There is some congruence between modern day general managers and fantasy baseball owners. With escalating salaries being spent on back-end rotation pieces, it results in pitchers like Edinson Volquez and Brett Anderson cashing in for 10-million dollar deals. With the variance that pitchers have and how many are found on the waiver wire it pays to know which players to target late in drafts that you may be able to hit on as fliers. The new regime in San Diego has taken a similar chance on wild card Brandon Morrow by offering him an incentive-laden 2.5-million dollar deal with the chance to earn as much as 5 million. To say that Brandon Morrow is a fantasy tease is an understatement.
Since his 2007 arrival in Seattle, his stuff tantalized fantasy owners. However, the Mariners could not decide how to use the right-hander. Morrow was used primarily in relief during his first three years as a major leaguer, making only 15 starts. It was not until 2010, after his trade to Toronto that he finally had a chance to become a starter. In that season he won 10 games in 26 starts, but his ability to strike batters out is what excited those in the fake baseball community. In just over 146 innings Morrow was able to fan 178 batters, good for a 10.9 K/9. But keeping Morrow on the mound is where the problem lies. However, if there is a silver lining, a pitcher with a similar skill-set who suffered an injury prior to his leaving Toronto back in 2003 resurfaced with a small contract and resurrected his career.
Back in 2003 the St. Louis Cardinals signed Chris Carpenter to a $300,000 contract and although he did not pitch for them until 2004, the returns far outweighed the weight. One of Dave Duncan’s biggest reclamation projects was the transformation of Carpenter from an afterthought to one of the game’s most dominant arms. Even though Carpenter was a year younger than Morrow, this is a chance well taken by San Diego. Morrow has a 9.8 K/9 as a starting pitcher along with a 4.16 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Here are each pitchers’ career totals as they left Toronto:
Brandon Morrow: 42 W, 43 L, 231 G, 108 GS, 735.2 IP, 765/340 K/BB, 4.28 ERA, 1.36 WHIP
Chris Carpenter: 49 W, 48 L, 152 G, 136 GS, 939.1 IP, 612/331 K/BB, 4.47 ERA, 1.39 WHIP
It is apparent that Carpenter was more durable in his time in the American League while with Toronto, but Morrow did not benefit from bouncing between the bullpen and rotation either. I would think his signing with San Diego promises him the chance at the starting role he craves.
Digging a bit deeper I wanted to see how each pitcher’s repertoire compared to one another. I will use Morrow’s 2011 season and Chris Carpenter’s injury shortened 2002:
Chris Carpenter 2002 – 8.4 SwStr%, 1.25 GB/FB, 41.6 GB%, 4.53 xFIP
Fastball – 91 MPH, 58.3% Usage
Slider – 85.4 MPH, 8.4% Usage
Curveball – 74.3 MPH, 20.3% Usage
Changeup – 83.1 MPH, 13% Usage
Brandon Morrow 2011: 11.5 SwStr%, 0.87 GB/FB, 36 GB%, 3.53 xFIP
Fastball: 93.9 MPH, 61.6% Usage
Slider: 87.9 MPH, 26.6% Usage
Curveball: 81.5 MPH, 5.6% Usage
Changeup: 86.8 MPH, 6.2% Usage
While Morrow was able to pile up many more strikeouts than Carpenter, Carpenter was much better at keeping the ball on the ground. Moving to the National League usually provides pitchers with a bump in value but after returning from injury in his first full season back, Carpenter racked up 15 wins in St. Louis. Not only that, in his first three years with the Cardinals, Carpenter saw his K/9 jump to 7.7 while lowering his ERA and WHIP to 3.08 and 1.08 respectively. Even with his velocity decreasing slightly, his peripherals took a major jump:
Chris Carpenter 2004: 9.4 SwStr%, 1.79 GB/FB, 52.2 GB%, 3.36 xFIP
Fastball: 90.6 MPH, 51.6% Usage
Slider: 84.6 MPH, 13.8% Usage
Cutter: 86.2 MPH, 3.2% Usage
Curveball: 74.2 MPH, 21.4% Usage
Changeup: 83.9 MPH, 9.5% Usage
His strike percentage only increased by two percentage points from 2002 to 2004. Further, he started to mix in a cutter. However, these two factors cannot explain the newfound success. Carpenter did raise his GB/FB from 1.25 in 2002 to a glorious 1.79 though, and that is the progression I am focusing in on. This accounted for a 10% increase in groundball percentage and helped to drop his xFIP by more than a full run. Although 2014 was a shortened season for Morrow, there were some interesting changes in his repertoire:
Brandon Morrow 2014: 8.7 SwStr%, 1.67 GB/FB, 50.5 GB%, 4.06 xFIP
Fastball: 94 MPH, 58.9% Usage
Slider: 86.2 MPH, 18.6% Usage
Cutter: 89.3 MPH, 4% Usage
Curveball: 78.4 MPH, 3.2% Usage
Changeup: 83.5 MPH, 15.2% Usage
I cannot guarantee a quick fix for Morrow based on his improving GB/FB ratio since his xFIP actually went up by a half run, but there are interesting similarities in their returns after injury. Morrow is still throwing hard, and his introduction of a cutter has helped him keep the ball on the ground more, making him an intriguing sleeper pick in 2015. The injury concerns are real though, which help to depress his value. I listed his career in the American League but here are his career statistics as a starting pitcher:
Brandon Morrow: 108 G, 38 W, 33 L, 611.1 IP, 628/260 K/BB, 4.40 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 9.2 K/9
Only 13 starting pitchers struck out more than 200 batters in 2014. It only took Brandon Morrow 179.1 innings in 2011 to eclipse that total, but it was his only time. Between the years of 2010 to 2012 Morrow started 77 games, winning 31 times while pitching 450 innings and fanning 489. I cannot predict how many innings Morrow will pitch for San Diego this year but if he can make it to 150 or more I do know that I will want him on my teams. Chris Carpenter was able to shake the injury bug and put three prolific seasons in St. Louis after leaving Toronto in 2002.
Chris Carpenter (2004-2006): 93 G, 51 W, 18 L, 645.2 IP, 549/132 K/BB, 3.09 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 7.7 K/9
With the parallels of an emerging cutter, increased groundball rate and moving to the National League, Morrow makes for a worthwhile selection. Only time will tell if Morrow can follow Carpenter’s breakthrough whilst conquering his injury-plagued past. The situation reminded me of this quote:
“Bring in the bottled lightning, a clean tumbler, and a corkscrew.” Charles Dickens
Morrow could be lightning in a bottle or someone who could force fantasy owners to drink. Whether or not we are toasting to his contributions as a Padre will be determined by his ability (or inability) to make 25 or more starts. Since he has only done this three times in his career, it’s definitely not a lock. Not only does he gain in ballpark factor, he is in the National League. As a late round flier, he is disposable if injuries get him again. Those who grabbed Chris Carpenter off the waiver wire in 2004 can attest. Not only can Morrow be a bargain at his low salary for the Padres, but to fantasy owners as well.
Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/HI3wxA (Morrow), http://goo.gl/vg46vL (Carpenter)
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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!