Sun Will Come Out For Morrow

When a pitcher strikes out a lot of batters while keeping his home runs and walks allowed to a minimum, good things generally happen. Prior to this season, there were 31 occurrences of a season in which a starting pitcher threw at least 140 innings with a K/9 greater than 10.0 with a BB/9 less than 3.5 and a HR/9 below 1.0. The list includes some of the game’s greatest pitchers: Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling (3x), Sandy Koufax (2x), Nolan Ryan (4x), Pedro Martinez (4x), and Randy Johnson, who had nine (9!) such seasons. The list also includes some surprises like Jason Schmidt, Mike Scott, and Erik Bedard. Recently, we’ve seen Scott Kazmir, Justin Verlander, and Tim Lincecum (2x) put up these kind of seasons.

Zack Grienke (10.67 K/9, 2.16 BB/9, 1.02 HR/9) is close to joining the list; however, as of right now Brandon Morrow is the only pitcher in baseball on pace for membership to my arbitrary statistical club. After his start this weekend, Morrow has a K/9 of 10.41, a BB/9 of 3.45, and a HR/9 of 0.97.

There is one huge difference between the Toronto righty and the rest of the list.

Not including Morrow, the average ERA from such a season is 2.65. Of the 31 occurrences, 13 of them ended with the pitcher winning the ERA title. Morrow, on the other hand, is slated to finish in the bottom 10 of ERA qualifiers in his league. With a 9-10 record and an ERA of 4.78, Morrow is glaring the outlier of the group. His closest competition is Verlander, who posted a 3.45 ERA in 2009.

Like Verlander in ‘09, Morrow has a considerable difference between ERA and FIP. In fact, the gap between Morrow’s ERA and FIP is the largest in the majors this season. His 3.42 FIP is not elite; however, it is 12th best in the American League; a much better indication of his talent level compared to his ERA.

This is not the first time this has happened to Morrow. Last season he put up similar numbers and suffered a similar fate. In 146.1 innings, he posted a K/9 of 10.95, a BB/9 of 4.06, and a HR/9 of 0.68. His 3.16 FIP was the seventh best in the AL (min. 140 innings). Meanwhile, thanks in part to a .342 BABIP, his ERA was 4.49.

Morrow has a much more manageable .305 BABIP this season. That said, his ERA has risen although he has seen a decrease in baserunners allowed. Despite having fewer men on base, Morrow is allowing a higher rate of runners to score. After stranding just 69% of his runners last season, his left on-base percentage of 64.4% this season is the second worst among qualified AL starters (Fausto Carmona 63.6%).Whether you look to the rule of 72 or his career rate of 70.8%, Morrow has room to improve in this category.

Looking at pitch selection, Morrow relies heavily on his fastball with or without runners on base. He goes to his slider a bit more with runners on; however, the slider is arguably his best pitch. The problem may be in pitch sequencing or some other issue when he enters the stretch if not just dumb luck.

With a blazing fastball, a nasty slider, and excellent peripheral stats, Morrow should be regarded as one of the best young starters in the league. Meanwhile, his ERA suggests he is more a back-end of the rotation starter. Morrow saw positive regression in BABIP this season, but his strand rate dropped even lower. Without much to suggest this is a result of a fatal flaw in his game, he is once again a candidate for positive regression. Considering his team as a unit could be on the rise next season, the sleeping giant that has been Brandon Morrow may give the league a rude awakening in 2012.

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Tommy Rancel also writes for Bloomberg Sports and Follow on twitter @TRancel

59 Responses to “Sun Will Come Out For Morrow”

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  1. Greg says:

    Wake me up when he learns to strand a runner. Until then, he’ll always be horrendously overrated by FIP.

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    • Everett says:

      Are you suggesting that there is some clearly distinguishable ability to strand runners?

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      • SC2GG says:

        I think he’s suggesting that people will respond to his troll.

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      • qudjy1 says:

        I think there is.

