Sunday, July 17, 2011

Is Brandon Morrow Elite?

He shut down the Yankees
We've been fans since he was a prospect in the Mariners organization. A flame throwing right-hander who threw strikes with a plus slider? Sure, let's go check him out. He had some arm trouble, as seems to be the norm, gained valuable experience closing out games at the Major League level, and was traded to Toronto. As a Blue Jay, Brandon Morrow was given the chance to return to the rotation and refine his craft every five days.

What does it mean to be elite? Is he a #1 starter? To be a number one starter, you'd have to be a Top 30 pitcher, right? Something feels like elite should be a bit better than Top 30. What is elite? Top 12? Top 5, like the best 5-man rotation would have these 5 guys? I guess it doesn't matter for now. Let's just see how well Brandon Morrow is doing this year, compared with others who have pitched at least 90 innings this season.

He has rather unimpressive traditional statistics: a 6-4 record and 4.36 ERA.

Rejoice that Fangraphs now posts SIERA statistics for pitchers. To be brief, allow Baseball Prospectus to explain:
Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average estimates ERA through walk rate, strikeout rate and ground ball rate, eliminating the effects of park, defense and luck.
Going into action on July 17th, Brandon Morrow is ranked 4th in the American League, and 10th in all of baseball in SIERA.

MLB SIERA Leaders (min 90ip):
Oh look, Roy Halladay leads
in another pitching stat.
Roy Halladay 2.45
Clayton Kershaw 2.64
Cliff Lee 2.79
Justin Verlander 2.84
Cole Hamels 2.86
David Price 2.87
James Shields 2.89
Tommy Hanson 3.00
Tim Lincecum 3.02
Brandon Morrow 3.07
Felix Hernandez 3.07
Anibal Sanchez 3.07

That is just a peek through what may be the most advanced neutralized pitching stat available. I'm interested to see if Brandon Morrow has #1 stuff. As far as I understand it, looking at his Pitch F/X page, his fastball and slider move vertically and horizontally at about league average levels. Besides the overall very good results he has shown this year, let's see how well his fastball, slider, and other offerings relate to the positive results.

Among pitchers with at least 90 ip this season, Brandon Morrow's success off his fastball has been the 17th most success in the American League and 30th most in the Majors. He has been the 7th best pitcher in the AL and 17th across all of baseball with his slider this year. His fastball and curveball have been below average offerings, but he currently throws his two "good" pitches over 90% of the time.

Romero's Very Good
For more of an apples-to-apples comparison, we can also compare the value of pitcher's offerings based on 100 pitches, instead of the inconsistent times one player throws his fastball over another. Brandon Morrow's wFB/C is ranked 15th in the AL and 31st in MLB. His wSL/C so far this season has been 11th in the AL and 24th in MLB.

In spite of his back-of-the-rotation traditional stats, Brandon Morrow appears on the cusp of stardom. The Blue Jays should feel pretty excited for their future, with Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow starting 40% of their games.

If Brandon Morrow has success, he will be Exhibit A for people arguing for Neftali Feliz to move into the Rangers' rotation.

Neftali may be next to get bumped up.

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