- Let's get this out of the way: no, Jarrod Washburn isn't turning into a Cy Young candidate before our eyes. At least, not in any legitimate sense of the word. He might be turning into 2005 Jarrod Washburn, but 2005 Jarrod Washburn's shiny ERA was entirely a product of good luck, so that's not particularly encouraging. The numerical breakdown is here, and I won't bother repeating it, since Dave already did a fine job. Aside from a few extra groundballs, Washburn's exactly the same guy he's always been, nevermind the low run total.
You don't even have to go to that level to convince yourself that Washburn's current ERA is a mirage, though. So far this year, he's started five games. Four of them have taken place in a pitcher's paradise. In terms of OPS rank in the AL, his opponents are 6th, 12th, 13th, and 14th (twice). That one decent offense he faced - Minnesota - got him for four runs in 6.1 innings. The other four games have come against the three worst lineups in the American League. Of course he isn't allowing runs; the hitters he's been facing are terrible. Washburn's gone with the same approach he's always had, but because bad hitters don't hit line drives, he hasn't been burned. I'm not complaining, because I like when the Mariners win, but this isn't a repeatable skill. Give Washburn a few starts against the better teams in the league and you'll remember why we don't like his contract.
- I don't know who's in charge of the Safeco scoreboard and PA system, but they're clearly having fun with the whole Funk Blast phenomenon, because last night when Richie Sexson went deep the whole thing started going before the ball even crossed the fence.
On the one hand, that takes some stones, but on the other, you can usually tell from Sexson's swing which balls are taking off and which are, I dunno, being caught by the catcher behind him. Sexson's pursuit of Mark McGwire's 2001 continues, and while he still has a lot of ground to gain in the slugging category, the weather's only going to get warmer. We're now into May and Richie's still without a multi-hit game. In Ichiro's record-breaking 2004, he had nine of them by this point, and that's with April being the worst month of his season. This is why being a hitting coach is so much harder than being a pitching coach.
- If Jamie Burke made outs in each of his next 30 plate appearances, he'd have an OBP as low as Rene Rivera's last year.
- So, Brandon Morrow. When he's throwing full speed, it seems like he's almost enough to make you forget about Mark Lowe. The way we've seen him use his high-90s fastball to blow through guys like Ian Kinsler, Jermaine Dye, and Mark Teahen over the past few weeks is beyond impressive for someone with so little experience, and there's a sense of stability in the bullpen that wasn't there when we entered the year with Reitsma as the 8th inning guy. There's no quicker way to earn the trust of fans and coaches alike than by making people swing and miss.
But just how much of this is repeatable? I mean, yeah, he's starting to pile up the strikeouts, but a lot of them have also come against garbage like Pena/Buck/Erstad/Cintron. It's hard to evaluate how good a pitcher really is when a lot of his best moments have come against lousy competition.
I was talking to Dave about this last night. In his opinion, Morrow's a one-pitch pitcher who doesn't have enough command of his fastball to be an impact reliever over the long haul. It's a perfectly valid opinion; watch his appearance from last night and you'll see that he threw only a handful of strikes, and that the hitters chased a lot of balls out of the zone. Against a better lineup, Morrow might've gotten into a lot more trouble. That's a bad sign going forward.
I'm in a different, albeit somewhat similar boat. I agree that Morrow's become a one-pitch pitcher - his breaking stuff isn't nearly good enough to feature in such important innings. He's going to stick with what works, and if that means all he's doing is pumping 97mph fastball after 97mph fastball while the other pitches atrophy, then so be it. I also agree that his command of his fastball could stand to be a lot better, as he clearly isn't able to pinpoint his location right now. He's generally missing around the zone, but he's missing randomly, like he's just aiming for the plate and crossing his fingers.
Where we differ, though, is on the matter of how good this makes Morrow right now. Based on what we've seen so far, hitters are having a ton of trouble catching up to Morrow's stuff when he's throwing in the high-90s. It's not just the bad hitters who're struggling; Kinsler and Dye were both way behind. His fastball is explosive, and for something so fast, it's remarkably good at sneaking up on the batter. I don't know if this is because Morrow hides the ball well in his delivery or if he's extending further towards home plate than most other guys, but the easiest way to read a pitcher is by reading the hitters, and they're telling us that Morrow's fastball is hard to hit.
On top of the velocity, the pitch also has sharp, late break. So not only is it difficult to time, but it's also difficult to square up. Because of this, I think Morrow's already good enough to be an important member of the bullpen. And because he's still getting used to relieving, I think his command of his hard fastball will get better over the course of the season as he becomes more familiar with putting everything into every pitch instead of having to pace himself. Morrow can help now, and he's probably going to improve through the summer. That's good news for people who like seeing the Mariners win.
Morrow's fastball command isn't nearly as good as we'd like it to be, but I think it's a good enough pitch - thanks to its movement and velocity - for him to survive with mediocre location. Even if he's just trying to throw strikes without aiming for any particular spot, when it's coming that fast the pressure's still on the hitter. And recent indications are that the hitters aren't succeeding. If he runs into a more patient lineup he's going to walk a few guys, but walks are only bad when they come on top of a bunch of hits, and I don't foresee Morrow having that problem. Walking to first might be the most damage anyone can do to him with any regularity this season. Joel Zumaya throws a lot of balls, but since nobody hits him, it's not much of a problem. I think Morrow's fastball is good enough that he could be that kind of setup man.
Who knows. I might be jumping the gun, here, but from what I've seen of Morrow when he's at 100% intensity (as opposed to in his longer stints when he's getting stretched out), he's an impressive reliever who's going to miss a lot of bats. This, of course, is murder for his long-term starting aspirations, since (A) the organization'll be reluctant to shift him out of a role where he succeeds, and (B) he's setting his development as a starter back by ignoring his offspeed stuff and throwing everything at max effort, but if you're able to come to terms with that, then watching him handle the 8th inning duties this year could be a whole lot of fun.