News that comes out of nowhere such as yesterday's revelation on Morrow's future is best reflected on with some time to digest it and process through the initial, often too immediate, emotional reactions. I was ticked off by the story yesterday that Morrow was shifting to the bullpen full time, that he was giving up on the idea of ever being a starting pitcher. Morrow the starter was a big piece toward pushing this team's ceiling upwards and many of us hoped that he would provide a nice middle to upper rotation figure come 2010 and beyond. That hope is no more.
Instead we're left with hoping that Brandon Morrow becomes a lights out closer. And while I certainly think Morrow can be, probably already is, a good reliever, make no mistake, he has to be certifiably lights out to come anywhere near the value that he would have been able to as a starter.
J.J. Putz, Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan; those four illustrate what is the best you can hope for from a closer. Those four represented the best of the best over some period of recent time. And that best value comes out to about 2.7 wins. Sure, they can go higher in some years, but they will also go lower. 2.7 wins/year is essentially the multi-year ceiling for closers. If those four couldn't exceed that figure, you are probably delusional to think Morrow can. Relievers just do not throw enough innings.
Jamie Moyer, Paul Maholm, Ted Lilly, Dana Eveland. What do those names mean to you? Those are starting pitchers last year who were worth about 2.7 wins. And that's Morrow's absolute, 100%, best case scenario. A more realistic scenario, and one that is still optimistic, would be to just go by what Morrow himself did in the bullpen last year. You might recall that Morrow was pretty fantastic in relief at the start of the year. He was pumping up the velocity, showed improved command and demonstrated his off speed stuff. He struck out a third of all batters that he faced and over three for every walk allowed. Assuming he maintained those levels while closing and doubled his innings total from the pen in 2009, he would have tallied 2 wins worth of value. Congrats Brandon, you would have been as valuable as Tim Wakefield or Randy Wolf was last year.
I hope this has made my point of how big of a blow to Morrow's value is and why I was so upset at the decision. Now I want to clarify who my anger is directed toward. We at LL have made it a point, especially over the past seasons, of defending players with regards to their health. Notably, we supported Erik Bedard in pulling himself out and we flamed Raul Ibanez for playing through an injury in 2007 that cost him dearly in terms of production. Baseball is, for all intents and purposes, an individual sport supporting a team goal and playing while injured does nothing more than hurt your individual contribution. Baseball isn't football or hockey, where playing injured can help inspire teammates to give more effort. Jose Lopez cannot hit more home runs just because he really wants to live up to Raul Ibanez's display of manliness.
So where does that leave us with Brandon Morrow? The answer to that lies in the answer to the question, "Why is he moving to the bullpen?" If it's because of his diabetes, then fine, I will not hold that against you Brandon. I do firmly believe that a player knows his body and his limitations better than anyone else and I will not stand to pass judgment on it. But if it's because you feel more comfortable (not in a health sense) relieving, or because you like the pressure of closing more, then well, I am disappointed Brandon, because that's dumb. You are costing yourself and you are costing this team.
Which is it then? There seems to be a multitude of answers. I will quote him directly, by way of local writers. Shannon Drayer seems to feel the diabetes was the major driving force:
"It just came down in my mind that I am more suited to pitch on a day to day basis rather than every five days throwing 100 pitches."
He continued by explaining what he went through last year.
"Everything I think is easier on me on the day to day. Starting I have had problems with low blood sugar, trying to get it perfect before the game or even if I try to be a little high I fall down in warmups and it was just a catch up game from then on. Out of the bullpen we have a pre game meal and I have 5,6,7, innings for it to level out and make sure everything is good and level and where I want it to be."
But on the flip side, are quotes like these, from LaRue's piece:
"I really wrestled with starting or closing, and the bottom line is that after J.J.(Putz) was traded I wanted to close,"
from Baker's blog:
"Once they traded J.J., I thought, I kept going back and forth and back and forth,'' he said. "Two or three weeks before I came to them with it, it's really kind of been just weighing on me. I just felt like a big relief when I went back to the bullpen because I feel that's like my home now. I've been there two years and I don't know if I could go back.''
and from Jim Street's piece on MLB.com:
"I went to them," he said on Sunday morning at the Peoria Sports Complex. "They were going to give me every chance to start because that's what I've asked for in the past. But I decided about a week ago that I'm better off, and I can help the team more, in the bullpen."
"Diabetes is a little bit of a factor, but the major thing is the excitement from coming in at the end of the game. Once you get a taste of closing, I don't think many people would want to go back to anything else."
Health risks aside, Morrow is quoted often saying that he, and others, think he'll be more useful as a reliever. The math isn't with you, Brandon (and others). I respect a player's knowledge of his own health, but I do not respect a player's opinion on how he is best used. Ken Griffey Jr thinks he can still play the outfield. Raul Ibanez thinks he's not bad at defense. Pedro Martinez thinks he's worth $5 million a year. Gary Matthews Jr thinks he's worth a starting job. The list is endless. Baseball players are largely unaware of their own value so if that's the reason Morrow decided to go to the bullpen, then hooray, we now have a guy in the bullpen to match Felix's baseball intelligence out of the rotation. I cannot wait for the first all-fastball game from the duo.