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.

We hoped you liked reading Sun Will Come Out For Morrow by Tommy Rancel!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




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

newest oldest most voted
Greg
Guest
Greg

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

Everett
Guest
Everett

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

SC2GG
Guest

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

qudjy1
Guest

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”.

Greg
Guest
Greg

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.

max
Member
max

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.

Welp
Guest
Welp

“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.

Matthias
Guest

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?

Matthias
Guest

*…but NOT that much higher…

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

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.

AK707
Member
AK707

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.

SOB
Guest
SOB

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.

Robert
Guest
Robert

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.

SOB
Guest
SOB

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).

PIratesBreak500
Guest
PIratesBreak500

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.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

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.