Although he doesn’t lead the Blue Jays starting staff in wins (Shaun Marcum with 10), ERA (Ricky Romero at 3.37) or K/BB (Shaun Marcum at 3.9) I think it’s safe to say the arm that Blue Jays fans are most excited about going forward is none other than ‘Mr.1-Hitter’ himself Brandon Morrow. If you didn’t realize how good he was prior to yesterday afternoon’s start versus the Rays, you are probably starting to take another look.
My initial thought after learning we had acquired Morrow from the Mariners was the price was probably fairly steep, after reading it was Brandon League and a minor leaguer named Johermyn Chavez (ranked #10 on Marc Hulet’s Fangraphs Top 10 prospect list in Feb/2010) who is having a very huge season for the Class A Seattle Mariners minor league team (312/380/575 – 27 HRs), I was fairly surprised.
Still, you had to figure the Jays would give Morrow every opportunity to prove himself in a starter’s role making it likely he would be more valuable than any relief pitcher almost regardless of a hugely successful 2010 campaign, especially on a team with a deep bullpen like the Blue Jays. The fact that Chavez is having a solid minor league campaign at least lessens the blow for Mariners fans – sort of.
Through 22 starts in 2010 Morrow has been a revelation and another young arm the Jays can hopefully build around to begin a hopeful meaningful ascension in the AL East starting as soon as next season. Mind you Morrow hasn’t been a starter his entire career but let’s take a look at some key stats compared to his career levels.
*wSL/c – Fangraphs pitch value per 100 pitches thrown.
After racking up an impressive 17 K’s vs. the Rays on August 8th Morrow now has 151 strikeouts in only 127.1 innings and continues to lead the major leagues in K/9 at 10.6. His control has been much improved compared to his career levels and the budding Morrow has even showcased improved control as the season has progressed (2.7, 3.5, 2.5 BB/9 over the past 3 months) giving Jays fans even more reason for optimism. Quite simply I feel that Brandon Morrow has the most untapped potential of all the Jays current starting pitchers, including Kyle Drabek.
Morrow has been pounding his hard moving fastball (93.6 MPH) and has been putting them away with one of the better pitches in baseball in 2010, his nasty slider. According to Fangraphs Pitch values per 100 pitches thrown Morrow’s slider has been the 8th best in the game this season at 2.20, currently tops is Scott Feldman with an insane 9.59, and Morrow is just behind Francisco Liriano who checks in at 2.66.
In one of the best performances of the 2010 season (that is saying a lot this year) Morrow threw 38 sliders in total with an average velocity of 85.8 MPH. Of the 38 sliders he threw 71% were swung at and of the 71% that were swung on Morrow had an amazing 36.8% whiff rate, 31.6% were hit foul and only 2.6% were actually put into play. To put it simply when he threw a slider, the hitter’s didn’t have a chance.
Here is some Pitch F/X data from his August 8th start vs. Tampa Bay, look at the vertical drop in the 84-86 MPH range:
For the day Morrow was getting some serious vertical drop on his slider as it was dropping over 3.0 inches according to the data, while moving only 1.08 inches horizontally. Compare that to Zach Greinke’s past 17 sliders which moved only 1.75 inches vertically and 3.74 inches horizontally respectively. Armed with a notoriously tight and nasty slider, Francisco Liriano’s past 75 sliders have been thrown harder (over 2 MPH harder than Morrow) but have moved less (hence “tight”) averaging only 0.64 inches vertically and 0.37 inches downward. All three starters have been effective throwing their sliders and all throw it with distinctly differing movement.
The Blue Jays are getting a lot of value out of Brandon Morrow so far this year (3.0+ WAR) and it is quite possible we have not even seen the best that Morrow can offer. Combining his heavy fastball with a nasty slider and improving overall control Morrow is definitely an arm people are again starting to pay attention to across the majors.