        Not speaking to Morrow specifically – but controlling running game, and any drop off in stuff when pitching from the stretch can contribute to “stranding runners”.

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      • Greg says:

        Are you suggesting that no one is able to strand runners better than anyone else? That is just foolish. Check out Johan Santana’s strand rate and Javier Vazquez’s strand rate and tell me that stranding runners is in no way at least partially skill.

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      • max says:

        Are you suggesting that there’s definitively not?

        Clearly most SP’s are more comfortable pitching from the windup, else they would go from the stretch with the bases empty. Maybe the difference in effectiveness is larger for some pitchers than others. Maybe Morrow is one of those guys. We don’t *know* that there is something wrong here, but I suspect that this is at least a factor and that strand rate is not completely random.

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      • Welp says:

        “Check out Johan Santana’s strand rate and Javier Vazquez’s strand rate and tell me that stranding runners is in no way at least partially skill.”

        Even if you somehow established that the skill existed you would be a mile away from developing the means by which to discern whether or not a particular pitcher had it. Show your work.

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      • Matthias says:

        I think the skills most associated with stranding runners are strikeout ability and reducing extra basehits. (These themselves are probably somewhat correlated). But Morrow has the strikeout ability that suggests a much better LOB%. I have a hard time believing that controlling the running game and a massive drop in “stuff” makes up a LOB% about 10-12% lower than we’d expect.

        Facing 279 batters with runners on base, Morrow has a 71K/23BB split (3.1). Facing 368 batters with no runners on, he has a 101K/34BB split (3.0). He has allowed 2.8% HR with runners on vs. 2.1% with the bases empty, but that is not significant at even the 10% level.

        The difference is in BABIP. With men on, it’s .349, but with the bases empty it’s .275. Generally babips are higher with runners on (probably because infields are brought in on occasion), but that much higher. So it comes down to what you believe. Is Morrow getting screwed by the babip gods, or is he putting fat pitches up there out of the stretch?

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      • Matthias says:

        *…but NOT that much higher…

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        It could be both, at different times.

        It’s doubtful that the BABIP difference is due to ground balls that get through because the middle infielders are playing double play depth or things of that nature. It’s possible, but that typre of extreme bad luck or circumstance should be our last resort answer.

        It’s also possible that he misses in the zone a little more with guys on.

        Another possibility is that withn the 350+ PAs with guys on base (versus the PA vs. no BRunners) that he has faced a better quality hitter. Not sure if I worded that clearly or not. Basically, I’m saying that it’s possible that the guys he’s facing with men on are better hitters (on average) than the guys that he’s facing without anyone on (more PAs vs. mid order hitters than in situations when the bases are empty). That may be completely false, but I’d want the data to tell me that.

        None of these individually likely accounts for such a desparity, but parts of each could easily sum up to a big difference.

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    • AK707 says:

      See: 70% career strand rate as proof that he “knows” how,(aka. has the same luck as everybody else) just hasn’t done it this year. Now go back to sleep.

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      • SOB says:

        But that 70% comes almost exclusively from his time as a reliever.

        As a starter he has posted strand rates of 67.7%, 78.6%, 69.0% and 64.4% for an overall of 68.5% over 374 IP. Compare that to 77.6% over 118 IP as a reliever

        As I had detailed in the ROY/Playingtime article (possibly inspiring this one), Morrow seems unable to get anyone out when there are men on. This years lines
        .208/.288/.314/.602 – Bases Empty
        .279/.344/.483/.828 – Runners On
        .308/.364/.546/.910 – RISP

        after last years line of
        .222/.325.338/.662 – Bases Empty
        .280/.351/.451/.802 – Men On
        .293/.372/.421/.793 – RISP

        And he now has a career line of
        .214/.312/.337/.649 – Empty
        .263/.352/.429/.781 – Men On
        .269/.367/.431/.798 – RISP

        with 4 of his 5 seasons showing the same pattern (only the 69 Innings in 2009 break it)

        He steadily gets easier to hit as the situation gets worse, and its a trend, not an outlier.

