With the final score becoming less and less important with each passing game, I find myself looking for individual events that could signal larger trends. That goes double for the young players who are likely to be in Chicago another few years, which in Tuesday’s loss meant Keegan Thompson and Christopher Morel. Unfortunately, their respective trend lines are pointing in opposite directions.
First up is Thompson’s new sweeping slider, a pitch he figures to showcase more and more as the season goes along. He developed it as a weapon to get swings and misses from right-handed batters, and boy was it ever effective in his most recent start. Though he threw the slider only eight times, it drew eight whiffs and resulted in two strikeouts.
One of those came on a huge sword from Kyle Farmer, who waved helplessly at a pitch that would have plunked a left-handed batter.
Thompson has gotten a lot of help from assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos in terms of developing and implementing the new breaking ball on the fly and the early results have been very encouraging. It’s only been a part of his repertoire for the last three starts and Thompson is going to it about 10% of the time at this point, but that will go up as he dials it in a little further.
“I’ve got to get it in the strike zone a little more,” Thompson told reporters after the game. “I’ve been yanking it and just kind of bouncing it. I got a couple swings and misses on it tonight, but I’ve got to get it in the strike zone a little more. I’ll keep working on it.”
Morel has been in the same boat when it comes to getting more whiffs, but that’s not as good for a hitter as it is for a pitcher. The rookie burst onto the scene with a club record on-base streak and has remained productive, but his swing-and-miss has risen at an alarming rate. Morel has struck out at least once in 19 straight games and has 36 total Ks over his last 89 plate appearances, good for a 40.4% K-rate.
Contrast that with a 21.8% rate over his first 87 PAs, during which time he struck out just 19 times total in 19 games. Any of my fellow Stephen King fans will no doubt raise an eyebrow at these numbers. Morel had just six multi-strikeout games and never struck out more than twice in that earlier sample, whereas the more recent block has seen 11 multi-K games and four games of three or more Ks.
His batting average is 80 points lower (.297 to .217) from one half to the next and his wRC+ has fallen from 145 to 73 between the two periods. The overall numbers still peg Morel as an above-average contributor and there’s merit to letting a player work through his struggles, but there also comes a time at which the team may want to see him work on some things in the minors.
With Seiya Suzuki due back soon and Rafael Ortega absolutely raking in June (.322/.394/.508, 152 wRC+), it’s entirely possible we could see the demotion many feared would come back in May. Calling it a demotion isn’t really even fair, it’s just an easy word to use. This is more about letting Morel fill the holes in his swing that seem to be getting larger by the game.