April 13, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow (23) throws a pitch against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at the Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

How Good Can Brandon Morrow Be?

Looking at the Blue Jays’ chances to be successful in 2012, one of the things that will determine how well they do is the performance of their starting rotation. Ricky Romero is established as the No. 1 with Brandon Morrow as the No. 2, but beyond that, there are questions, like how Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek will do over an entire season, if Dustin McGowan can stay healthy when he returns or if one of the many pitching prospects in the minor leagues step up and surprise.

Brandon Morrow

April 13, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow (23) throws a pitch against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at the Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

Though Morrow is entrenched in the Toronto rotation, he’s still somewhat of an enigma. He clearly has a lot of talent, and though he has some experience, he’s lumped in with the Jays’ young pitchers in the “if they perform up to expectations, they’ll be great” category as someone with potential that has yet to be reached. For anyone that’s watched him pitch, it’s easy to see why; his stuff is excellent. Morrow sports a fastball, slider, curve and changeup, and when he’s pitching well, they all move, with his fastball in the mid-to-high 90s.

The overall numbers on the surface, like his ERAs of 4.49 and 4.72 in the last two years, respectively, aren’t necessarily eye-popping, but his 203 strikeouts last year, coupled with his stuff and velocity, cement his status as a power pitcher. His FIP (a measure of all things for which a pitcher is specifically responsible) however, shows a player outperforming his traditional statistical measurements. Morrow’s FIPs of 3.16 and 3.64 in the last two years are much better than his ERA. Between his overpowering stuff, and the contrast in FIP to his ERA, there’s a lot of people who think that Morrow is primed for a breakout year and could become the ace of the Blue Jays’ staff.

Watching his first couple of starts, I saw both sides of the coin. There was Morrow, showing his pitches, working both sides of the plate, allowing but two unearned runs over seven strong innings against Cleveland.  ‘Yes,’ I thought as I watched that game, ‘This is what he could be.’ And then, seeing the box score after losing to Baltimore, I sighed. ‘This is what he is,’ I thought. Someone close, but not quite there, not putting it together every game.

But I look at the numbers, and wonder: is this one where the traditional measurements have it right? Is there something that Morrow does that FIP doesn’t measure? The annals of Jays’ history- heck, the history of any baseball team- is littered with pitchers who were loaded with talent, but never reached the ceiling we’d all placed for them while wearing the blue and white. Anyone remember Kelvim Escobar? Chris Carpenter? Al Leiter? Woody Williams?

Luckily for us, Morrow’s case isn’t decided. He’s a supremely talented pitcher who’s still got some learning to do, and the Jays clearly believe that he’s going to turn out great, having extended him beyond the 2014 season, with a team option for 2015 at $10 million- which could be a relative bargain if he plays up to his potential (his contract once again begs the question of how GM Alex Anthopoulos manages to get these guys to agree to club friendly team options, but we’ll crack that mystery later). Given the uncertainty and youth that makes up so much of the Jays’ pitching staff, Morrow becoming a more reliable pitcher would be a more than welcome development. From what I’ve seen, I think this is the year he finds the consistency, where he settles in behind Romero in the rotation. What do you think?

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