Is Cody Morris the Next Ian Hamilton?

Can Morris equal Hamilton's 2023 breakout?

The New York Yankees acquired Cody Morris from the Cleveland Guardians the day after Christmas in exchange for fallen prospect Estevan Florial. Morris was a highly-regarded college pitcher from the University of South Carolina when Cleveland took him in the seventh round of the 2018 draft, battling injuries in college.

Morris debuted towards the end of the 2022 season, pitching to a 2.28 ERA and running a solid 23.0% strikeout rate. Injuries once again hampered Morris in 2023, limiting the righty to eight ineffective innings and an ugly 6.75 ERA and 2.00 WHIP. Still, Morris struck out 23.7% of the batters he faced, suggesting that his stuff is still strong.

Entering the 2024 season, the vaunted Yankee bullpen is seeing some turnover. Lefty Wandy Peralta and swingman Michael King are now employed by the San Diego Padres, and Scott Effross seems likely to miss most of another season. Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga, Tommy Kahnle, and Ian Hamilton are the key contributors that will return from last season. Essentially, the remaining four bullpen spots are up for grabs. Ron Marinaccio was a little too inconsistent for fans’ liking last season, but has a strong two season track record to make his case. Luis Gil has electric stuff, but has not been healthy for a long time now, and was recently optioned to Triple-A. Cody Poteet was signed to a Major League deal this off-season, but has not pitched in the bigs since a 28 inning cameo with Miami in 2022. Nick Burdi has spent parts of four seasons in the majors with Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs, but has been highly ineffective despite premium stuff. In the early-goings of spring training, Burdi has showcased nasty stuff once again.

Now, Morris enters the conversation. While he has not done himself any favors with his performance thus far, Morris’ stuff seems to be in good shape.

Check out the fastballs that Morris threw to punch out Danny Jansen and Bo Bichette in this video.

Now, imagine these fastballs with two or three more inches of “ride”, aka, less drop. This turns a decent fastball into a firmly above-average one, especially with Morris’ ability to reach the upper-90s. In the past two seasons, Morris’ fastball has been hammered to the tune of a .364 average, allowing four home runs and two doubles. To combat the vulnerability of his four-seam, Morris dropped the usage from 2022 to 2023, and still the results were brutal. Besides the fastball, Morris also features a cutter and a curveball. As seen in the video above, the curveball is very North-South in orientation, which now can pair well with a riding fastball. Remember, adding velocity and movement to a fastball does not just improve the fastball. In fact, increasing curveball usage while continuing to drop the fastball usage may do the trick for Morris. Morris has yet to allow a base hit against his curveball in two seasons. Yes, the sample size is 11 plate appearances, but there’s some reason for optimism. There is also some history of the Yankees improving relievers.

Ian Hamilton was coming off a few years of injuries and sporadic big league time when the Yankees signed him in January 2023. In his first full season of work at the game’s highest level, Hamilton fired 58.0 innings with a 2.64 ERA (3.50 xERA), striking out 69 batters (28.9%). How did this change come about? For one, the Yankees had Hamilton become a bit of a slider monster, bending in 54.2 percent sliders. Opponents hit a brutal .156 (.179 xBA) against the offering. FanGraphs’ Stuff+ grades Hamilton’s slider at 110, or 10 points above the average big league slider.

While Morris does not have a true slider, his cutter checks in at a 105 Stuff+. As seen in the video above, the movement is solid when located at the edge of the strike zone to start. Pitch velocity and vertical break are two of the bigger factors in determining a Stuff+ grade (hence why sinkers are usually on the lower end). With Morris’ increased IVB, his fastball could receive a higher Stuff+ grade than the 105 he was given last season. Should the cutter also see some difference in the vertical break, that grade could also take a jump. In 2023, Morris threw his fastball and cutter a combined 74.4%. So, maybe increased cutter usage is not the answer, especially considering the two offerings were turned around to a .346 batting average.

While the curveball received just an 88 on Stuff+, if the increased vertical break from the fastball carries over to his other North-South offering, we should see that grade increase too. As mentioned above, opponents have yet to record a base hit against the Uncle Charlie. So, if the vertical break carries over, maybe Morris becomes a fastball, curveball guy?

Now, spring training numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. But, Morris is struggling with command at the moment. According to FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, Morris never received rave reviews of his command as a prospect, grading out at 40 on the 20/80 scale. Some of the struggles in March could also be tied to the new “stuff” Morris is working with. This is the first time that his fastball has worked this way, and it could be affecting the overall command, if the vertical break also carried over the rest of his arsenal.

The Yankees do deserve the benefit of the doubt here, as their player development group has done a great job of piecing together bullpen arms from the depths of other rosters. If Morris is close to a sequel of Hamilton’s 2023 season, this trade is a huge win for the Yankees.

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