        He must have shortcomings/mechanical flaws in his stretch or he starts breaking down mentally after allowing men on. Either way, its not something which will just correct itself; he (and the Jays) are going to have to figure out why he falls apart in those situations.

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      • Robert says:

        Why would it make a difference to your strand rate if you’re a reliever or a starter? You’re pitching from the same stretch, yet you suggest mechanical flaws when he’s a starter, and apparently none as a reliever.

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      • SOB says:

        As a reliever you don’t have to worry about pitching the next inning, so you can completely let go on every single pitch if you think that’s your best bet. You’re also less likely to actually finish an inning where you allow men to get into scoring position. Plus, hitters haven’t seen you in multiple appearances, so they haven’t had time to get comfortable with you (he has seen sharp declines the more hitters see him in the game; with an OPS progression of 645 to 678 to 860 to 915)

        As a starter you must continue to pace yourself even after a simple lead-off double/triple in the second inning though, and you are unlikely to be pulled just because you allowed a runner past first.

        I personally think his issue has less to do with mechanics and more to do with mental issues though. If you look at his splits, he doesn’t implode after allowing a man on first. He becomes more likely to allow an XBH, but he doesn’t see the across the board huge inability difference he does after allowing a man on second or third. That leads me to believe its not necessarily a stretch issue as much as its a mental collapse thing – a problem which could be getting compounded with another issue he clearly has…

        Stamina. It should be noted, he doesn’t seem to have the best of stamina at all. He sports a .837 OPS after 75 pitches, and has been beyond horrific when starting on 4 days rest (31 starts, 171 IP, 1.48 WHIP, 5.74 ERA) yet a true ace when given an extended 6 or more days off (10 GS, 60 IP, 1.10 WHIP, 3.45 ERA).

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      • PIratesBreak500 says:

        SOB, I like the general idea of what you’re saying. But if the flaw was just mechanical, it wouldn’t matter where the men were on the bases, i.e. men on versus scoring position. If the stretch was that big of an issue versus the windup, the stat lines between men on and RISP should merge. Is there a mental issue? That’s long been debated, as has the efficacy of a wind-up versus stretch. But I’d also say that 68.5 career stand rate soesn’t seem to be particularly far from the general 70% rate.
        Also, don’t relievers tend to have higher strand rates? Intuitively that makes sense, as batters don’t have time to adjust, better matchups (if you’ve got a good manager), etc. I don’t think that his career reliever/starter strand rates are very different from the league average.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Also, as a reliever you’re often brought into situations where you have a platoon advantage, which is going to lead to higher strand rates.

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  2. Tim says:

    He’s a modern day AJ Burnett… Enough Said.

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    • Urethra says:

      AJ Burnett is the modern day AJ Burnett.

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    • SM Jenkins says:

      Exactly. Did Burnett retire suddenly?

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      • bc says:

        Even if he DID retire, AJ Burnett would still be the modern AJ Burnett, having played his entire career in “modernity”, i.e., after 1500. I submit Tim really meant Morrow is the modern day Avery Burnet, renaissance composer. Because Morrow’s plays as well as a firmly blown sackbut, which Burnet could really blow in his day.

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  3. max says:

    Good article, thank you for searching for an answer to the biggest ERA-FIP difference this year. Morrow has always been an interesting case, but I thought that it was always due to his high walk rate.However…

    2009: 5.68
    2010: 4.06
    2011: 3.45

    Yet he is still displaying an uninspiring ERA. Despite being a Seattle fan, I hope he breaks out next year. Watch the video of his near-no-hitter, there is some seriously nasty break on his slider there. He’s lowered the walk rate, at least for one season. If he can also improve his strand rate… watch out.

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  4. Josh says:

    fact: Morrow has not induced a double play this season

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    • Spiggy says:

      Ground ball double-play. I think he’s had a strikeout/caught stealing DP.

