By Kyle Johansen
After a 17-strikeout performance last August helped propel Brandon Morrow to the fantasy forefront, the former 5th overall pick appeared to be a prime breakout candidate for 2011. Morrow instead has completely underwhelmed as he opened the season on the DL before proceeding to torpedo owner’s rate stats with a 5.63 ERA to go along with a 1.49 WHIP midway through June.
Despite those bloated statistics, Morrow continues to blow hitters away. After leading the league in K/9 last year, Morrow is again proving that he is still the number one source of strikeouts in baseball. His rate of 10.93 K/9 is comfortably ahead of Matt Garza (10.28), Cliff Lee (10.14) and Clayton Kershaw (10.01). Predictably, control has always held Morrow back and his 4.14 BB/9 this year is just worse than last year’s rate of 4.06.
While his control leaves something to be desired, Morrow has shown an ability to cut his walks incrementally in the past. In the second half last year Morrow was able to lower his walk rate by half a walk from 4.23 to 3.72 and posted a reasonable 3.76 in 2009 at Triple-A, so there is precedent for a gradual improvement in this area.
Despite the awful results, according to his 2.55 FIP, Morrow has pitched like an ace. Of pitchers with 50 or more innings this season, Morrow far and away has the largest gap between his ERA and his FIP, an unreal difference of 3.08 runs. Next on the list is Brad Bergeson at 1.59 runs, followed by Matt Garza (1.55) and Daniel Hudson (1.24). Only four pitchers in baseball have posted a better FIP than Morrow; Roy Halladay at 2.11, Matt Garza at 2.30, Cole Hamels at 2.33 and Dan Haren at 2.51.
The stat that is glaringly out of place when you look at Morrow is a strand rate of just 60.3%, which appears even lower given his strikeout ability. Fueling his bad luck with runners on base is a .358 BABIP, which seems destined to decrease dramatically, although Morrow did post a similar BABIP of .342 a season ago.
The only red flags that can be found in Morrow’s numbers is a very low ground ball rate of just 27.2%, down from 40.4% a year ago, and an unsustainable HR/FB rate of 2.7%. Due to the depressed home run rate, Morrow’s xFIP sits at a modest 3.61, which is still over two runs below his current ERA. With his ground ball rate regressing to the mean, home runs allowed should continue to be a non-issue for Morrow who has posted a 0.33 HR/9 after a similarly impressive rate of 0.68 last year
While Morrow is not likely to post an ERA near his 2.55 FIP from here on out, if he can be acquired at any kind of a discount there is plenty of value to be gained. Morrow is showing that he is the elite source of strikeouts in the majors right now, and his rate stats should soon follow suit.
What are your thoughts of Morrow? Do you think he could be a useful option from here on out? Why or why not?