I’m not sure who we saw last year, but it sure-as-shootin’ wasn’t Brandon Morrow. Just 7.80 K/9 with a 2.96 BB/9? No, that’s not Morrow. That’s Ryan Dempster!
So what the heck happened? Well, he completely changed the way he approached batters. Prior to last year, Morrow pretty much did one of two things against opponents: rear back and try to throw his 94-mph four-seamer by batters or try to fool them with his plus slider. While Morrow’s slider rated as an above average pitch in both 2010 and 2011, his first two full-ish seasons), his four-seam fastball was slightly below average.
Intuitively, this isn’t surprising. When your out pitch is a darting 87-mph slider, that’s good, but when your other pitch is just seven mph faster and moves as much as Shonn Greene running up the middle, that’s bad.
Last year Morrow changed things up. He still used his four-seamer with almost the same frequency, but he dropped his slider usage and started mixing in the very occasional cut fastball and sinker while upping his change-up usage a tad. Balance is key for starting pitchers, and as a result Morrow saw improvement. His slider remained as effective as ever, but his fastball also became above average. And with a velocity almost 13 miles per hour less than his fastball, it’s not surprising that Morrow’s change-up was effective as well.
So gone are the days of Morrow trying to blow pitches by people. He’s evolving into a pitcher, and that probably means he won’t be the uber-elite strikeout pitcher we used to think of him as. Nowadays he’s more complete, and that makes him more valuable.
At a Glance
Strengths: L, K, K/9, ERA
Neutral: W, WHIP, BB, QS
Best-case scenario: Josh Johnson (TOR)
Likely scenario: Ryan Dempster (BOS), Lance Lynn (STL), Brett Anderson (OAK)
Worst-case scenario: Tommy Hanson (OAK)
Brandon Morrow 2013 Fantasy Projection
The intro section for this profile does a nice job of explaining why it would be foolhardy to simply expect Morrow to return to his previous strikeout dominance. He’s still the same guy with the same stuff that yielded those awesome strikeout rates, but I think the success he had last year will empower him to keep working on developing a full repertoire. While it’s possible the Ks do return in all their glory, I believe Morrow is truly a different pitcher now who views success on the mound a little differently.
That said, he was a little lucky last year. His .252 BABIP was unsustainably low, but regression back to our projection of .288 still leaves him with an OBA around .230. With an average-to-above average walk rate, that should result in a WHIP somewhere in the low 1.20s. Of course, there’s wiggle room on either side.
Health is what will make or break Morrow’s season, though. (We could probably say this about anyone, but I feel it’s especially true in Morrow’s case given how talented he is). With Toronto’s potent lineup, Morrow could win 15-18 games if he can stay healthy for 180-200 innings, but I don’t feel comfortable projecting that many wins from a pitcher who’s started 26 and 21 games in two of the last three years and who averages just six innings per start. For Morrow to hit 200 innings, he’d have to be healthy all year and average two extra outs per start. That’s far, far easier said than done.
But if you’re in a shallow league Morrow is someone that I’d be all-in on. When he does pitch he should be very useful, and if/when he does get hurt, you should probably be able to find a suitable replacement.