Morrow or Jones?

The opinion has been expressed by some people, notably Geoff Baker, that Brandon Morrow is more valuable to Adam Jones. It is my belief that this statement is false. I think the premise that people who are of this opinion operate under is that Brandon Morrow was successful in relief last year basically right out of college and this portends great things for his future as a starter. I do not buy this.

First off, Morrow was not “very successful” in relief last year. Let us get establish this right away. Morrow may have struck out 66 batters in 63.3 innings, a very good rate, but he also walked 50, a very very poor rate. Morrow did do a commendable job limiting homeruns, but we also only have a small sample on that, so we cannot be sure if this is a repeatable rate or a fluke. Morrow’s low groundball percentage (35.2%) indicates it’s more likely a fluke, though one he could sustain somewhat if he stayed in the bullpen as relievers HR/FB rates are almost always lower than that of their starting brethren.

All told, Morrow had a 4.12 ERA and a 4.09 FIP in 2007. Those aren’t bad numbers by any stretch, but they are not spectacular either. I bet a lot of people are suffering from first impression syndrome. Morrow’s first 20 games at the big league level resulted in a 2-0 record, 22.2 innings pitched and a sparkling 1.59 ERA. Problem is, even then his walks were a huge problem; he had 19 over those first 22.2 innings.

The more pertinent question is: what is Morrow’s future? For that, there’s three separate paths to consider.

PATH ONE: Morrow Stays in the Bullpen

This is basically stasis. Present Morrow stays at 2007 Morrow level, with perhaps a touch of experienced-related improvement, and Future Morrow’s whole development curve is flattened down to whatever improvement Morrow can find while pitching sporadically out of the bullpen in high leverage innings. In effect, very little can be done here. Future Morrow’s value tops out as a very good relief pitcher (nothing to sneeze at in today’s markets) and Present Morrow stays the same as 2007 Morrow, so not much improvement there to the 2008 squad.

PATH TWO: Morrow Learns to Start in Seattle

This would almost certainly be disastrous in the short-term, and likely long-term. Dave Cameron at USS Mariner wrote a post just today outlining Morrow’s deficiencies as a starting pitcher. It is important to hammer home one of Cameron’s main points; starting is vastly different from relieving. I’ll leave it up to the reader to go over to Cameron’s post for a more thorough understanding of why, but if you do not accept that premise then you might as well leave this site, head over to Baker’s blog and join in on the commenting fun there where you can be around people that think like you do.

All in all, Morrow as a starting pitcher in 2008 is going to be bad, like Jeff Weaver bad. So that is not going to net us any improvement. It also begs the question of what struggling this much will do to Morrow’s development as a starter. He needs to be developing offspeed pitches and command in order to reach his full potential, but if his offspeed stuff and slower fastball are getting shelled in the big league rotation, he might resort back to throwing pure gas as long as he can, burning out around 75 pitches but at least being somewhat more effective at getting outs. Problem is, that leaves Future Morrow in the same position as Present Morrow; worthless to the Mariners as a starting pitcher.

PATH THREE: Morrow Learns to Start in Tacoma

He gets a chance to work on all the things he needs to: better command, and improving his offspeed offerings, away from the pressures of attaining good results all the time. This is the best option for Future Morrow, but obviously reduces the value of Present Morrow to 0.

What we end up with is no rational way to expect Brandon Morrow to provide more value in 2008 than he did in 2007 and his future value added is directly tied to him being able to start games somewhere, be it Tacoma, Seattle or Baltimore. Brandon Morrow will not learn how to start by pitching out of the bullpen. The preceding sentence needs something stronger than bold to emphasize it enough. The pitchers that are able to make successful transitions from the pen to the rotation (e.g. Liriano, Santana, Pineiro when he was on the juice) all had massive amounts of experience starting in the minors. Brandon Morrow has none. That’s the key point to remember. It’s so important I am giving it its own paragraph like a newspaper sports writer would.

Brandon Morrow has practically no experience being a starting pitcher.

The only way Brandon Morrow provides significant future value is if he goes back to the minors and works his way back up as a starting pitcher. And that is not going to happen under this regime. Morrow is staying on the active roster come hell or tradewater. That is precisely why Morrow is expendable in the pursuit of Erik Bedard.

If we acquired Bedard, our rotation (Felix, Wash, Batista, Silva, Bedard) would be set for 2008-9. So you’d be keeping Morrow in the pen until 2010. By that point, Morrow has 3 years of service time and still has zero starting experience. The idea that he’ll make a flawless transition to the rotation is retarded no matter if it’s 2008, 2010 or 2015. You can almost surely chalk up 2010 to growing pains, meaning, if everything breaks right you get Morrow as a good starting pitcher for 2011-2 before he hits free agency. Two years. The same two years you get out of Bedard right now.

