Morrow As A Starter

Dave · August 6, 2008 at 8:55 am · Filed Under Mariners 

So, now that the M’s have decided to stretch Morrow out and turn him back into a starter, it’s time to look at what we should expect to see when he gets back to Seattle and joins the rotation. Pitching out of the bullpen is totally different than starting, so it’s not quite as easy as just taking his relief performance and extrapolating that over six or seven innings of work. He’s going to have to pitch differently, and that will have an effect on his results.

First, off, the fastball velocity is going to go down. Right now, his average fastball is 96.3 MPH, but he’s able to throw max effort on every pitch without worrying about stamina. As a starter, he’s going to have to pace himself. Most hard throwers like Morrow lose between 1-3 MPH off their average fastball when they move to the rotation, so Morrow’s going to have to adjust to throwing a 93-95 fastball instead of a 95-97 MPH fastball. As a guy who pitches up in the zone, that extra velocity can make a difference, and he’ll have to realize that trying to blow everyone away with a four seam high fastball isn’t going to work.

Secondly, he’s going to have to reduce the amount of fastballs he throws in general. Right now, about 76% of all of his pitches are fastballs, and that’s just too high. The starters who throw that many fastballs are all sinker ball types (or Vincente Padilla, but he’s not the role model we’re looking for), and since Morrow’s fastball produces flyballs, he’s going to have to reduce the number he throws. This will be especially true against left-handers, where his change up will become a necessary pitch. Fastball/slider pitchers tend to really struggle against lefties, because both pitches move in on LHBs. To get them out with consistency, he’s going to have to trust his change-up and use it far more frequently.

Finally, he’s going to have to improve his command. It’s gotten significantly better than it was last year, but it’s still not good – he throws strikes about as often as Felix does, and I think we all have yelled at Felix to throw more strikes at some point or another. He won’t get the groundballs that Felix does, so that means fewer double plays, and the walks will be more of a problem. His command should improve some just by nature of not throwing as hard, but there needs to be improvement beyond that incremental step forward. Four seam fastball guys with bad command don’t generally become aces.

If he can make these adjustments, he should be able to be a solid #2 or #3 starter. His upside in the rotation is probably along the lines of Matt Cain. Certainly, the M’s have to hope that’s what he turns into, and if he reaches that potential, he’ll have quite a bit more value than he did as a late inning reliever. However, there are risks.

Injuries are obviously a concern. Morrow’s never handled any kind of real workload in his life, and they’re going to have to be very careful to not try and put too many innings on his arm too quickly. Realistically, he probably shouldn’t be allowed to throw more than 50-60 innings or so the rest of the year. If you assume he burns through 15 of those in Tacoma getting stretched out, that only leaves about 3-5 starts in Seattle before the best course of action is to just shut him down.

Bullpen to rotation conversions can work. Chad Billingsley, Adam Wainwright, Kelvim Escobar, Zach Greinke, and Joba Chamberlain all made the move successfully, but they all had significant minor league experience as starters. Morrow may take a little longer to know how to get batters out for six and seven inning stretches, and his arm isn’t as tested over full season of starting as the others were.

Patience and risk management will be key here. Don’t expect Morrow to come up and dominate. There’s a learning curve, but it’s one that the organization will be better off for having him go through.


68 Responses to “Morrow As A Starter”

  1. cody on August 6th, 2008 12:47 pm

    Pitching in the majors does require more effort than pitching in the minors. The hitters are tougher and there is no one that is a gaurunteed out. Unlike the Deadball era, anyone can go deep nowadays. Even the now departed Jose Vidro. You just have to throw harder to get through games. Couple that with the fact that Morrow might try to go out there and throw like Sidd Fynch and the injury risk goes up. The best thing to do might be to stretch him out down in Tacoma, have him start down in Venezuela in a winter league, and then stick him out as an MLB starter next year.

  2. Jeff Nye on August 6th, 2008 12:51 pm

    The problem with the relief ace concept is that most teams refuse to use it. So even if Morrow developed into a relief ace, he’d be wasting away pitching with with a 3 run lead in the 9th inning.

    The fact that most teams are stupid about how they use relief aces doesn’t invalidate the concept.

  3. Joe C on August 6th, 2008 12:53 pm

    I think that the Mariners would be nuts to send Morrow to Venezuela for the second winter in a row.

  4. pgreyy on August 6th, 2008 1:03 pm

    Coach Mel said last night that the most that Brandon had pitched in any game this season was 30 pitches…so, 35 pitches is the beginning of a nicely drawn out stretch.

    Next time out is supposed to be 45, if I remember correctly.

    (And I note with some irony that the same post that suggested that there wouldn’t be much difference between the pressure of a late season major league start for Morrow versus keeping him in AAA, also said that the reason for those late season major league starts would be “to see what he’s got”–which, to me, is the very definition of a pressure situation.)

  5. Mike Snow on August 6th, 2008 1:05 pm

    I think that the Mariners would be nuts to send Morrow to Venezuela for the second winter in a row.

    It looks like they plan not to, that’s a big part of why they’re moving on this now.