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    • Robert says:

      I think I read somewhere that if he finishes the season without inducing a double play it will set an all time record for most innings pitched without a double play.

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  5. GCM1979 says:

    Still learning how to pitch. Devastating stuff, but has been living off FB/SL combo trying to strike everyone out, and imploding when things don’t go his way.

    JPA caught him against Tampa when he got lit up recently, and I really liked how JPA caught him. Was really bringing out the Curve and Change into his arsenal more often. It was the righties that lit him up because he couldn’t locate his FB on the outside corner to them, rendering his slider useless and the Rays hitters sitting on inside fastball.

    If Morrow uses all 4 pitches more often, will definitely be an amazing sleeper for next season. The Morrow/Molina tandem seems to be on the outs, now that Molina is catching Alvarez.

    Morrow’s FB/SL combo is a great mix if you’re a closer. But he’s starting, needs all 4 pitches to be thrown with regularity.

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    • Steve says:

      Agreed. I’ve liked JP catching him alot better then Jose. JP for all pitchers seems to work in more off speed stuff, and with Morrow and how his slider and fastball are both so hard, as much as it pains me to say, Buck Martinez is right. There isn’t enough difference in velocity.

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    • Sniderlover says:

      JPA/Morrow only did that because he was getting lit up on his fastball and his velocity was down.

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  6. person says:

    a headline worthy of NotGraphs

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  7. Steve says:

    Morrow’s problem is he has one inning every game where his delivery just falls apart, allows 3 or 4 runs, then the other 5 or 6 innings are just lights out.

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  8. BMac says:

    Brandon Morrow has the unique distinction of throwing the most innings without a double play being turned behind him. See:

    This is in part luck, but there is definitely a skill factor; he does not hold on runners very well (16 SB/ 4 CS to date), he is not a groundball pitcher, and as a fan I would say he seems to unravel when there are baserunners.

    It seems his slider induces strike-outs, and not ground balls, at least not reliably. (It is interesting that someone mentioned Burnett, since he seemed to have the same problem as a Blue Jay. I always thought he would be in big trouble when the Ks started to fade. QED.)

    Morrow’s team-mate, Luis Perez, has a different kind of slider that reliably induces ground-outs, and he taught it to Henderson Alvarez, or at least that is what the radio broadcasters claim. (Alvarez suddenly became effective two starts ago, with many outs coming from a slider, so I tend to beleive this.) Maybe he can teach it to Morrow, tomorrow!

    As Rich Hardin so ably demonstrated yesterday, if you just want to get strike-outs, just throw it down the middle and get ’em (5 IP, 4 ER, 10 K.) It might not be the best pitching strategy for some pitchers, since hard contact will also result form this!

    I think Morrow will improve as a pitcher only when he develops a pitching repertoire that allows him to get a groundball when he is in a jam. It could be that he is demonstrating that, even with the relatively low walks and high strike-outs, there is another skill that perhaps FIP and xFIP do not measure, but could.

    If he does not do this, I would not anticipate that his ERA will come down at all.

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  9. benjipants says:

    His GB% is going the wrong way and his HR/FB is also going the wrong way. I could see him either becoming a lights out ace or totally falling apart with not much room in between. My money’s on falling apart, personally.

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  10. test says:

    Morrow’s fastball is generally effective up in the zone. He can’t spot it to a low corner at all. It’s a hard slider, so it’s not especially effective as a change of speed, Sliders are not good pitches when they are up in the zone, and to his credit Morrow manages to keep it down most of the time. But after watching him for the last two years though, it’s become apparent that hitters know a pitch that starts low is unlikely to be a good fastball, so they let it go. Weirdly, it seems as though he should be striking out more guys, although I know if he could suddenly command his fastball down in the zone, there would be more contact with it (although hopefully weaker contact).

    And he is clearly less effective from the stretch, as mentioned above. It might be fixable, but it has also been a problem for 300 Innings now. His delivery hides the ball quite a bit, so maybe the less deceptive motion from the stretch hurts him?

