What Does Tomorrow Bring for Brandon Morrow?

By R.J. Anderson //

Almost every aspect of Brandon Morrow’s career has resembled a roller coaster ride. So is there any surprise that Morrow’s 2010 season is replicating that model?

Drafted by the Seattle Mariners as the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft ahead of hometown hero Tim Lincecum, Morrow failed to live up to expectations in the great northwest. Struggles with command and health restrictions that kept him in the bullpen for most of his Mariner career marked his downfall. Over the off-season he was dealt to the Blue Jays for reliever Brandon League.

The Jays placed Morrow in the rotation, hoping to squeeze the most value possible out of the right-hander. He’s since made five starts, yielding a 5.46 ERA. Morrow has allowed 17 earned runs, but seven came in one start and 12 came in the first two starts. In his last three starts he’s posted the following line: 19 IP, 25 SO, 10 BB, and a 2.37 ERA.

As always. Morrow features an explosive fastball at
upwards of 96 miles per hour. That velocity, combined with his draft
status, helped Morrow secure an annual position on numerous breakthrough
lists in the past two seasons. The hype makes hot stretches like the
one Morrow is now in difficult to evaluate without bias.

There is reason
to believe this is just a hot stretch, though, and not the new
Morrow has shown short stretches of success in the past, without following through. In September 2008, Morrow made a pair of starts against the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He pitched quite well, striking out a batter per inning and posting a 2.13 ERA. In July 2009 Morrow made four starts in which he struck out 21 and walked nine. 

The only change in Morrow’s per nine ratios this season is his strikeout rate and a slight deflation in his home run rate – although he’s allowing the same number of home runs per fly balls hit. That increase in strikeout rate just screams unsustainable. Morrow’s swinging strike rate is up one whiff per 100 pitches – from 10% to 11% — and the only change in pitch approach is the strong implementation of a curveball. It’s interesting to see that Morrow is throwing his curve the most on 0-1, 0-2, and 1-2 counts per data from FanGraphs, suggesting the key to his success has been an increase in strikes looking, rather than of the swinging variety.

morrow2.pngReality and history suggest Morrow simply will not continue to strike out more than a batter per inning. Consider that Morrow has only faced two American League East opponents this season (Baltimore and Tampa Bay) and those starts combined to see him walk 11. Also note that he’s yet to face the Red Sox or Yankees.

There’s a chance Morrow can post a sub-4 ERA, but don’t bet on it. If you can sell high, do it.

For more on Brandon Morrow, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools. 

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