Brandon Morrow and the “Injury Prone” Label


You keep your filthy damn hands away from him John Farrell! (Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

"Brandon Morrow: 2-3, 5.63 ERA. Ten starts. He’s been unable to stay healthy at any point in his career, so it was no surprise he went down again."

In an ESPN Sweetspot blog post written by Dave Schoenfield on September 5th aptly titled “What Went Wrong With the Blue Jays?” the above line is used to describe how Morrow, alongside R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Ricky Romero, formed a high-risk rotation that should have almost been expected to implode to some degree. I certainly wouldn’t argue that there were a number of question marks on our pitching staff entering the season, but the line about Brandon Morrow is so absolutely absurd that it’s borderline offensive. A quick Google search of “Brandon Morrow injury prone” suggests that the misinformation is completely widespread. Baseball authority (note: sarcasm) even includes it as a “weakness” in their scouting report of the right hander. As opposed to simply massaging the narrative, let’s take a look at the actual facts, via the injury database on Baseball Prospectus.

Brandon Morrow debuted with the Seattle Mariners in 2007, spending parts of three seasons out in the northwest. In 2007, he missed a total of zero games. In 2008, he dealt with a bit of shoulder soreness in camp (a lot of guys do after four or five months of minimal throwing), but was still ready for the start of the season. He missed four games in June with another short bout of shoulder soreness, and another six games that month with a sore lower back. In 2009, he dealt with forearm soreness in Spring Training, but once again didn’t lose out on any regular season action. Near the end of April, however, he landed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time in his career with bicep tendinitis, missing the minimum of 15 days (14 games). He dealt with forearm tightness while in the minor leagues at the very end of the season (August 30th), but came back two weeks later to make four September starts with the Mariners.

To summarize his time in Seattle: three years, one stint on the disabled list, 24 total games missed. For clarification, the 24 missed games are not 24 starts, but rather 24 games that the Mariners played where Brandon Morrow was not available to pitch due to injury. After the 2009 season, Seattle sold low, shipping Morrow to Toronto for reliever Brandon League and minor leaguer Johermyn Chavez.

His Blue Jays career began in a familiar way, as Morrow missed time in camp with shoulder soreness. Once again, however, he missed no regular season action. That’s it for 2010. He was shut down in September, but only because he had pitched 146 innings after throwing just 125 while bouncing between the rotation and bullpen in 2009. In 2011, the right hander once again dealt with arm soreness in camp (this time of the forearm variety), and for the first time in his career he opened the season on the disabled list, missing a total of 17 games. It was smooth sailing from there on, with Morrow pitching 180 innings over 30 starts. 2012 was the year of the injury in Toronto, and Brandon fell victim like so many others. But it wasn’t an arm injury that derailed his season, it was an oblique strain. The injury was easily the most severe of his career, as he landed on the 60-day disabled list, missing 64 games.

To summarize his Toronto career entering 2013: three years, two stints on the disabled list, 81 total games missed.

The oblique injury was obviously a completely freak occurrence, as Morrow had zero history with problems in that area, and has dealt with none since. If you remove that from the equation and look exclusively at arm problems, he’s been on the disabled list twice in six seasons, and missed a total of 35 games with zero surgeries. That’s what people classify as injury prone these days? Have you seen Tommy Hanson? Josh Johnson? Kyle Drabek with his multiple Tommy John surgeries? Dare I even whisper the name Dustin McGowan? The list goes on and on. I will concede that Morrow has dealt with some level of arm soreness in four of his six big league camps, but as I said previously, it’s not uncommon for a pitcher to get a little tender while working his way up from four months of minimal throwing to max effort. Furthermore, to reiterate, just one of those four struggles with soreness resulted in any lost regular season action.

"“…unable to stay healthy at any point in his career…”"

Except for, you know, basically every season of his career entering 2013 save for a two month stretch in 2012.

In tumultuous times such as this, fans and analysts alike love to blow the narratives up your ass, to tell you the sky is falling, and to tell you (in hindsight, of course) that you should have seen this disaster coming. The fact of the matter is, the typical Brandon Morrow season entering 2013 entailed a bit of minor soreness in camp and relatively smooth sailing thereafter (health wise, not necessarily performance wise). It would have been fair to claim entering this season that Morrow was likely to revert to his pre-2012 form, struggling to keep his ERA under four while he was continually abused pitching from the stretch. There’s at least some history to support that notion. But to claim that not only was it likely he went down with injury, but that it’s unsurprising he’ll miss the better part of four months is not only absurd, it’s asinine – particularly when the injury appears to be a direct result of throwing too many cutters in Spring Training, something literally no one outside of the organization could have predicted.