Brandon Morrow Abdicates Rotation

The playoff hopes for the Seattle Mariners, both in 2009 and beyond, took a dramatic blow yesterday when it was revealed that Brandon Morrow, the 5th overall selection of the 2006 draft, was moving to the bullpen full time. A myriad of reasons have been postulated for the move including health concerns over his arm, health concerns from his diabetes, a preference for closing and a sense that he would be more valuable as a reliever.

No matter which way you slice it, this is bad news for the Mariners. Brandon Morrow has the stuff to be an above average starting pitcher in the Major Leagues, someone capable of posting seasons worth three or four wins. Moving to the bullpen simply offers him no realistic shot at attaining levels that high. Even if Morrow morphed into a dominant closer, a big if, the likes of Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera or even his now predecessor J.J. Putz, that level tops out at just over 2.5 wins a year on average. 2.5 wins is basically what an average starting pitcher tossing 200 or so innings would compile.

And remember, that would represent Morrow’s absolute best case as a closer. In pointed fact, those top notch closers have shown a much better track record of command and a higher ability to generate ground balls than Morrow ever has. A more realistic, but still optimistic, projection for Morrow would have him around the two-win mark. Suffice to say, Morrow is costing himself and the Mariners value by abandoning the role of starting pitcher.

Of course, it’s not so simple as to just leave it at that, because the health concerns are for real. Morrow’s Spring was under delay this year because of forearm issues. He also suffered from pronounced dead arm after moving into the rotation at the end of the 2008 season. He also has to battle Type 1 diabetes, an ailment that requires constant monitoring of his blood sugar level and one which is exacerbated by prolonged physical activity.

If we the public were informed that these reasons were the reasons Morrow was moving to the bullpen, I would have no qualms with it and would actually applaud Morrow for being willing to speak up when it came to his own health. The iffy part is that we are not sure those are the primary motivators. Morrow’s own words over the past few days have expressed a desire to return to the bullpen for the thrill of closing. If that, instead of his health, is why he’s making this decision, then it’s almost clearly a wrong call at this point in time. However, it seems unlikely that we will ever know and for now, the Mariners will have to move forward with their closing situation likely solved, but a severe blow to their upside in the rotation.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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I think it’s both health and desire that lead Morrow to the bullpen. Of course then the question becomes which factor played a bigger role in the decision?

Larry LaRue of The News Tribune in Seattle had this pretty striking quote from Morrow:

“I asked to be a starter last year because the closing job clearly was filled – we had J.J. for another year, at least,” Morrow said. “Then he was traded, and I started thinking about the job again. There’s nothing in baseball like closing.

“Coming into a game with two men on and Manny Ramirez up? C’mon – that’s exhilarating. And you might work two, three games in a row. I like feeling more like an everyday player than a guy who works every fifth day.”

Health, I’m sure, plays a large factor with the decision but it seems like it’s heavily weighted towards desire for Morrow. Could the health issue have acted as leverage to decide which direction he wanted to go? He was clearly deciding on either starting or closing (not just relieving). Sounds like he could have dealt with starting if someone else was already the closer.

It’s tough to know. Morrow will have to clarify if we’re to get to the bottom of this decision. This is definately a franchise-altering decision. With only Felix and Silva likely set for next year’s rotation they will need to do quite a bit of work to build a servicable starting rotation.


On the surface this looks horrifically stupid, I refuse to believe any of the quotes that were listed. If the Ms management is even a fraction of good as Dave thinks they are there is no way in hell they let him do it because he wanted too. There’s been other diabetic athletes that have been just fine, it’s not the diabetes…it’s probably something else. Then again, the Ms management could have just made a terrible mistake.