During Spring Training of this year, Seattle Mariners pitcher (and former first round pick) Brandan Morrow decided that he wanted to be a part of the bullpen and not the starting rotation. The Mariners responded by installing the 24-year old strikeout machine as their closer. After an absolutely horrendous first third of the season, he has decided that no thanks, he would rather head back to the starting rotation. Once again, the Mariners caved to his demands, and will be optioning him to AAA indefinitely to work on his stamina and command.
Just so we are all clear here, a kid only three years out of college has gone from the bullpen to the starting rotation, back to the bullpen, and now back to the rotation again. This is not uncommon, but usually it is the team making this decision either because the pitcher is struggling as a starter, or they simply want to limit his innings. In this case, it is all Morrow’s doing. During Spring Training he told the Mariners that it would be easier for him to handle his Type I diabetes as a reliever. Now he insists that it will not be a problem because he has started in the past without complications. I do not know Brandan Morrow and he could be a fantastic guy, but he is looking more and more like a diva every day. He claims he wants to be a starter because he wants to help the team. What would help the team is him having a concrete role on the team and not walking six batters for every nine innings he pitches
There are success stories of failed starters going on to become dominant relievers; while the opposite happens much more rarely. Eric Gagne put together forty-eight unremarkable starts for the Dodgers before saving 152 games over three seasons. Mariano Rivera started ten games in 1995 for the Yankees before becoming a full-time reliever. However, these guys were forced into the bullpen because they had no other choice. They could not cut it as starters. Off the top of my head, the reverse list of players who have transitioned from the bullpen to become successful starters is pretty short: Pedro. He made sixty-three appearances out of the Dodgers bullpen in 1993 before joining the Expos rotation the following season. Please comment if you can think of any other good examples. Let’s compare Pedro’s bullpen exploits to Morrow’s. And yes, I have removed Morrow’s five September 2008 starts from the data.
As we can see, Morrow was worse in pretty much every way, shape and form, matching Pedro only in strikeouts. I will admit it is a little unfair to compare Morrow against Pedro, so let’s just examine Morrow’s numbers on their own. His ERA is acceptable for a set-up man or lower tier closer and his strikeout rate his phenomenal. Other than that, all his numbers are well below average. Giving up six walks per innings is unacceptable whether you are a starter or a reliever. I have no idea how Morrow thinks he is going to transition below-average numbers for a reliever into a successful starting role. When you look at his failed journey into the starting rotation last year, the numbers get even uglier. He kept his WHIP constant at 1.46 but his poor control came back to bite him due an increased home run rate of 1.60 per nine innings. This led to an inflated 5.79 ERA.
Despite putting together an unremarkably unimpressive track record in the big leagues, Morrow thinks he knows what is best for him, and Seattle is letting him do whatever he wants. In no way am I saying that I am smarter and know the right answer, but the Mariners need to take control of the situation. He is there property and they should decide what is best for him. Morrow is entitled to his input, but in the end it should be the Mariners decision. However, you can only have so much confidence in a management team that put together the first $100 million/ 100 loss team in MLB history.
With all of that being said, I wish the best of luck to Morrow in his quest to become a starting pitcher. He is an exciting player to watch and if he figures out his control problems could be a solid number two or three starter. If not, he will be added to the long list of top five draft pick busts.