    Morrow needs to be able to spot his fastball down in the zone, and/or switch from using mainly a slider to mainly a curve, which gets more vertical break and is a better combo with a high fastball. His changeup needs to lose a few mph as well (7mph difference is borderline).

    Morrow hasn’t appeared to be especially unlucky this year. He’s “earned” his runs against. A few small improvements could suddenly lead to a massive step forward (in runs scored results, the one that matters), but that doesn’t mean he should expect things to change just on luck alone.

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  11. opisgod says:

    Morrow is basically the anti-Matt Cain. Right now his articles will be like this, but if he keeps this up for another 3 years, Fangraphs will use him as the poster child of why defense independent metrics give too much credit to the extreme end strikeout rates.

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  12. Josh A says:

    It seems Morrow has taken a rather significant step backwards this year, when it looked like he was ready to break out at the end of last season. He completely falls apart seemingly every game in the 2nd or 3rd inning and ends up giving up a bunch of runs. This is actually a case where I don’t think WAR tells the whole story. Morrow has 3.1 fWAR this year, compared to Ricky Romero, who is at 2.4. Some of this is luck related (Babip), but I don’t think you’d find a single person who would prefer to have Morrow on their team over Romero for the first 5 months of the year.

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  13. Baron Samedi says:

    Morrow has been as unlucky as Romero has been lucky. I would absolutely take 2011 Morrow over 2011 Romero if I were going to simulate 10,000 seasons.

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    • test says:

      You wouldn’t if the simulation included LOB%…but yeah, Romero has been lucky this year. His K% and BB% are exactly the same at 2010. Hope he knows he has to get better just to stay the same next year.

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    • Josh A says:

      Well perhaps if you were looking at simulations then yes, but if you’re looking at what has actually happened, and how much value each pitcher has provided to the Jays over the first 5 months, Romero has absolutely been more valuable.

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  14. michaelfranko says:

    Call me crazy, but I think it’s just plain inconsistency that bloats the stats…

    Morrow will strike out a dozen one start with a walk or two, and then all of the sudden fall on his face and have a 5IP, 4ER, 4BB, 5K start after. This is incredibly annoying statistically (and from scouting perspective as well), but, obviously, if he can magically start being consistently good, then he will be fine.

    I’m going to go with whoever said he’s the anti-Matt Cain.

    However, I do follow all of Morrow’s starts closely, because some nights he’s as good and dominant as Roger Clemens or Ben Sheets or Kerry Wood or whoever else you can name.

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  15. KKC says:

    “With a blazing fastball, a nasty slider, and excellent peripheral stats, Morrow should be regarded as one of the best young starters in the league.”

    If Morrow turns it around next year, people will turn around and point to this as being right, that his stats are an anomaly this year.

    Morrow is terrible with runners on. I wish I could find his BABIP with runners on; It probably would be extremely high. Not only does he lose deception out of the stretch, but also his location. He loves to groove fastballs down the middle.

    He has 1/5 years with an E.R.A. less than four. FIPx has him at three of five. His career E.R.A. is 50 points higher than his career FIPx. Obviously something isn’t being accounted for.

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    • SOB says:

      BAseball-Ref has it in the splits.

      For his career, he’s at .278 (Empty), .339 (Men On) and .345 (RISP) but its 270/350/390 and 312/385/420 the last two seasons.

      He also falls apart in the B-R “High/Med/Low Pressure” situations as well.

      Guy just cant pitch out of stretch and/or stay mentally stable with me on it seems…

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      • Pete says:

        Is there anywhere to find LD/GB/FB splits with runners in scoring position. I like the BABIP split on baseball reference but it’d be nice to support it alittle more if possible.

        Also on the same note, is there a website that allows users to split stats more than once? For example, I want to look at how a hitter faired against lefties in April vs. how he faired against them in May. I think this would be extremely valuable.

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      • SOB says:

        As do I, I just unfortunately have no idea where such sortable splits are located.

