by Ray Kuhn
At this point in the draft preparation process, it is still way too early to try and figure out who the 30 closers will be when the season starts at the end of March. For most teams there will be several players filling that role throughout the season and you certainly won’t end the season with the same closers you began with.
So what should we be doing in December and January?
The easy answer is to look at relievers based on their skill set and evaluate them that way. This brings us to the Chicago Cubs’ new addition in Brandon Morrow. Currently Morrow’s role for Chicago next season is unclear but based on their financial commitment, over $20 million for two seasons, we know he will have a vital role in the late innings.
While there are still too many questions be to answered about whether Morrow will start the season as the closer, we can say with almost certainty that he could hold that role at least at some point in 2018. So what can we expect from the right-hander?
The main thing for Morrow last season is that he was healthy. Talent and stuff has never been an issue, but staying on the mound has proven to be close to impossible. Last season he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen, and his 43.2 innings were his most since he pitched 54.1 innings in 2013. From 2014-2016 he averaged just 27 innings per year.
After being a starting pitcher earlier in his career, he had success with Toronto from 2011 to 2013, Morrow is now embarking on the second act of his career. Based on what we saw last season, good things are to be expected.
Last season we saw the highest velocity of Morrow’s career, averaging 97.7 miles per hour as compared to his career average of 94.1. The spike in velocity was noted across the board as he also gained roughly three miles per hour on his cutter. The cutter is a pitch Morrow introduced in 2016, when he threw it 23.7% of the time with an average velocity of 89.5 mph (compared to his fastball at 94.2 mph). It is clear that the cutter has done wonders for Morrow.
He recorded a swinging strike rate of 17% last season which was also a career high. In fact, it wasn’t even close as over the past four years Morrow averaged a rate of between nine and 11 percent. Additionally he is doing a better job of attacking hitters, as he recorded a 69% first pitch strike rate in 2017. That is far cry from the 53% rate we have seen from the right-hander over the past four seasons.
Over the past five seasons, we don’t have much of a track record for Morrow, but he has shown the ability to be a successful pitcher when healthy. The move to the bullpen has appeared to agree with him and I would look for more of the same next season from the right-hander. His true value will depend on that dreaded role, but he is worth an investment on draft day regardless based on his skill and the possibility for saves.
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Projections: