Riding with the Wind, ’14: Brandon Morrow

As I was reading something the other day I mused about what people say about Brandon Morrow.  The majority of comments that I’ve read seem to focus on his health, which I believe to be a positive step after reading so many TOR-should-have-kept-Brandon-League comments.  Man that was irritating.  The health thing is less so, but only marginally less so.

Brandon Morrow is a good pitcher.  The salient question is, ‘how good is he?’  The simple answer is pretty good, which tells us nothing unless we introduce some sort of comparison or contrast for context.  If he was among the league leaders in Games Started since 2010 and produced at his average rate over that 4 season stretch, he’d be a top 20 pitcher in MLB.  That’s how good he is.  His approximate value of about 14.5 fWAR would be in line with James Shields, Mat Latos, and Gio Gonzalez.  The Jays were supposedly in on the Latos and Gio deals.  Can you imagine…?

Of course he isn’t among the leaders in GS since 2010.  Brandon Morrow has started 87 G since 2010, or 47 fewer than the MLB leaders.  But it’s not only about durability.  In August 2010 the Jays shut him down because he had very little history as a starting pitcher, costing him a handful or so of starts.  Durability then became a factor, as a series of injuries have cost him about 40 starts.  We can’t get hung up on what might have been, however, but it doesn’t reflect reality.  The reality is that Morrow has started 87 G, which ranks 82nd among qualified starters since 2010.

I wanted to see how Morrow stacked up against guys with similar challenges—mainly health issues—to get an idea of how effective or ineffective he’s been.  I was a little bit surprised.  What I discovered helped me to realize what needs to go his way in 2014.

On average it has taken Brandon Morrow a little more than 9 GS to accumulate 1 fWAR; because of that, I chose pitchers who were within five starts on either side since 2010.  That narrowed the group to 14 pitchers.  Of those 14 pitchers 4 made at least 4 relief appearances, which tends to skew the numbers a little too much for a lazy guy like me.  That left us with a group of 10 pitchers, of whom Brandon Morrow was one.  Here’s what Fangraphs had to say:

 

G

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

babip

LOB%

GB%

HR/FB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

Peavy

91

90

582.1

7.77

2.21

1.08

.281

70.7

36.7

9.5

4.10

3.74

3.90

11.5

Lackey

90

90

564.1

6.78

2.68

1.02

.313

69.3

44.4

9.9

4.67

4.10

4.09

8.7

Billingsley

90

90

541.1

7.60

3.38

0.57

.304

71.2

46.7

6.4

3.77

3.44

3.90

8.2

Danks

90

90

575.1

6.51

2.60

1.13

.289

70.1

43.5

10.8

4.33

4.19

4.06

8.0

Garcia

89

89

535.0

7.22

2.67

0.62

.313

70.4

55.3

8.6

3.38

3.27

3.42

9.1

Morrow

87

87

504.2

9.47

3.46

1.00

.299

69.2

38.6

9.8

4.32

3.69

3.74

9.4

Buchholz

87

87

554.0

6.56

3.22

0.78

.268

76.4

49.1

8.9

3.15

3.91

4.09

9.3

Beckett

87

87

534.1

7.82

2.76

1.18

.291

71.0

42.3

11.6

4.33

4.08

3.87

7.6

Minor

86

85

507.1

7.91

2.54

1.08

.288

72.5

35.5

9.8

3.90

3.76

3.88

6.6

Johnson

84

84

516.2

8.54

2.84

0.66

.303

73.6

46.3

8.2

3.40

3.15

3.41

11.8

This is part of a bigger animal from: http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2013&month=0&season1=2010&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=7%2cd

Several quick general observations:

  • Yes, that’s Josh Johnson at the bottom of the table—I’m sorely tempted to release a torrent of profanity that would make Melissa McCarthy blush;
  • Chad Billingsley should do whatever he can to be a Dodger for the rest of his natural born days;
  • Is Clay Buchholz on the verge of being Romero-ed?  Seriously, how long can he do that in the AL East, in Fenway?;
  • Josh Beckett is on the downside of a pretty good career, so including him might be a little unfair;
  • Jaime Garcia and Mike Minor are good young pitchers

Looking at the table, Brandon Morrow doesn’t command the strike zone very well.  This undoubtedly contributes to his average of slightly more than 5.2/IP per start.  He’s below average at stranding runners and doesn’t induce many ground balls (I seem to recall him inducing his first double play ground ball in the final game of the season in 2011, but I’ll have to check…).

Positively, he mows down hitters like a scythe: his swing-and-miss stuff is thrilling to watch.  His babip against is slightly above league average but his HR/9 and HR/FB rates are better than average.  His peripherals suggest that he’s somewhat of a bad luck pitcher.  Given the Jays’ defense (*cough*RajaiMaicerBonifacioArencibia*cough*), it’s not surprising.

There are two things that must happen if Brandon Morrow is to pitch to his talent level.  First, he needs to be healthy.  If he reaches somewhere around 28-30 GS (career high 30 GS in 2011) and 180-200 IP (career high 179.1 IP in 2011), the Jays and their fans would be deliriously happy.  That would give him a range of about 6.5-7 IP/GS, on average.

Second, the defense behind him must be sharp for him to succeed.  He’s a strikeout/fly ball pitcher.  His low ground ball and high walk rates raise the significance of each ground ball he induces, meaning poor defense does more damage than just booted ground balls: his skill set suggests that he almost needs to strike out the side to get out of a tough inning.  Historically, the Jays’ defense has almost demanded it.  Whereas Mark Buehrle may induce several consecutive batters (or even innings) worth of ground ball outs, Morrow induces them infrequently.  Strong defensive performances by the infield help someone like Brandon Morrow considerably.

Our expectations of Brandon Morrow and the Jays have been tempered by injuries and poor performances.  Is 2014 the year that it all falls into place the way it did for the Orioles in 2012 and the Red Sox in 2013?  Who knows?  Brandon Morrow rounding into form (coming of age?) gives them a starter with top 20 skills, which may help us understand their reticence in acquiring a starter in the off season.   If he can be a top of the line guy that his talent level suggests is within his grasp, the Jays stand a good chance to be in the hunt.

Wes Kepstro

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9 Responses to “Riding with the Wind, ’14: Brandon Morrow”


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  4. 4 @ALEastbound May 26, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Wanted to earmark this piece as Wes has nailed Clay Buchholz (next Ricky Romero?) for this season. Currently sports a 1.85!! WHIP.

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    That is a really good tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere.
    Short but very accurate information… Thanks for sharing this
    one. A must read article!

  6. 6 @ALEastbound March 10, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Great piece Wes. I have to agree with both of you here. Without Brandon Morrow having a dominant season the Blue Jays will likely look a lot different come August. New management, manager, roster perhaps.

  7. 7 Now A Smart Fan March 10, 2014 at 9:12 am

    This is one of the better pieces I have read recently.

    This is why management hasn’t just given up on him much like the M’s did. There is a tantalizing mixture of raw stuff and talent that is too hard to ignore.

    This is the season we need him to step it up for even a remote shot at the postseason.

    • 8 Wes Kepstro March 10, 2014 at 9:52 am

      Thanks.

      I think he’s a better pitcher than RA, but putting him behind RA in the order really creates a tantalizing situation. If he can start putting it all together in 2014…


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