After reading Geoff Baker's blog article that contained Morrow's comments on how Seattle choose to use him (hat tip to eyebleaf) I decided to look over the game log of his work for the M's to see if it produced anything that correlated at all with the thesis that the Mariners mishandled Morrow.
You really should read the whole article thing for context but Morrow describes to Baker how circumstances and maybe bad choices (by both the team and himself) led to a failure to develop his starting potential.
In the mean time, It produced some interesting (to me) information and I will walk you through some of the highlights . . .
"I was never really allowed to develop as a starter the way I and a lot of other people thought I should be allowed to,'' Morrow said. "Hopefully, this new chance means I get to develop as a starter more. Changing roles has just been detrimental to me.''
Morrow is not the only one, of course, who believes that to be true. Though he has some history of injury as well*, he's clearly not been given an extended opportunity to develop beyond being a two pitch reliever.
With that in mind, here's a time-line of Morrow's career.
The Mariners gave Morrow a spot in the '07 bullpen out of spring training after less than 17 minor league innings in 2006 (almost all in the rookie league).
From Opening Day to Aug. 24 he pitched 51.2 innings in 47 games.
He gave up only 38 hits in that time but walked an incredible 42 batters (that's an astounding 7.32 BB/9!). Even so he managed a 2.61 ERA with a .211 BAA and a .642 opponents OPS.
When you can put that many runners on base and still keep them from scoring you are NASTY. He just turned 23 in late July that year..
Then he stumbled for 2 weeks - fatigue?
6 GP, 4.1 IP, 13 H, 12 ER, 6 BB, 2 K .520 BAA
Then he righted the ship and finished the last 7 appearances the same way he'd pitched most of the year.
Optimism was natural.
Baker describes what happened next:
But the biggest damage, he feels, came after his rookie 2007 season in the bullpen. Morrow had played winter ball in Venezuela and was transitioning to a starter role when the team traded for Erik Bedard and signed Carlos Silva. All of a sudden, Morrow was back in the bullpen the first half of 2008 . . . All the work he'd done honing his off-speed pitches in Venezuela now had gone out the window. Morrow barely used any as a reliever. Even the "show me" change-up he was told to occasionally flash hitters was just another way to set them up for a fastball strikeout.
So the M's put him back in the pen to start 2008 and, reminiscent of Phil Hughes for the '09 Yanks, he dominated.
From opening day to August 3 (after which he was sent down and stretched out to start) he posted the following results:
1.47 ERA, 40 G, 36.2 IP, 18 H, 6 ER, 15 BB, 47 K, .143 BAA, .504 OOPS
Even his walk rate was cut in half (3.78).
After being demoted, he had 5 starts (over 6 appearances) in AAA and his ERA was 5.01 to go with a BB/9 of 4.24
After returning to the majors as a September call up, he got 5 starts and three of them were good. He had a 5.79 ERA but a .212 BAA. The walk rate was back up to crazy levels though (6.10).
Still, for his age and lack of minor league experience, you's still have to think there was a bright future.
So why didn't the M's put him in their understaffed rotation in the spring of 2009?
This is what Baker says:
Of course, some of that flip-flopping was Morrow's fault this year when he switched back to a bullpen role in spring training after losing 12 pounds in a bout with the flu. He knew he'd never log enough innings to break camp in the rotation and wanted to remain in the big leagues so badly that he just reverted to relieving.
Two months later, he changed his mind again.
Morrow now admits he was wrong to ask to stay in the majors. Morrow struggled in the relief role, sitting on a 6.38 ERA on June 9. The Mariners then moved him back to the rotation (out of necessity? I'm not sure the motivation here) and he got six consecutive starts with a reasonable 4.55 ERA but he wasn't dominating and the walk rate was still nuts, though slightly better (5.53) than previous stints as a starter.
So he was demoted to AAA Tacoma where he logged 10 starts. He threw 55 innings and posted a 3.60 ERA and lowered the walk rate to 3.76/9
Again he was recalled in September and again he walked too many, but it was still down some (4.94) and more - he dominated batters allowing a .181 BAA and posting a 2.66 ERA (sample size and September batter caveats apply).
