If Brandon Morrow is__, then he is __.
If Brandon Morrow is the pitcher he was in the second half of 2010, then he is a fantasy ace.
There is no question, Brandon Morrow will be one of the most debated fantasy baseball picks in 2011 drafts.
A first round draft pick by the Mariners in 2006 (5th overall), Morrow's pure stuff has never been questioned. His time in Seattle wasn't great, but management continually shifted him between the rotation and bullpen, triple-A and the majors. In 2009, the Blue Jays saw an opportunity to buy low on Morrow, giving up a middle reliever (Brandon League) and a prospect (Johermyn Chavez). The Jays didn't mess with Morrow in the bullpen, instead allowing him to learn on the job in a big league rotation.
Control has always been an issue for Morrow. His career rate of 5 BB/9 states that clearly. However, something happened right around the beginning of June 2010 that could end up changing his career path for the better (much, much better!).
Morrow has always had a plus-fastball, but both his slider/cutter and curveball were lacking effectiveness. Then, this past season, he began to harness his offspeed stuff and throw his split-finger and changeup more often.
From the beginning of June on, Morrow upped the use of his splitter by almost nine percent and the whiff rate on that pitch increased by almost five percent. He saw a dramatic drop in line drive rate against and a big increase in infield pop-ups.
In April and May, Morrow pitched 57 innings, posting a great 10.42 K/9, but a poor 5.37 BB/9. From June 1st on, once he began to use his splitter more often, Morrow pitched 89.1 innings and posted an even better 11.31 K/9 to go along with a greatly improved 3.23 BB/9. Not only did he gain confidence in his splitter, but he gained confidence in his other pitches as well, which helped him drastically improve his walk rate.
If Morrow could maintain his June-Sept K/9 and BB/9 over a full season, he would likely be the breakout pitcher of 2011. Look at what some other pitchers did with high-strikeout/mediocre walk rates in 2010...
Time Lincecum: 9.8 K/9, 3.22 BB/9 - 3.34 ERA, 3.15 FIP
Jon Lester: 9.74 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 - 3.25 ERA, 3.13 FIP
Yovani Gallardo: 9.73 K/9, 3.65 BB/9 - 3.84 ERA, 3.02 FIP
Jonathan Sanchez: 9.54 K/9, 4.47 BB/9 - 3.07 ERA, 4.00 FIP
The question is: Who do you think the real Brandon Morrow is? Is he the pitcher with a career 5 BB/9 or the pitcher that showed up in June through September with an 11.31 K/9 and 3.23 BB/9? Something in between?
Given his extremely high strikeout rate, I would be willing to bet on Morrow to breakout in 2011. He'll be only 26 years old on opening day, so his prime should be ahead of him. The one factor that concerns me is the increase in his fly ball rate after June 1st. Toronto is a good park for home runs, so he could get hurt if too many fly balls leave the yard.
While the Blue Jays are once again likely to limit his innings -- they shut him down last September -- he should still approach 175 innings or so, which is plenty of time to put up tremendous fantasy value.
If I had to guess, I'd say Morrow will be taken on draft day somewhere around the 15th round. That means all of the big-name pitchers will be gone and GM's will be looking at either middle of the road veterans or young upside plays. I usually go for the upside plays at that point, which is why I will try to get Brandon Morrow on all of my fantasy teams in 2011.