Brandon Morrow: One of a Kind

Brandon Morrow has always been an enigma to me. He has great stuff, but just can seem to put it all together for one good season. I am going to try to look at similar pitchers from the recent past to see if there is any hope of him breaking out.

Since the right-handed pitcher broke into the league with Seattle in 2007, here is where he ranks among the 156 starting pitchers with 400 or more innings.

K/9: 1st (10.0 K/9)
BB/9: 149th (4.5 BB/9)
% of PA that end in a BB or K: 1st (37.3%)

Brandon is a true outcome pitcher with most at bats ending up as either a walk or a strikeout. Besides being a true outcome pitcher, his career ERA has been significantly worse than his ERA predictors:

ERA: 4.37
FIP: 3.85
xFIP: 3.94
SIERA: 3.71

Of the same 156 pitchers looked at earlier, his 0.51 ERA–FIP is the 14th highest. With such extreme numbers, it is tough to find comparable pitchers, but I will give it a shot.

I have a program that takes a players Marcel Projection for a given year and then finds how players performed with similar projections. While Marcels is not perfect, especially with young players, it is available for players going back to 1901.

To begin with, here are Morrow’s 2012 Marcel projections for reference:
Age: 27
K/9: 9.6
BB/9: 3.6
HR/9: 1.0
ERA: 4.25
IP 161

I looked for pitchers since 1990 were generally similar to Morrow. I didn’t care too much about the IP, so I used an IP range of 101 to 221. Also, I looked for pitchers that were only 2 years older or younger than him. I started with the following ranges on the rest of the stats:

K/9: +/- 0.5 (9.6)
BB/9: +/- 0.5 (3.6)
HR/9: +/- 1.0 (1.0)
ERA: +/- 0.5 (4.25)

With those settings, I ended up with on player projected to be similar, Brandon Morrow‘s 2011 projection. He is one of kind. I expanded the settings a bit:

K/9: 9+/- 0.75 (9.6)
BB/9: +/- 0.75 (3.6)
HR/9: +/- 1.0 (1.0)
ERA: +/- 0.75 (4.25)

Besides Morrow, I ended up with 7 other pitcher seasons:

Kerry Wood (2003, 2004, 2005)
Jonathan Sanchez (2011)
Erik Bedard (2008)
Hideo Nomo (1998)
Mark Prior (2006)

Not a ton of players, but they should keep a trainer busy. Alright, one more try. I will give ERA a huge range and tighten up the walks and strikeouts:

K/9: 9+/- 0.5 (9.6)
BB/9: +/- 0.5 (3.6)
HR/9: +/- 1.0 (1.0)
ERA: +/- 2.00 (4.25)

Kerry Wood (2004, 2005)
Hideo Nomo (1996, 1997, 1998)
Rich Harden (2009)
Brandon Morrow (2011)

Two pitchers keep showing as being similar, Hideo Nomo and Kerry Wood. Both of these two pitchers have K/9 rates in near 10.0 and BB/9 near 4.0. Neither of these 2 had the large difference between their career ERA and FIP as seen here:

Name, ERA, FIP
Nomo, 4.24, 4.23
Wood, 3.64, 3.81

Nomo’s ERA and FIP are closer to Morrow’s ERA and Wood’s ERA and FIP are closer to Morrow’ FIP.

Any kind of similarities can’t be drawn from just 2 pitchers. The High K-BB-ERA club is exclusive.

I looked at expanding the stat ranges some more (1.0 for K, W and ERA) and ended up with too many non-similar players. One projection that showed up was Justin Verlander‘s 2011 season. Verlander was projected to have the following stats: 3.47 ERA, 8.7 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. Verlander and Morrow are just not similar enough in my opinion.

With all that said, Morrow is a very unique pitcher. The combination of a high ERA, walk rate and strikeout rate make finding similar pitchers almost impossible. Draft him with the knowledge that he will have a high number of strikeouts and that is it. Maybe be can get the walks under control and the rest of his stats will follow. Just maybe.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

24 Responses to “Brandon Morrow: One of a Kind”

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  1. attgig says:

    so, the takeaway from the article is your first sentence then?

    You could’ve just said:
    Brandon Morrow has always been an enigma to me

    Nothing’s changed about Brandon Morrow, he’s still an enigma.

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  2. BombasticDave says:

    Conclusion: Brandon Morrow is a pitcher.

    +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. sanderson13 says:

    How worried should I be about Upton heading into my draft?

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  4. mcbrown says:

    I would suggest searching for comps using K% and BB% rather than K/9 and BB/9. If you accept the possibility that there is nothing “wrong” with Morrow and that his future performance should revert towards expectations as measured by FIP, xFIP and SIERA, then it is likewise possible that his K/9 and BB/9 are inflated by the “extra” batters he has been facing due to luck/gremlins/etc.

    In other words, using K/9 and BB/9 may assume the conclusion that he is uniquely bad in terms of underperforming ERA estimators.

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    • mcbrown says:

      (this applies to HR/9 as well, and may well apply to ERA if Marcel’s ERA projections are based on past ERA rather than past FIP.)