Here's a chart of all those stats for easier review (with two VERY small minor league samples omitted). I ommitted two VERY small samples in order to do this. It's seperated by years, and the stats used are GP, ERA, WHIP, IP, H, ER, HR, BB, K, BB/9, K/9 - and also BAA and OOPS for major league stints. I further created seperate lines for each epoch I've described above - that is, for instance, when he shifts from the pen to starting in the majors I creaded a new line. Stat's accumulated starting are bolded.
2006 : Rook. : 8 - 2.25 - 1.19 - 16 - 10 - 4 - 0 - 9 - 17 - 5.1 - 9.5
2007 : MLB : 47 - 2.61 - 1.55 - 51.2 - 38 - 15 - 1 - 42 - 56 - 7.3 - 9.8 (thrugh 8/24)
2007 : MLB : 6 - 24.92 - 4.38 - 4.1 -- 13 - 12 - 2 - 6 -- 2 - 12.5 - 4.2 (8/28 - 9/10)
2007 : MLB : 7 -- 2.45 - 0.95 -- 7.1 -- 5 -- 2 -- 0 -- 2 - 8 -- 2.5 - 9.8 (after 9/10)
2008 : MLB : 40 - 1.51 - 0.90 - 35.2 - 17 -- 6 -- 5 - 15 - 46 - 3.7 - 11.5 (through 7/28)
2008 : AAA : 6 -- 5.01 - 1.21 - 32.1 - 17 - 13 - 2 - 11 - 26 - 3.1 - 7.2 (as starter)
2008: MLB : 5 -- 5.79 - 1.46 - 28 -- 22 - 18 - 5 - 19 - 28 - 6.1 - 9.0 (September starts)
2009 : MLB : 16 - 6.38 - 1.85 - 18.1 - 20 - 13 - 3 - 14 - 20 - 6.9 - 9.8
2009 : MLB : 6 -- 4.55 - 1.73 - 27.2 - 31 - 14 - 6 - 17 - 25 - 5.5 - 8.1 (as starter)
2009 : AAA : 10 - 3.60 - 1.33 -- 55 - 50 - 22 - 2 - 23 - 40 - 3.8 - 6.5
2009 : MLB : 4 -- 2.66 - 1.18 - 23.2 - 15 -- 7 - 1 - 13 - 18 - 4.9 - 6.9
Relief innings in 2007 and 2008 with the terrible two weeks excerpted:
2.19 - 1.26 - 94.2 - 60 - 23 - 6 - 59 - 110 - 5.62 - 10.5
Call me crazy but I can see what Mariners fans liked about the guy. It's a shame the Mariners burned so many days of service time on this guy but if they hadn't mishandled him he wouldn't be a Blue Jay now so it's something I can live with.
If he can maintain a walk rate of 4.5/9 or less from now on, and stay reasonably healthy, he should reach his considerable potential. For comparison, Yovani Gallero walked 5.56 per nine while posting a 3.73 ERA and striking out 204 batters; Clayton Kershaw posted a 4.79 BB/9 and still managed a 2.79 ERA.
THAT is your potential upside guys. It's ok to get excited about this guy still. Especially if Bruce Walton has any of Arny's magic in his back pocket.
*A footnote about injuries. As a major leaguer, Morrow has been disabled in the following instances:
2008 (Spring training): missed two weeks with a sore shoulder, opened the season with a brief rehab in AA
2009: Disabled May 2 (retro to April 23) with bicep tendinitis. Activated by May 10.
Frankly, the label "oft-injured" commonly used to describe Morrow doesn't seem to apply unless I'm missing something. He has had other moments of discomfort but if it doesn't land you on the DL, it's hard to keep up with.
One other closing remark here - Fangraphs has now done a through analysis of Morrow also making the point that the Mariners criminally mishandled this guy. If you want to see those deeper metrics I actually wrote this post last night and had planned to post it as a thread starter at Batters Box but when the Fangraphs article went up it seems as if it would just be a copy-cat of their work so I went ahead and put it up here (I worked too long on it to just chunk it).
One thing they got wrong though, is this: they repeat the claim, also stated elsewhere, that Morrow is under team control through 2012. In fact, Morrow spent over 90 days between 2008 and 2009 in the minors on non-rehab demotion. He has roughly 2.5 years service time, and should therefore not be a free agent until after 2013.