Leveraging Brandon Morrow – An Odd Case

A lot has been said about Brandon Morrow during his relatively short MLB career but if there is one consensus or common theme it is this, Morrow has electric stuff but he has also suffered from some tough luck.  The success of the Blue Jays franchise would be greatly helped if Morrow’s stuff and excellent peripherals were also met with tangible results.

Morrow was essentially a two-pitch pitcher in 2011 relying heavily on his 94.3 MPH four-seam fastball and his 88.4 MPH slider as he basically abandoned his change-up that he used frequently in 2010.

Pitch

Count

Frequency

Mph

Fourseam (FA)

1922

64%

94.36

Slider (SL)

807

27%

88.41

Curveball (CU)

157

5%

82.03

Changeup (CH)

110

4%

86.53

 As you can see he basically has the pitch selection of a front-line closer to go along with his electric stuff.  Starting pitchers can definitely have success relying mainly on two pitches but it can be a bit tougher given the heavy platoon splits of the all fastball/slider combination.  Morrow was actually harder on left handed hitter last season (11.1 K/9, 3.06 FIP) than righties (8.9 K/9, 4.16 FIP) – another oddity to his 2011 season.

One reason for a drop in Morrow’s ERA was the success of his slider, or lessened success year over year.  In 2010 his slider was worth 3.02 runs per 100 pitches thrown but slipped in 2011 to only 0.48.  One of the biggest reasons I am high on Morrow going forward was a very strange split I noticed for Morrow’s 2011 season with relation to high leverage situations.

In only 11 “high leverage” innings pitched situations (i.e. runners on in tight game) Morrow was a complete mess.  Whether it was purely bad luck or there is something to his mindset in these situations, one would think or hope he could not post results like these again (18.00+ ERA!).  Check out the chart below:

Situation IP TBF R/ER FB% HR/FB xFIP
Low leverage 83.2 369 32/31 39 10.9% 3.28
High leverage 11 47 27/22 51 18.8% 3.76

 Small sample size could be one factor but looking at the total amount of runs given up in those few high leverage situations is astounding.  Also look at the difference in his fly ball rate and the amount of fly balls that turned into HRs, his HR/9 in those situations was an almost comical 2.45 however his xFIP (FIP with a normalized homerun rate) held steady at 3.76.

For his career Morrow’s FIP in low, medium and high leverage situations is 3.48, 4.05 and 4.58 respectively, certainly pointing towards a career trend?  If Morrow can either buckle down in the tougher situations or get a bit of luck in 2012 he could be primed for a breakout season, or at the very least an ERA (career 4.37) more in line with his FIP (career 3.85).

Included for your reference is the vertical/horizontal movement of his various pitches over his career, can you see any discernable differences or trends?

 

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