I have covered Jones’ value in a previous post, but to reiterate, Adam Jones provides an immediate value to the 2008 Mariners (mostly in the form of his defense) and is under club control for six seasons. Removing Adam Jones from the picture means we are certainly doomed to Raul Ibanez’s continued existence in left field and we also have to either use Wladimir Balentien in right field or go find a free agent. This is a tremendous hit to our outfield defense for 2008. (In fact, Bavasi should be looking at a free agent outfielder anyways [Kenny Lofton FTW!] to put over in left field so that we can move Raul’s decaying husk off the field entirely.)

Adam Jones is as essential to our 2008 squad as Jarrod Washburn. Brandon Morrow is as essential to our 2008 squad as Sean Green. Tell Baltimore they can Morrow (and Wlad and Chen and Saunders and Butler and Feierabend and Tui), but they cannot have Jones under any circumstance.

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3 Responses to Morrow or Jones?

  1. brentschwartz says:

    I love the post outlining Morrows future as a starter.

    Leaving Morrow as a starter is the worst of these outcomes. Morrow’s contribution can easily be replaced by someone like Jon Huber (or any number of random guys with no future as a Major League Starter).

    Brandon Morrow on the other hand has the tools to one day be a starter in the Majors and he should be given every opportunity to earn a spot in the Major League Rotation. In a perfect world I’d set the spring training depth chart for the 5th rotation spot as follows:

    RRS
    R.A. Dickey
    Cha Baek
    Sean White
    Brandon Morrow
    Horacio Ramirez
    Ryan Feierabend

    But if the Mariners are going to stick Morrow on the major league roster come hell or high water. My depth chart would be:

    Brandon Morrow
    RRS
    Cha Baek
    Everyone else.

    The second list assumes Morrow is the no. 5 starter (with everyone else hoping that Morrow stubbles) while the first is similar to the first polls during the college football season.

    Morrow will probably struggle in the rotation, but he is a very important to the future of the organization. If the no. 5 spot is going to be a crap shoot anyway, why not roll the dice with Brandon? He, at the very least, will be learning how to be a starter.

    The other point that I would like to address is Morrow’s dominance of the Winter league. Morrow has shredded the opposition and I don’t think this is making him a better pitcher. Morrow won’t develope as a pitcher if he is simply able to throw the ball past everyone. In order to force him to develop, Morrow needs to face hitters who can punish his mistakes.

    Morrow probably has the best fastball in the organization and I think it is possible for him to throw that by AAA hitters with marginal offspeed stuff for 6 innings.

  2. Ken says:

    I don’t understand all this buzz. As you noted last year he had a 4.09FIP as a reliever. He also had ridiculously low HR rates and a high FB rate. People smarter than me have shown that pitchers do not have a ton of control over FB’s staying in the park, homeruns have a big impact on FIP and if he did it all again next year that would certainly be higher along with his era.

    Starting is also much harder, about 1 run a game harder. So we are looking at a guy with a mid-5 era. Of course, there are thousands of variables, but he really doesn’t look ready to start at all based on last year.

    I don’t even know how much of a stud he is going to be. I am admittedly sceptical about every prospect, seeing as most don’t work out like intended, and the guy is onlly 23. But look at what guys like Hernandez/Liriano/Hughes/Lincecum, etc are doing, these guys are stepping in and being awesome, Morrow doesn’t look like he could be ready this year and might be Jeff Weaver bad if thrust into the rotation. What if he wasn’t a top pick? What if he was just a 22-yr old guy with a big arm who came up and struck out guys with one pitch and no control on the way to being an average reliever (and lucky to be so due to his HR/FB rate), what would his prospect status be on him. Would people seriously consider not trading him for Bedard?

    Of course that is why teams scout. Morrow obviously has done something to garner some attention and did it well enough that he was not allowed to build up a minor league track record that might get me excited. I’m just looking at his stats from the show and I’m not impressed. He could show a huge improvement. He could completely flop as a starter.

    As it regards to your question, Jones is almost certain at this point to be an average to above average outfielder, Morrow is a bunch of potential who may end up being a decent reliever. While a club-controlled starting pitcher is the most valuable asset in baseball, how could you not say Jones is the better prospect.

  3. Matthew says:

    Well, what Morrow does have, at least in relief, is a plus-plus fastball. It’s got velocity and great movement. That alone should be enough to maintain his status as a serviceable, at minimum, relief arm with the potential to grow into an elite closer as he gains command and a second pitch.

    But it doesn’t negate the fact that he has no second pitch he can rely on at this point. He has a pair of “show-me” pitches in the splitter and the slider. What would probably be best for his development is to pick one of those two pitches as his breaking pitch (I would lean towards the splitter as I think it’s a better compliment to his fastball, but Morrow’s comfort level is more important), and to put all his effort towards developing a changeup.

    With Morrow’s fastball being such a weapon, that’s what hitters are going to be looking for and since he has nothing to back it up, that’s what they are going to be sitting on. If Morrow could add a changeup with arm action at all similar to his fastball to his repertoire, I believe he could become a pretty instant force as a pitcher.

    Problem is, that’s a huge “if” and it’s 99% assuredly not going to happen at the major league level.

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