Tonight is the First Day of the Rest of Morrow's (Potentially Great) Life
Brandon Morrow of the Toronto Blue Jays is scheduled to face the New York Yankees tonight in the first of a three-game series. The 26-year-old righthander, who is coming off two consecutive victories over the lowly Baltimore Orioles, will find the going more difficult on the road this evening against the team with the best record in the majors. That said, while it is only one game, I wouldn't bet against him.
Although Morrow's back of the baseball card stats (7-6, 4.62 ERA) are rather pedestrian, there are signs that the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft could be on the verge of becoming one of the elite starters in the game. Call it hyperbole if you'd like but digging deeper into the stats indicates that Morrow has the makings of a top-shelf pitcher. Let me count the ways:
1. Throws gas. Morrow's fastball has averaged 93.7 mph this year, ranking eighth among all qualified starters and ahead of hard throwers such as Francisco Liriano, Mat Latos, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, Matt Garza, Tommy Hanson, A.J. Burnett, and Max Scherzer.
3. Exceptional strikeout rate. He leads the majors with a 9.96 strikeouts per nine innings.
4. Stingy home run rate. At 0.64 HR/9, he ranks 27th among 106 qualified starters.
5. Superb advanced metrics. He is 21st in SIERA and tied for 22nd in Fielding Independent Pitching ERA. He also ranks sixth in BP's Stuff, "a rough indicator of the pitcher's overall dominance, based on normalized strikeout rates, walk rates, home run rates, runs allowed, and innings per game." He trails five of the best pitchers in the game: Francisco Liriano, Jered Weaver, Jon Lester, Josh Johnson, and Cliff Lee.
6. Swinging strikes. Morrow (11.0%) is sixth among all qualified starters in the percentage of swinging strikes. Only the aforementioned Liriano (12.6%), Johnson (11.8%), Weaver (11.2%), plus Cole Hamels (11.7%) and Tim Lincecum (11.2%) have induced higher percentages.
So what's holding Morrow back? He has the second-highest BB/9 (4.22), the sixth-highest BABIP (.343), and the 17th-lowest LOB% (68.4%). While the walk rate is clearly his own doing, the BABIP and LOB% may be a combination of poor defense, a lack of bullpen support, and being on the wrong side of the luck factor this season. The good news is that Morrow's propensity of allowing free passes has been diminishing throughout the season. He allowed four or more walks in five of his first ten starts but has only given up a similar number in just one of his last ten outings, a stretch in which he has surrendered two or fewer bases on balls seven times.
With respect to tonight's game, Morrow is 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA in four career starts against New York. He has faced the Yankees twice in the past two months, completing 13 innings while allowing 13 hits, two walks, six runs, and punching out 15 batters.
If you get the chance, you might want to tune in. If nothing else, it will put you one step ahead of Jack Zduriencik, the Seattle GM who traded Morrow last December for Brandon League and Johermyn Chavez. The latter, who was ranked by Baseball America as Toronto's 21st-best prospect, holds the key to the deal for the Mariners as a one-for-one transaction involving the two Brandons would have been highly advantageous in favor of the Blue Jays. Signed as a 16-year old out of Venezuela, Chavez, 21, is hitting .314/.383/.586 at High Desert, a notoriously hitter-friendly ballpark in the California League. A corner outfielder with limited range, Chavez will have to hit his way to the big leagues.
Meanwhile, Toronto doesn't need to wait until tomorrow for its payoff as the now-ready Morrow is only hours away from facing the Yankees once again and a few more supporters from being recognized as one of the better starting pitchers in the league.