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  5. Ralph says:

    Morrow’s problems stem from having the third-worst strand rate in the league last year, as other articles on this site have pointed out. He actually had a pretty decent walk rate and WHIP last year.

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    • Colin says:

      If I’m not mistaken, does Morrow not have one of the worst career strand rates? I thought there was an article about his problem being specific to pitching from the stretch.

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      • Ben says:

        sounds like Javier Vazquez, a guy whose “skill” stats always way overperformed his ERA because he fell apart once someone got on base.

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      • Mike D says:

        Disagree with the comparisons for Vazquez and J Sanchez. Vazquez always struck out 15% fewer and had many less BBs per nine. Sanchez avg. significantly more BBs per nine when you compare the starter numbers of Morrow with Jays. That doesn’t even take into account his park makes him less likely to give up walks since the HR is harder to give up in SF. As others have suggested (via articles) Morrow is likely a regression to the mean candidate who may slightly underperform his FIP, but not to the degree he has these last 2 years. the LOB% and BABIP in 11 and 10 respectively are probably unsustainable culprits. Ricky Nolasco is the comparison you want to make if you are suggested his FIP-ERA difficulties will remain consistent.

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  6. Urban Shocker says:

    I’m surprised Oliver Perez didn’t show up on that list.

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  7. nomaaa says:

    Ground Balls don’t go for doubles or HR very often, guys like morrow hughes j. vazquez, dice K. will fall into this issue pineada is going to probably have the same kind of year going to yankees stadium. you combine that with the walks and it will be very hard to keep the era low.

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  8. papasmurf says:

    It’s not just control, it’s command. Rather than dismissing his high ERA as “bad luck,” I attribute it to the inability to consistently locate where he wants to. This means not just cutting down walks, but commanding his pitches within the strike zone.

    All it takes is a couple of walks followed by a mistake in the middle of the plate to spoil an otherwise top notch performance.

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  9. Ben says:

    Am I the only one who was troubled by this?

    “% of PA that end in a BB or K: 1st (37.3%)
    Brandon is a true outcome pitcher with MOST at bats ending up as either a walk or a strikeout.”

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  10. R M says:

    Mark Prior….that’s a blast from the past.

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  11. Bob B. says:

    I just had to say
    The young Witt was a pretty insane pitcher.

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  12. samuelraphael says:

    I think Morrow would benefit from a change of scenery to SF, OAK, SEA, SD, where he has a cavernous park.

    J. Sanchez is a good comparison.

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  13. AJ says:

    If you want to know why Morrow’s ERA is always worse than his indicators, look no further than his consistently terrible strand rate. Most people think that strand rate always regresses toward the mean, but not if a player’s approach changes substantially when men are on base (i.e. from the stretch). Because Morrow’s strand rate has been consistently terrible, it’s fair to assume that he sucks at pitching from the stretch. Mystery solved.

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    • Simon says:

      Except that much of the discrepancy between his ERA and FIP in 2010 was caused by a .342 BABIP, and his strand rate was only marginally worse than league average. Before 2010, his strand rate was pretty good actually. It’s only last year that it was awful.

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  14. Kris says:

    I’m just going to spitball from memory: Morrow’s problems seem to arise from his desire to induce a ground ball combined with his inability to throw something that’ll achieve that desired outcome. He dramatically improved against lefties last year on the surface, at least in terms of K/BB, AVG, etc. But, something leads me to believe that giving up a sizeable LD-Rate on BIP isn’t exactly the recipe for success. I believe his BABIP skyrockets once men get on base and his batted ball profile changes somewhat. With all of that said, I think that’s why I came to the conclusion that Morrow adding a cutter was a brilliant idea. I’d be interested to see heat-maps of what Morrow throws with men on base versus bases empty to maybe lend some credence to the idea. Again, just spitballin’ so feel free to pick it apart.

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  15. TWu says:

    Morrow isn’t unlucky as his ERA-FIP history suggests, he has so far in his 2 seasons as a starter shown the same trend that leads to a similar conclusion. He has issues pitching out of the stretch as he tends to leave balls up in the zone a lot with runners on base, I believe this is something the organization has also noticed as John Farrell mentioned this passing by in one of his interviews this spring and indicated it was a mechanical adjustment they were making.

    We shall see if this trend continues or not this season, if he can truly fix this I think we’ll see him progress into an upper tier starter, otherwise we’ll continue to see a large difference in ERA-FIP for him as he’s lights out with no runners on base.

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  16. balticfox1917 says:

    Brandon Morrow has admitted that starting last August and particularly in Sept. he started incorporating a cutter into his repertoire.
    It doesn’t show in Pitch f/x data because apparently the program still has problems distinguishing a cutter from a slider.
    In any event, he had a couple of outstanding starts in Sept. vs. the Yankees and the Rays while he was messing around with his new-found pitch.
    The purpose of a cutter is to induce more groundballs. If Morrow masters this pitch, it is reasonable to assume that his strand% will improve greatly, as ground balls=more double plays, unless you’re truly unlucky.

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  17. JCintron says:

    What about him getting like 1 or 2 double plays last year. How many times has a pitcher gone more than 160 innings without getting more than 5. How does that play into to some of these numbers?

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