The Toronto Blue Jays shut Brandon Morrow down after Friday’s start due to the number of innings he had thrown. While his season didn’t end on the brightest note (3.0 IP, 5 ER, 6 H, 3 BB, 4 K), he leaves behind a stat line that shows off all the promise we’ve heard so much about:
178 Strikeouts (10.95 K/9)
66 Walks (4.06 BB/9)
You can see right off the bat that his ERA and WHIP were both affected by poor luck. The BABIP is clearly inflated, while his strand rate was also relatively unlucky at 69.0%. There are less then 30 pitchers who qualify for the ERA title who have posted a strand rate below 70% at this point, so while it isn’t incredibly unlucky, he was in the minority there.
You would think that those two numbers would make me overwhelmingly favorable when it comes to Morrow moving forward and to an extent I am. Unfortunately, you can’t consider those two marks independent of his other numbers.
Control has always been a question, with a minor league BB/9 of 4.4. It’s something that has to be kept in mind, because it is going to keep him from being a big contributor in the WHIP department. It is possible that he is improving, when you couple this year’s mark to last year’s 3.8 at Triple-A. However, the latter was over just 55.0 innings (10 starts) as he was being stretched out to return to the rotation. It’s hard to put much stock in it.
You also have to wonder if he will be able to post this type of huge strikeout rate. He’s always had strikeout potential, but in the minor leagues he was at just 8.1 K/9. Granted, he did not spend much time there (101.2 innings), and half of that was last season (6.5 K/9).
Still, maintaining a near 11 strikeout per nine inning pace is hard to imagine. Since 2005 there have been only two pitchers (who qualified for the ERA title) to finish with a K/9 of 10.5 or better:
- Erik Bedard had a 10.9 K/9 in 2007
- Tim Lincecum had a 10.5 K/9 in 2008
That’s it. When you look at it in that perspective, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him regress closer to 10, if not slightly below it. He’s still likely to be among of the elite strikeout pitchers in the game, but it’s almost impossible to see him maintain this year’s mark.
A decrease in strikeouts is going to lead to a regression in WHIP, because there are going to be even more balls put into play.
The other thing to consider is the division he plays in. Just look at how he fared against the AL East in 2009:
- Baltimore Orioles – 2-0, 4.50 ERA, 19 K in 18.0 IP
- Boston Red Sox – 0-1, 15.88 ERA, 8 K in 5.2 IP
- New York Yankees – 1-1, 5.93 ERA, 40 K in 27.1 IP
- Tampa Bay Rays – 2-1, 1.23 ERA, 26 K in 22.0 IP
Outside of Tampa Bay, there are legitimate concerns with his performances. Obviously, they are small sample sizes, but they are worrisome nonetheless. We all know the AL East is going to remain among the toughest divisions in the game, so seeing him struggle there will certainly reflect against his overall numbers.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at an extremely early 2011 projection for him (this will likely be amended as the offseason progresses and more things become clear):
180.0 IP, 14 W, 3.95 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 190 K (9.50 K/9), 78 BB (3.90 BB/9)
Those are certainly impressive numbers and ones that any owner should want to have. The strikeouts alone make him extremely usable, but be cautious. The ERA and WHIP could really go either way. The numbers above are based on a BABIP of .310, but if he struggles there again, the numbers will inflate.
I’m also banking on another slight improvement in his control. If he regresses there, all bets are off.
Like I’ve said, I think he certainly is keeper worthy, depending on your league rules, as he has emerged as a pitcher with tremendous potential. If he pitched anywhere but the AL East he’d be a no-brainer, but unfortunately we can’t have everything.
Make sure to check out our extremely early 2011 rankings: