Morrow to Jays for League, Chavez

Mariners acquired OF Johermyn Chavez and RHP Brandon League from the Blue Jays for RHP Brandon Morrow.

Marc Hulet did a fantastic job giving us a breakdown of Chavez, a 20 year-old with a projectable 6-3, 200+ pound frame and power potential. The Venezuelan prospect has plenty to learn about controlling the strike zone, however. Johermyn, meet Greg Halman. Greg, Johermyn.

While Chavez could pay dividends for the Mariners down the line, let’s break down how Morrow and League are affected by this deal.

If someone publishes “Pitcher Development for Dummies,” there ought to be an entire chapter devoted to how Morrow was mishandled in his early days in Seattle.

The fireballing righty was taken 5th overall out of Cal in the 2006 amateur draft. In its prospect coverage, Baseball America dubbed Morrow “perhaps the best pure arm in the draft.” The lanky 6-3 pitcher sat in the mid-to-high 90′s with his fastball, flashing an occasionally plus slider and a passable changeup. However, BA also said that his secondary stuff “comes and goes,” and that “several scouts still question his feel for the strike zone and for pitching in general.”

So, what did the M’s do with their gifted-but-unpolished bonus baby? Jump him all the way to the majors after 16 innings in the minors, of course!

In 2007, Morrow was pigeonholed into Seattle’s bullpen. Unsurprisingly, he was as raw as uncooked hamburger meat. Instead of working on his breaking and off speed stuff in the minors, building arm strength and stamina, Morrow flung mid-90′s fastballs in the bigs, hoping to miss enough bats to compensate for a total lack of control.

He did whiff a lot of hitters, with 9.38 K/9. But Morrow walked an obscene 7.11 hitters per nine frames. His heater, thrown 80 percent of the time, was decent (+0.53 runs per 100 pitches). But Brandon made little progress with his secondary pitches (-2.37 for the slider, with a splitter/change that was about average).

Morrow spent most of 2008 as a reliever, before going to the minors to get stretched out and returning in September as a starter.

He whiffed 11.5 batters per nine frames in 36.2 relief innings, with improved control (3.68 BB/9). As a starter, Morrow posted rates of 9 K/9 and 6.11 BB/9 in 28 IP. Overall, his fastball (thrown 71 percent) was excellent (+1.59 runs/100). Morrow’s slider was still lackluster (-0.54), and his changeup/split was a little better than average (+0.34).

2009 was more of the same. To start, or not to start, that is the question. Hamle…er, Morrow oscillated between the ‘pen and the rotation yet again. He served as Seattle’s closer before David Aardsma grabbed the role. Brandon also served a DL stint with right biceps tendinitis in late April (he had some shoulder and forearm discomfort earlier in the spring as well). Morrow then made some starts from June to July, before getting optioned to AAA Tacoma.

In 10 starts (55 innings) with the Rainers, the former Golden Bear punched out a modest 6.5 hitters per nine innings, with 3.8 BB/9 and a 3.53 FIP. Morrow had more issues with a forearm strain while on the farm.

He returned to Seattle in September to make four more starts. As a starter in 2009, Morrow K’d 7.5 per nine frames, while still handing out plenty of free passes (5.26 BB/9).

Ironically, his slider (+0.64 runs/100), curveball (+0.5) and changeup (+0.18) rated as above-average pitches in ’09, while his heater suffered (-0.53).

Under team control until 2012, Morrow hopes to start with the Blue Jays. Because of the peculiar decision by Seattle’s last regime to stuff him in the bullpen and Morrow’s subsequent shuffling between roles, he’s now 25 and still green as grass.

Assuming Morrow still has minor league options left, might it be best for Toronto to give him back some of that lost development time by letting him open the 2010 season at AAA? Las Vegas isn’t an ideal locale for a pitcher to polish his skills. But Morrow tossed all of 101 frames in the minors, and has a career walk rate of 5.8 per nine innings in the majors. He’s clearly talented, but he’s also a mess right now. Morrow could also emerge as a closer option with the Jays.

In swapping Morrow for League, Seattle is either A.) fairly convinced that Morrow won’t cut it as a starter, B.) smitten with the young outfielder Chavez or C.) both.

That’s not to say that League is a slouch, though. The 27 year-old righty has a career 3.71 xFIP in the majors, waging a ground assault with a 62 GB%. Toronto’s second-round pick in the 2001 draft turned in his finest campaign in 2009, with 9.16 K/9, 2.53 BB/9 and a 3.16 xFIP in 74.2 innings.

League’s 2009 K rate was well above his career average of 6.85 per nine innings. He changed his approach this past year, however. The 6-2 reliever threw a blistering mid-90′s fastball well over 80 percent of the time from 2006-2008, mixing in some high-80′s sliders and a rare changeup.

In ’09, League lowered his fastball percentage to 65 percent, and basically scrapped the slider. He relied heavily upon his mid-80′s changeup, tossing the pitch nearly 33 percent of the time. While his heater wasn’t as successful as usual (-0.31 runs/100, compared to +0.24 during his career), Brandon’s hard changeup was a plus offering (+2.65 runs/100 in 2009).

The result of the change? A career-high outside-swing percentage (32.9 percent) and a big dip in contact rate (71 percent, compared to a 78.8% career average). The extra whiffs came at the expense of some grounders, though he still kept the ball down (55.7 GB%).

With a low arm slot and his previously fastball-centric approach, League has struggled with lefties. He still gave up his fair share of extra-base hits to southpaws in ’09, but he did at least display better control against opposite-handed hitters.

There has been some speculation that League could try his hand at starting, but he hasn’t started on a regular basis since 2003. In all likelihood, League gives the M’s a strong 7th or 8th inning relief option.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

4 Responses to “Morrow to Jays for League, Chavez”

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  1. Jimbo says:

    Seattle, for a long time, wouldn’t move any “big names” from their farm system. As many of those players flamed out, they were left without ML talent or depth in the system. (Figures the one guy they did move was Adam Jones…)

    Whether Morrow’s potential will ever be reached is an unknown, but at least they’re being aggressive. One alternative reason for the trade might be future salary concern. I don’t know the specifics of how ML players accumulate time and negotiating power, but as much as he’s had to “develop” at the highest level…perhaps they figure by the time he puts it all together they won’t get much of his valuable service on the cheap.

    In that event, why not swap a 2010 question mark for a bullpen arm (which he might have been anyhow) and a high-ceiling prospect?

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  2. Joey Walnuts says:

    Love this deal for the Jays. Love it. League has been frustrating us for years. He showed flashes last year, but we have plenty of BP arms who can step in and do the same thing he did (Roenicke, Frasor, Downs, Tallet, etc.)

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  3. Kyle says:

    So what is the expected Toronto rotation going to look like?

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  4. This really is exactly what I used to be seeking. Considerably appreciated.

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