Monday, January 6, 2014

Brandon Morrow: The Ultimate Wild Card


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If there's one player who the Blue Jays' success in 2014 is hinging on, it's none other than Brandon Morrow. And if there's one player who embodied the disappointment of 2013, it's oddly enough ... also Brandon Morrow.

Last season, the team was depending on him as their number two starter. Instead, he took the mound a mere ten times before being shut down midway through the 2013 campaign with a radial nerve entrapment.

In lieu of a solid year, it was more of the same of what we've seen from Brandon Morrow during his last four seasons in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform; flashes of brilliance combined with a multitude of injuries (details below courtesy of Baseball Prospectus).

YearTransactionDaysGamesSideBody PartInjury
201360-DL124110RightForearmRadial Nerve Entrapment
2013DTD1210-Low BackStiffness
201260-DL7464LeftAbdomenStrain
201115-DL2917RightForearmRecovery From Inflammation
200915-DL1514RightShoulderInflammation

In total, Morrow has missed 215 games since 2009 due to a laundry list of injuries, mostly associated with his right shoulder and forearm. And for a right-handed power pitcher, those are about the two worst places to sustain an injury.

Whenever projecting how Brandon Morrow will fare, it usually comes with one giant caveat; "if he can stay healthy, he's a Cy Young calibre pitcher".

Again, that giant caveat is "if"; which makes Brandon Morrow the ultimate wild card for the Toronto Blue Jays.

There's no denying Morrow's talent. At times, he's show the ability to be one of the best starting pitchers in the league. But over the past two years, that caveat has gotten so incredibly bloated that it's hard to pencil Brandon Morrow in for anything anymore. 

The problem now is the very same as it was last season; the Blue Jays are not only depending on Brandon Morrow to give them 30 plus starts and 200 innings, they're hoping he'll recapture some of that magic he displayed prior to his oblique injury in early 2012.

It's a tall order for a guy who has only made 31 starts and logged 176 total innings the past two seasons. And since Alex Anthopoulos hasn't bolstered the starting rotation, the Toronto Blue Jays will be relying on Brandon Morrow now more than ever.

Blue Jays beat reporter Gregor Chisholm spoke to Alex Anthopoulos back in early December, and he seemed confident Brandon Morrow would be good to go for 2014:
"It looks like he is completely healthy ... he has thrown a simulated game. He has thrown two bullpen [sessions]. He has thrown every pitch -- fastball, curveball, slider -- at 100 percent. He feels great and he's going to be a big boost to our rotation."
The operative word here of course being "looks". Here in early January, things may appear to be all well and good with Brandon Morrow, but a lot can change between now and Opening Day on April 4th.

The success of the starting rotation really does hinge on his health. But remaining healthy is a skill. It might not be listed among the five tools, but it's a grossly underrated tool.

And if ever there was a player who has perfected the art, it's Mark Buehrle; with 13 consecutive seasons of 30 plus starts and not a single trip to the disabled list.

If Mark Buehrle spent as much time on the DL as Brandon Morrow has, he wouldn't be making $37 million dollars over the next two seasons. Mind you, the Miami Marlins were crazy enough to give Buehrle that kind of money ... but I digress.

At least with Brandon Morrow it's not a case like Ricky Romero's, where there are serious doubts whether he'll ever pitch in the Major Leagues again. Brandon Morrow can contribute significantly to the Toronto Blue Jays, but again ... only if he can stay healthy.

Unfortunately, I think Alex Anthopoulos might be slow-playing his hand a bit too much when it comes to the starting rotation, and it sounds like the team will heavily rely upon Morrow's contributions this upcoming season.

This is contrary to the evidence that suggested the Blue Jays would solidify the starting rotation this offseason with some much-needed reinforcements.

I hate to say it, but the Blue Jays almost need to think worst-case scenario with Brandon Morrow and plan accordingly.

Not that the Blue Jays should anticipate Morrow will get hurt this season, but they shouldn't be surprised if he does.

It's imperative that they have a backup (or even two) in place. If the Blue Jays don't have a Plan B, C or even D, they could be right back where they were last season; pulling virtually anybody off the scrap heap to take a spot in the starting rotation.

That means Alex Anthopoulos needs to ask himself if he can envision a winning Blue Jays team without Brandon Morrow in the starting rotation; and if he can't, he needs to remedy the situation.

The easy way to fix that is simply sign Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, which would automatically put a contingency plan in place for Brandon Morrow's health, and also leave the Blue Jays with a surplus of pitching.

And if Morrow does stay healthy, the addition of a top tier starter just makes the team that much better. But without some sort of a safety net to plan for a potential injury, it seems like Alex Anthopoulos is setting up this 2014 squad to fail.

The Blue Jays shouldn't view Brandon Morrow as the lynchpin of their starting rotation. Rather, the equivalent of picking up a starting pitcher at the trade deadline to help put them over the top. But once again, only if he can remain healthy.

Ultimately, here's the only bit of advice I can offer when it comes to Brandon Morrow; hope for the best, plan for the worst, and pray he doesn't get hurt.

Image courtesy of CBC

2 comments:

  1. Morrow wasn't with the Jays in 2009, but otherwise, your points stand about his injury record. My big concern with Morrow is his declining K rate, and the way his FIP and xFIP keep rising year after year. Even considering what a disaster 2013 was, that doesn't bode well for his future performance.

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    Replies
    1. Duly noted ... for some reason I thought he came on board in 2009.

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