearly 10 percent higher than his 36.9% career average. He also appeared to be the benefactor of a very fortuitous 25.0% HR/FB rate despite hitting in the pitching friendly Tropicana Field. While these stats alone go a long way in telling the story of LoMo’s season, his success goes deeper than that.
LoMo has always been very pull happy, with a career Pull% of 44.1%, but this year he has taken that number to a whole new extreme by pulling 50.2% of his batted balls, which is tops in the league. Due to his heavy pull tendencies, pitchers have attacked LoMo on the outer half of the zone, trying to get him to roll over into the infield shift on the right side of the infield.
Here is a look at how pitchers have thrown to LoMo
Pitchers have always combatted LoMo’s tendency to pull by pitching him low and away, and until this season this was a relatively foolproof strategy. Below is a zone chart of LoMo’s career batting averages on pitches at various places in the zone. Now I understand that batting average is a pretty weak barometer of success, but it serves as a useful reference point here.
The three places where LoMo is attacked most (on the lower third of the zone and right outside the lower half of the zone) are also the areas where LoMo struggles the most. Especially noticeable is the lower most outside pitch, where LoMo has been thrown the third most but is hitting an abysmal .049 when he swings at pitches in that location.
When we overlay the batting average chart with a chart showing where in the zone LoMo hits the most ground balls, we see that throughout his career, LoMo has played right into the strategy of other teams. Shift infielders to the right side, throw LoMo away in the zone, watch him roll over and hit ground balls right where the infielders are. It is no coincidence that up until the end of last year, LoMo’s career OPS against the shift was a measly .558 with an ISO of just .061.
Just to hammer this point home, here is a chart of LoMo’s career GB / BIP (ground balls per ball in play).
The increase in defensive shifts across the MLB was hurting LoMo disproportionately, so LoMo went back to the drawing board and figured out what many hitters figured out. You can’t shift for the longball. Instead of flailing at pitches on the outer half of the zone and hitting a fourteen-hopper to the right side for a routine groundout, the numbers show that LoMo has made a deliberate attempt to drive the pitch on the outer half.
In fact among all left-handed hitters in the MLB this season, LoMo has the highest number of home runs on the outer half of the plate with seven such home runs.
Here is an example of how LoMo beat the shift by simply hitting it over the shift.
Up until this year, pitchers have had the upper-hand on LoMo by making him play their game. In 2017, LoMo is the one getting the last laugh as he has changed his approach on outside pitches, while pitchers are still abiding by a strategy that we can safely say is now outdated and ineffective. Pitchers are still throwing LoMo low and away in the zone, despite his newfound ability to drive that pitch.
LoMo may not be a home run derby participant, but he will probably hit 40 dingers this year and the adjustment he made to start pulverizing outside pitches is a huge reason why. Unless pitchers adjust to LoMo in the second half or they start allowing defenders to be play in the outfield bleachers, LoMo looks poised to carry his torrid first half into the late summer.