Morrow or Jones?

December 28, 2007

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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