  6. Robo Ape on August 6th, 2008 1:10 pm

    #47: I agree that the results don’t matter, but what I meant is that everyone (including Brandon) can get a better idea of what off-season adjustments he needs to make to become an affective starter. For example, he might throw two awesome innings then see his fastball drop three MPH and his slider lose all bite; okay, he clearly has some stamina issues to work on. On the other hand, he might cruise through six innings with his fastball around 95 the whole time but without working in the changeup at all (as he’s ought to do now); okay, stamina seems fine, but he’s got to improve pitch selection. Once he’s worked his way into starting shape, I say give him the ball, let’s see how he does.

    I understand that the Big Leagues are higher stress than the minors and that the outs are more difficult and a pitcher might be more likely to over-exert himself, but what I seem to be hearing from all of you is that it is an unacceptable risk to have Brandon Morrow start two meaningless end-of-season games as a Mariner.

    I’m curious to know, then, what is the exact number of AAA starts a pitcher should have to make him “ready” to pitch in the Big Leagues?

  7. Go Felix on August 6th, 2008 1:19 pm

    Robo Ape:

    I don’t think there is or should be a defined number of starts when a pitcher should be determined to be ready. Hell, Tim Lincecum was ready to pitch straight out of college. He mad 24 starts in 2007 and in 2008 he is dominating. Joba Chamberlain was ready this year after being sent down this year and made 12 starts. What results does a team want out of each player. I think Lincecum was a natural starter and just chucks the ball. Joba has shoulder issues and was injury prone at Nebraska. Joba and Lincecum are different styles of pitcher completely.

    Morrow is also a one off situation. 25 starts or 50 before he is ready? Not my choice. Having the stamina, mechanics, and effective pitches to go every five days and pitch 175-200 innings in a season? That’s the goal.

  8. Nick on August 6th, 2008 1:32 pm

    Speaking of relief pitchers . . . is there any news on Josh Fields?

  9. Robo Ape on August 6th, 2008 1:34 pm

    I’m starting to feel like my motivations for posting are getting convoluted and, to prevent this from getting too off-topic, I’ll just say what I meant at first:

    Fundamentally, all I am saying is that I don’t believe there is really that significant a risk in having him start a game or two in the Big Leagues once he’s done his work in AAA. I also happen to believe that getting Big League starting experience will likely be very good for him; I believe that in this case the benefits far outweigh the risks.

  10. mrg on August 6th, 2008 2:03 pm

    I hear he may not be ready to sign yet. Plus, his agent is Scott Boras, so that could be trouble.

  11. notanangrygradstudent on August 6th, 2008 2:26 pm

    FWIW, I agree with Robo Ape.

    Pitching at AAA is different from pitching in the Majors, so give him a couple of ML starts just to get his feet wet and see what he needs to work on (if anything). The caveat is that before doing this, the management should pull him aside and tell him up front, “Kid, we don’t care how this goes. This is spring training for you. We aren’t sending you down or giving up on you if you give up 11 runs and don’t make it out of the third inning. Just do your best, and we’ll come back and talk about how to make you better.”

  12. msb on August 6th, 2008 4:30 pm

    I hear he may not be ready to sign yet. Plus, his agent is Scott Boras, so that could be trouble.

    Churchill was thinking it might be nice if he failed to sign, and the Ms got the compensatory draft pick for next years deeper draft

  13. windwardtrades on August 6th, 2008 7:36 pm

    Tim Linescum

    Just contemplate if the Mariners braintrust had made the right draft choice, they would never had made the Bedard trade. This team might be 20 games better at this point, and have a young nucleus instead of this sorryass group. I’ve lost all interest and did so some time ago. They are the laughing stock of MLB. The FO couldn’t manage a little league team.

    Tim Linsecum

    It was so set up. Everybody could see it. It was a natural for Tim to pitch here. It was karma.

    Tim Linsecum

    The Mariners should resign from the American League and disband. I’d bet our esteemed management team wouldn’t be working in baseball anytime soon. Neither would most of the players.

    The day they passed on Tim Linsecum is the day this franchise regressed into the black hole.

  14. msb on August 6th, 2008 7:46 pm

    that would be Tim Lincecum?

  15. Dave on August 6th, 2008 9:48 pm

    There’s this thing called credibility. When you say a player’s name four times in a post to try to emphasize how obvious it was that this guy was going to be a star, and you spell his name correctly zero times, you lose all credibility.

    The Tim Lincecum fanboys are right there with Red Sox fans and A’s fans as the most annoying people on the internet.

  16. Graham on August 6th, 2008 9:55 pm

    You forgot Angels fans, Dave.

  17. Jeff Nye on August 6th, 2008 9:58 pm

    Why, with all the other stupid moves this franchise has made in recent years, would you pick them taking Lincecum over Morrow as the thing to get mad about?

    It is way, way too soon to evaluate who is going to end up having the better career.

  18. pjs24 on August 7th, 2008 5:26 am

    Chad Billingsley, Adam Wainwright, Kelvim Escobar, Zach Greinke, and Joba Chamberlain

    Not the best group to compare the experiment to considering three are hurt, the others was actually a starter from the outset (Greinke & Bills), but especially since you left out the posterboy for it, Johan Santana.

    I actually have no problem with the reliever-to-starter maturation process.

    I thought you didn’t help your case by mentioning that group *without* including Johan. Liriano obviously got hurt, too, but he could be thrown into the group.

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