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  16. benjipants says:

    It’s interesting in some ways to compare Morrow to the brief kerfuffle about Greinke this summer where he was in full-on beast mode but was getting hit around like no tomorrow. It was variously attributed to bad luck, bad defense, his poor pitching with runners on, etc. He’s come around obviously, so DIPS would make us think Morrow would as well in a similar situation. But Morrow has no history of success like Greinke. He just has wicked peripherals.
    At what point is the sample size large enough to question whether Morrow’s peripherals will lead to success? Is there someone we can think of that’s similar to Morrow where he’s got good-to-great peripherals and never succeeded? Scherzer comes to mind as an interesting comp, but Scherzer’s K% is much lower.

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  17. sporkless says:

    He’s a bit of a puzzle. Watching him pitch regularly, he doesn’t LOOK like a guy that has really bad luck. He does struggle to control big innings. I know the stats say you should predict him to be good next year, but NEVER getting ground ball double plays really does kill you.

    The strand rate has got to come back to the norm a bit though doesn’t it? This year, it’s like he either gets a 1-2-3 inning or he’s in trouble.

    Maybe the numbers are simply telling us his delivery is more confortable and he can locate more effectively from the windup than the stretch. There’s gotta be a few guys like that, no?

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  18. Eric Cioe says:

    I keep reading that Morrow’s ERA is going to come around, but it never does. He seems like Javier Vazquez without Javier’s greatest asset, his durability.

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  19. bluejaysstatsgeek says:

    There was a similar discussion on BlueBurdBanter and I opined that he becomes his own worst enemy with runners on, similar to what GCM1979 said above. I think he simply loses his focus with ROB. Maybe he expects to be perfect and gets down on himself when he isn’t

    He has the potential to be an enormous talent, but I think the Jays need a sports psychologist to work him; they might turn a $3MM/yr player into a $15-20MM/yr player.

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  20. AustinRHL says:

    Well, obviously he’s going to be the worst pitcher in that group if you set the qualifications such that he barely meets them. How different would it look if you searched for seasons with a K/9 between 9 and 12, a BB/9 between 3 and 4, and a HR/9 rate between 0.75 and 1.25? Then you’d actually get a list of comparable pitchers.

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  21. CircleChange11 says:

    -1 to anyone that actually sang the title of the article.

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  22. Mike Green says:

    The header should be “Sun Will Come Out To Morrow”.

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  23. JayTeam says:

    This year Morrow’s GB rate with runners on 31% vs bases empty 37,8%.
    FB rate with runners on 48.3% vs bases empty 37.8%
    Similar, though not as dramatic numbers last year.
    This seems to me a case of a pitcher having trouble keeping the ball down when working out of the stretch.

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  24. Mylegacy says:

    JayTeam has it right on. I’ve seen every pitch Morrow has made this year. He simply cannot keep the ball down – especially when there are base runners. His high stuff is hard to hit – but when hit – pow.

    Just watch each of his pitches when there are base runners. Each pitch is OBVIOUSLY inferior with runners on base. Maybe he’ll learn the spectacular sink on Alvarez’s fastball – that is some sob of a pitch.

    Interestingly, speaking of ht Jay’s being better in 2012 – anyone see McGowan tonight against Boston? Dustin is so freakin’ close to being back to being Dustin. WOW. The additions of a full year of Alvarez and McGowan are going to seriously upgrade this teams starting pitching. Anyone mention The Japanese Persian Delight?

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  25. wobatus says:

    Morrow’s problem is that he believes his nerd-stats clippings and thinks all he has to do is tell the batters to go read about him on fangraphs and they’ll just go back to the dugout once they have scored their mandatory 3 runs per 9 off him.

    Ooops, 3.5 xFIP now that he got hammered by Boston yet again. ERA over 5. Get rid of Boston and it’d “only” be 4.3 or so. But his nerd stats still rock.

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  26. Anthony says:

    Why isn’t 2009 Jon Lester (203.1 IP, 10 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, .9 HR/9) on the list?

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