Why Brandon Morrow is Just Fine Thank You
April 9, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcherBrandon Morrow
(23) pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
One of the more frustrating things about being a rational fan of baseball early in the season is the panic that seems to grip the less statistically inclined portion of the fan base at any hint of struggle by their favourite team or player. Without a couple of months of data to hide the struggles of a rough couple of weeks, stat lines and win/loss records can look ugly. Now that R.A. Dickey has seemingly righted his ship, the vocal minority has taken to wringing their hands over the early woes of everyone’s favourite Type 1 Diabetic Brandon Morrow.
Through his first 4 starts he has posted an ugly 5.57 ERA and a 1.714 WHIP through the painfully small sample size of 21 pitched. With such a small sample size, it is pure folly to attempt to draw any ‘real’ conclusions, but if the masses insist on fretting over these troubles I insist that I get the opportunity to explain why there is no need to worry.
When a pitcher is struggling early in the season, many look towards a decrease in velocity as a way to explain the ineffectiveness. Looking at the below table compliments of FanGraphs, we can see that Brandon Morrow’s velocity is doing just fine thank you.
Table provided courtesy of FanGraphs
If it isn’t velocity, could control be Brandon Morrow’s issue thus far in the early season? Well no, Morrow is actually walking batters at a career low rate of 6.1% (as opposed to 8.1% last season). If Morrow is indeed walking batters less, yet still has a WHIP in excess of 1.71, we can conclude that he is giving up hits at an increased rate. We then have to look at what could be causing the spike in hits against the Jays formidable #2 starter.
Is Morrow getting away from what made him so effective this year? Looking into the Pitch f/x data over at FanGraphs and tabled below, we can see that Morrow is using his Slider almost 33% more often.
Table provided courtesy of FanGraphs
While it’s quite possible that this change in approach is one of the causes for his struggles, I don’t think so. The slider is Morrow’s “out” pitch, and when he’s gotten into jams early in this season he’s been forced to try to strike out everyone and their brother to get out of them unscathed (sometimes successfully as on April 3 against the Indians when he struck out 8, sometimes unsuccessfully as in every other start).
So if Morrow is still bringing the heat, and using his pitches as we would expect, what is causing his early season woes? Luck. Morrow has been unlucky. This isn’t an answer that most fans want to hear, but it’s true. Baseball is a game of inches, and those inches are not helping Brandon Morrow (or the Blue Jays in general so far).
The BABIP Beast
Looking deeper into his 4 starts it becomes clear that Morrow has been foiled by the beast known as BABIP. After posting a by a rather low .260 BABIP in the 2012 season, there was some expectation for regression towards the mean in 2013 (According to FanGraphs the Major League average BABIP for pitchers is around .290 to .300, and pitchers tend to have less control over their BABIP than batters.) In his first 4 starts Morrow’s BABIP hasn’t only regressed to the mean, it’s blown right by it and currently sits at an inflated .361. If the BABIP dragon allows Morrow to trend more towards the mean, his other stats should follow.
That being said Morrow’s swinging strike percentage is at a career low, leading to a career low in K/9. If this was happening in some alternate universe where 21 innings was a large enough sample for stats like these to normalize I might be worried, but it’s Brandon Morrow, the guy with the nastiest stuff this side of a Dickey knuckleball. It’s going to be fine, you’ll see. (Please note if Morrow struggles again this afternoon I might just burn this post, run away, and live in the woods)