Brandon Morrow: Bringing the Heat, Not the Innings
Strikeouts and velocity are two things that have never really been a problem for Brandon Morrow. Over the course of his career, he’s averaged 9.4 strikeouts per 9 innings and posted an average fastball velocity of 94 miles per hour. Impressive to say the least.
But one thing that has been a problem for Brandon Morrow? Racking up innings.
It really should come as no surprise that these problems are plaguing Brandon Morrow once again, and yet for some reason … it is. The Blue Jays need Brandon Morrow is eat up innings, and he has yet to pitch into the seventh inning this season.
As it currently stands, Brandon Morrow currently owns the fourth fastest average fastball velocity in the American League at 93.6 MPH. In his first four starts of the season, Morrow has averaged 95, 96, 93 and 94 miles per hour on his fastball.
So velocity is not an issue with Brandon Morrow. Control however, is an issue. On that same token, here are Brandon Morrow’s pitch counts from his first four starts: 87, 86, 98 and 95. And his innings pitched? 5 innings, 6 innings, 3.2 innings and 5 innings.
Drew and Stoeten touched on this during yesterday’s DJF podcast, but if it were as simple as throwing fastballs all the time, Brandon Morrow would just blow four-seamers past everyone. For whatever reason, he just hasn’t been able to locate that pitch.
It’s easy to became enamoured with a guy who still hits 98-99 MPH on the radar gun (see Jeremy Jeffress), but Morrow can’t control his fastball or get batters to chase it outside the strike zone, what’s the point?
Gregg Zaun spoke about this on Sportsnet, but he believes the reason why Brandon Morrow isn’t going deep into games is because he’s throwing the kitchen sink at every batter. Meaning, opposing hitters are seeing three and four different kinds of pitches per at bat.
Not only is this increasing Morrow’s pitch count, but it’s also allowing hitters to make adjustments on the fly and adapt in their subsequent at bats. There may be some validity in Zaun’s theory, as it would explain why Morrow has no trouble the first time through the order, only to find out the opposing team has caught on by the time the lineup turns over.
For the most part, this is the way Brandon Morrow has always been.
There was a brief period there in 2012 when he sort of took a step back and evolved into a “pitch to contact guy”, but since then Brandon Morrow has reverted back into his previous strikeout-focused self.
When you’re a strikeout pitcher like Morrow, it’s going to lead to
increased pitch counts. Even if a pitcher struck out 27 batters on
nothing but strikes, hit pitch count would still be 81.
The way things are trending, I don’t know if we’ll see Brandon Morrow pitch deep into games anymore. In 2011, Morrow peaked at 6.0 IP per start, and it’s been trending downwards ever since (mind you he was hurt in 2012 and 2013).
Morrow has thrown 100 or more pitches in only 14 games the past three years combined. That’s not even half of the 35 starts he’s made since the beginning of the 2012 season.
For the sake of comparison, Mark Buehrle had 20 starts where he tossed 100 pitches 20 times last year alone.
At no point has Brandon Morrow really garnered a reputation as a pitcher who has the ability to pitch deep into games. Aside from that great pre All-Star break run before his abdominal injury in 2012, five and six innings a start were pretty much the norm.
I believe the whole issue with Brandon Morrow is expectations. Firstly, because the Blue Jays didn’t go out and bolster the starting rotation, they were inherently forced to rely on Morrow’s contributions that much more.
And secondly, Brandon Morrow’s first half of 2012 has been used as the measuring stick for his potential for years. People thought that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Morrow, but perhaps it was just his peak instead.
Morrow had three complete game shutouts within the span of seven starts in May/June of 2012, arguably the best stretch of his career. But here’s the thing; that was almost two years ago and he has not recaptured that magic since.
Don’t get me wrong; Brandon Morrow has a great deal of promise and could very well still be an effective pitcher. At times, he is joy to watch work on the mound and has a knack for carving up opposing hitters.
But the Blue Jays have been burned one too many times when it comes to potential “aces”. Until Brandon Morrow can prove he’s worthy of that title, he’ll remain a mid-level starting pitcher.
Image courtesy of David Richard-USA TODAY Sports