Brandon Morrow of the Toronto Blue Jays has been wicked awesome (as they say a lot here in Maine). He has now thrown 20.1 innings of scoreless baseball and has won his last three starts. Naysayers will say, well two or three starts do not mean much in the grand scheme of things and his last two dominant starts have been against the Mariners and Angels--not exactly offensive juggernauts. And those naysayers would have a point. Small sample sizes are always dangerous. But, it is the way Morrow is winning that has this writer excited to say the least.
The thinking here has always been that if Brandon Morrow could pound the strike zone and pitch efficiently, there would be no stopping him. And suddenly, that is what he is doing. In his complete game masterpiece last night against the Angels, Morrow threw just 102 pitches. And for the second straight start, he did not walk anyone. In fact, of his 102 pitches, 75 were strikes. This a new Brandon Morrow.
How new? Consider that Morrow has always struck out his fair share of batters. His strikeout per nine rate has been over ten for two straight seasons. This year, he is striking out four less batters per game and yet, he still has the best strikeout to walk ratio of his career at 3.63. With Morrow's pure stuff, throwing strikes is the key, especially early in the count. If he does that, then his slider is his strikeout pitch because he throws it from a similar arm slot and the batter has no chance. Last night, seven of his eight strikeouts came on the slider.
Just as important as throwing strikes is where he is throwing them. Fifty of his 75 strikes came in the lower half of the strike zone. Most of his swinging strikes came from below the strike zone. Those pitches in the lower half of the zone have resulted in more ground balls this season as his ground ball percentage is at 47.5 percent, much higher than his 38 percent career average. That is also important as Morrow has always struggled with a high home run percentage. The less fly balls he throws, the less chance of homers. Morrow is also making it difficult for batters two square his pitches as his line drive percentage is only 11 percent this season.
The next step for Brandon Morrow is to win consistently and beat tough competition. His roughest start of the season was against the Tampa Bay Rays. Morrow has to start winning his share of those games. For his career, in games against teams with winning records, Morrow is 17-21 with a 4.67 ERA. Morrow has the stuff to do that, especially if he can continue to pound the strike zone, keep the ball down and get ahead in the count to put batters away.
With game scores of 71 and 89 in his last two starts (50 is average), Brandon Morrow is emerging as the kind of pitcher this observer always thought he could be.