How Joey Murray quietly became a key pitch prospect for the Blue Jays

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Question: Do you know who led the organization of the Toronto Blue Jays – major and minor leagues – in batting last season?

Neither Marcus Stroman, Trent Thornton, nor Nate Pearson. It was an eighth round pick in his 23 year season which entered the year with only 25.2 professional innings to his credit. Not a name you’ll see on the best prospect lists, not a guy with flashy stuff, not an athletic specimen. A major in business administration from Kent State University – the only Div. 1 program to offer him a scholarship – which throws its fast ball in the 80s, perhaps touching the 90s on a good day.

It was unannounced right-hander Joey Murray who struck out 169 batters in 137.1 innings in 2019, starting at mid-A and ending his two-level double-A season. Over 27 appearances, he reached a 2.75 ERA with a 2.92 xFIP. Opposition batters only touched 0.210 against him. He had the best statistical season of any starting pitcher in the Blue Jays system and hardly anyone seemed to notice.

Joey Murray’s 2019

IPTIMEK / 9BB / 9
Mid-A Lansing30.23.8211.73.5
High-A Dunedin631.71112.7
Double-A New Hampshire43.23.510.73.7
TOTALS137.12.7511.13.2

“It was not surprising to us knowing Joey,” said Gil Kim, director of player development for the Blue Jays. “He’s smart, he has good things, he asks good questions, he constantly wants to improve, he takes advantage of all possible resources – and he’s a guy who just knows how to throw. ”

It would be better to consider that he is launching his fastball more slowly than Pearson is initiating his change. And it’s not like Murray relies on nasty side stuff either. He thinks he threw his fastball almost 70% of the time last season, and he knows there have been days when he was over 80. And yet, he posted a similar hit rate (12.5%) to Pearson (13.4%). which is one of the best pitching hopes in the game.

So how does he do it? With an exceptional fast bale rotation rate, between 2,500 and 2,700 revolutions per minute. An average of 2,600 rpm would have placed Murray in the top 10 MLB fastball spinners last season and compares to Mike Minor, who similarly relied on fastball at low speed and high speed then that he was headed for the all-star game.

All this spin makes Murray’s radiator look like a white ball coming towards the batter, disguising the seams and making the course of the pitch more difficult to follow. The spin also fights gravity, keeping the ball high a little longer than the batter is used to approaching the plate, and even giving it the illusion of rising. Coming out of his three-quartered arm slot, the hitters think Murray’s fastball goes one place, but it ends up somewhere else.

“It’s no secret that my 88 is playing a bit,” he said. “It’s not necessarily something I think about on the mound. I don’t know why I have this deception. But I’m not going to lie – it’s really huge for me. It helps me get out of it from time to time with a few mistakes. ”

These errors usually occur in the area, where the lack of a drop leaves Murray’s fastball to the batter. But when he does locate him, Murray can have a lot of weak contact or direct smells from bats traveling under the ball. Think about how Marco Estrada did swing-and-miss with high fast balls; or how J.A. Happ could move his radiator right next to a batter’s barrel barrel.

Yet the key to Murray’s development in the future may be to use his best weapon less often. There is no argument with the results. But Murray is well aware that his fastball-heavy process will catch up with him as he gets closer to the majors. More advanced hitters will determine his path and punish him if Murray does not prove that he can and will launch his secondary offerings – a curve, a cursor, a change and a cutter – for strikes.

The problem in 2019 was that he felt like he couldn’t. Murray struggled with command of his non-speed weapons intermittently throughout the season, and as his steps increased, he continued to return to the only terrain he knew he could reliably launch into the area.

“Whatever I had to work on that day is exactly what I was going to ride,” said Murray. “And some days my fastball was all I had.”

So this last off season has been spent in the gym and the kitchen, cutting fat and adding muscle so that Murray can continue to deliver deeply during outings. Last season, he felt like he didn’t have control of the body to control his off-piste speed well, which eroded his confidence and brought him back to his fastball. He is a model he is trying to break.

“I’m so much more comfortable now with all of my locations,” he says. “Most of the time when I was there last year, I was like, ‘Man, if I can keep my walks of less than four today, I’ll have a really good outing. And that’s not the state of mind I want. Especially as I go up, I really want to feel like I can be aggressive in the hitting zone with every step. ”

The Rapsodo units and the Edgertronic cameras were particularly useful in completing Murray’s repertoire. He used the tools to increase the spin efficiency of his curve ball from 75% in 2018 to around 95% last season, adding a vertical break to the pitch.

When he had trouble locating it the way he wanted last July, he watched the video in slow motion and found that it was spinning the ball too far away from him, causing more horizontal action, rather than over the ball, which he needs to get the bite down which makes his curve effective.

Ordering the land is crucial. If Murray can throw it anywhere, he can drop a curve ball for a shot at the start of a count:

Before burying him below the area to get the hitters to continue with two strikes:

Murray is part of a group of young launchers from the organization – including Murray’s teammates and friends Justin Dillon, Sean Wymer and Nick Allgeyer – who have embraced the advanced performance measurement tools that the developers of Blue Jays have started using in recent years. They talk about land design on long bus trips; they know their turnover rates and their efficiency; they are constantly looking for ways to improve and encourage the organization to follow them.

“Joey is a very analytical thinker. He delves deeply into the data and information he has, ”says Kim. “At the end of the day, our most important task is to help players improve. So we are constantly receiving feedback from players and their views on how best to help them. And in the past few years, we’ve heard how important and useful data and technology integration has been for guys like him. Most of the time, it was the players who helped us improve – which is really cool. ”

Being able to throw curveballs and sliders for hitting will help Murray keep hitters out of balance, while developing effective change – virtually every prospect of throwing Blue Jays develops change – will give him a great weapon for play with this high spin fast ball as he continues to face better opposition.

It’s not a profile at the top of the rotation, but Murray could certainly fit into the back of it if his change became a real weapon. And you don’t have to squint to see him provide a lot of valuable chewing sleeves in a big league enclosure in the same vein as other mass levers without premium stuff like Yusmeiro Petit or Josh Tomlin.

But Murray knows what makes him special and keeps him from portraying himself as another average right-hander, it’s that deceptive 80s fastball. in 2019. He still doesn’t know how to explain why it is so effective. All he knows is that it turns out to be crazy and the teams love to see it. And the batters have a hard time seeing it at all.

“Analytics is an important part of today’s game. This is a big reason why I have a job in the first place. I’m not throwing hard, I went to a middle-middle school – I would have been very easy to write off, “he said. “I would love to throw harder. But I have what I have. And I think pitchability is very much alive in the game today. Going out is the most important thing. Put zeros on the dashboard. That’s all. There will always be value in this. “



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