OAKLAND, CA: Brandon Morrow #23 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
For a time, it looked like Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow was changing his game to generate more contact and efficiency. Nuts to that, recently he's been more like the old Brandon Morrow. Hooray!
Not long ago, we wrote right here about Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow, and what looked to be a new approach. For his first few starts of the 2012 season, Morrow looked unlike Morrow, and more like ... I don't know, somebody else. Somebody with Morrow's skin and uniform and idiosyncrasies but a different plan of attack on the mound.
It wasn't necessarily a good thing. It was just a different thing. On April 23, Morrow completed a start against the Royals in which he struck out three batters. That followed a start on April 18 against the Rays, in which Morrow struck out two batters. Over two consecutive starts, Morrow struck out five batters. His lowest strikeout total over two consecutive starts in 2011 was seven. More significantly, after his first four starts of 2012, Morrow had 12 strikeouts. His lowest strikeout total over four consecutive starts in 2011 was 20.
Morrow's long been a strikeout pitcher. A big-time strikeout pitcher, generating as many or more strikeouts than almost anybody else. So the beginning of his 2012 was uncharacteristic. It was pretty easy to chalk it up to attempts on Morrow's part to generate more contact and improve his efficiency while expanding his repertoire. Last season, 88 percent of Morrow's pitches were fastballs or sliders. Some people blamed this limited repertoire for Morrow's ERA being higher than it should've been. Morrow went to camp looking to work on his curve and his changeup.
Over Morrow's first four starts, he threw more curves and changeups. He cut his fastball/slider usage down to 75 percent. That's still pretty high, but it's not nearly as high, and while I can't prove a causative relationship, it stands to reason that this adjustment had something to do with Morrow allowing more contact. His ERA in those four starts was 3.71 - hardly bad - but one had to wonder what Morrow would become.
On April 28, Morrow faced the Mariners in Toronto. He threw 104 pitches, and 84 of them were fastballs or sliders. He spun six shutout innings, with nine whiffs and not a single walk.
In his next turn, he faced the Angels in Anaheim. He threw 102 pitches, and an astonishing 100 of them were fastballs or sliders. He finished with a complete-game shutout, with eight whiffs and not a single walk.
And finally, in his most recent turn, Morrow faced the A's in Oakland. He threw 114 pitches, and 99 of them were fastballs or sliders. He allowed a run in six innings, with ten whiffs and four walks.
In Brandon Morrow's last three starts, he's generated 27 strikeouts to go with four bases on balls. Nearly two-thirds of his pitches have been strikes, and he's obviously limited contact. More significantly, 88 percent of Morrow's pitches over that span have been fastballs or sliders, matching right up with his rate in 2011. Morrow threw a complete-game shutout against the Angels on 75 heaters, 25 sliders, and two curveballs. That doesn't sound like the guy Morrow wanted to be in spring training, but you can't argue with the results.
Now we have to wonder if Brandon Morrow is just going to pitch like Brandon Morrow, instead of some new, adjusted Brandon Morrow. His last three starts easily could've fit right into his 2011 game log, and while you absolutely have to account for the fact that he was facing the Mariners, Angels, and A's - three teams who've struggled to hit - it's not so much the results we care about as it is the approach. Morrow's been a heavy fasball/slider pitcher again, and it's worked out well for him.
So we sit and continue to monitor. A year ago, as a fastball/slider power righty, Morrow struck out better than a quarter of the hitters he faced. His walks were high but by no means unacceptably high for a guy who lives in deep counts. His ERA was elevated, but his peripherals suggested better effectiveness, and as usual when you're dealing with a guy whose ERA doesn't match his peripherals, you tend to put more stock in the peripherals. There were explanations for why Morrow's ERA was up, but I didn't find them sufficiently convincing.
I and many others didn't think Morrow had to change very much coming away from his 2011. Early in 2012, it looked like he was trying some changes. Lately he's basically gone back to his old game plan. He's flourished. We can't declare that Brandon Morrow is back to being Brandon Morrow, but we can suggest it. We can whisper it to people near us, who can then whisper it to people near them. Let's all get people whispering about Brandon Morrow.
I bet if Brandon Morrow had a really dynamite curve and a really dynamite change, he'd be incredibly difficult to hit. Without those consistent pitches, he's already incredibly difficult to hit. Change if you want to, Brandon Morrow, but you don't need to. You're already a special little guy.