Here’s an idea I’m instantly regretting: instead of empty open thread posts for playoff games, as we’ve done around here in years past, each day I’m going to attempt to have a hopefully-quick look around at some splits and stats and whatever else stands out on a Jays player’s 2013 season, because… what the hell else is there to do for the next month? Or the next week. Or just today– or however long I actually continue to follow through on this exercise.
8:07 PM ET – Cincinnati at Pittsburgh – Francisco Liriano (3.0 rWAR) vs. Johnny Cueto (1.4 rWAR)
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Brandon Morrow didn’t leave us with a lot of valuable data to dissect this year, as he only made 10 starts, two of which didn’t get through the fourth inning (including one where he recorded only six outs), and really only looked himself for a couple starts in total.
Of course, some fans will tell you that looked utterly like himself– MEUH!– by spending most of the year on the DL. The frustration can be forgiven, I suppose, but the total disregard for reality can’t. In a comment on yesterday’s Playoff Post (Mortem), in response to someone who said he was “so sick of the delusions fans have regarding Morrow,” I rather emphatically corrected the record.
I am so sick of people pretending Morrow is the same as fucking Dustin McGowan, when he’s made exactly the same number of starts over the last four years as Clay Buchholz, had two full, healthy seasons in 2010 and 2011 (missed a little time at the start of 2011, shut down because of his innings limit in 2010), and still made 21 starts last year as well.
Yes, he was hurt this year and it’s a concerning arm thing. But last year it was just an oblique injury– it’s not like there’s some kind of recurring thing that he’s not able to recover from. And of pitchers who threw 120 innings in 2012, where do you think his ERA ranked? Twelfth! In all of baseball. Ahead of Chris Sale, ahead of Cole Hamels, ahead of Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, C.C. Sabathia, and tonnes more.
Yet Jays fans are ready to run him out the door because they can’t wrap their heads around his health history.
He made 26 of the 26 starts he was asked to in 2010 before he was shut down. If you expect he would make about 32 starts in a full year if healthy, that means 96 expected in the three years since, of which he made 61.
Add it all up, and he’s been healthy for 71% of what should have been his starts since he joined the Jays rotation at the start of 2010. It’s not nearly as bad as this kind of nonsense thinking would have you believe.
Now, that’s me putting a particularly rosy glow on it. Obviously his two most recent years have also been his two least healthy ones, and there is still quite a bit of mystery surrounding just what is wrong with the nerve in his throwing arm.
We spoke about it on a recent podcast, and Drew explained that part of the mystery is that radial nerve entrapment simply isn’t that common an injury. But Morrow is being looked after by the best– it was Dr. James Andrews who finally diagnosed the problem, and told Morrow to stop throwing. “By mid-October, he expects to be throwing at 100% capacity or heading for a tricky bit of surgery to release the nerve,” explained John Lott in a piece for the National Post back in August.
And the fact that the diagnosis took so long isn’t necessarily as big a failure on the Jays’ part as it maybe seems.
Quoting a Driveline Mechanics post about radial nerve intrapments in pitchers (which currently isn’t online), True Blue L.A. tells us that it is often misdiagnosed. That post, which is from the spring of 2010, was about Vicente Padilla’s injury. The then-Dodger tried to pitch through it, making 16 starts that season, but ended up undergoing surgery the following February. He was back on the mound again before the end of that April, throwing harder than in previous years, albeit in short stints out of the bullpen, until a bulging disc in his neck ended his season.
Padilla appeared in 56 games the following year with Boston, and this year has moved over to Japan, still pitching reasonably well. The True Blue L.A. piece also points us to an MLB.com piece from April of 2008, when Matt Garza was struggling with radial nerve irritation. He ended up making 30 starts that year, then hit the 200 inning mark in each of the next two seasons.
In other words, the injury isn’t necessarily catastrophic. Which doesn’t mean that Morrow’s can’t be worse– an MLB.com piece from Ken Gurnick on Padilla’s successful surgery explains that “Eric Gagne had ulnar nerve entrapment surgery in June 2005 and missed the rest of the season. However, that was a different nerve, and recovery times vary depending in part on the extent of nerve damage.”
Still, while we may be a little bit in the dark about what’s going on, Lott’s piece noted that Morrow hopes surgery can be avoided, and if not, the recovery time for him is expected to be about three months– leaving him time to be ready for Spring Training. And while there may not be a large enough sample of recoveries to look at and say that we entirely comfortable thinking he’ll be fine, this idea that the Jays or their fans are being reckless or delusional if they believe anything of the sort is based on nothing more than fear of the unknown– there are no easily memorized recovery timetables for this like there are with Tommy John surgery.
Sorry though, it’s not so crazy to think that, now that he’s finally been properly diagnosed, he could very easily be back to his old self next season. Meanwhile, it is completely crazy to think that the oblique issue he suffered in 2012 is necessarily going to be some kind of recurring thing. He was basically healthy the previous two seasons before that, and next spring will mark his being four years removed from of the shoulder issues that coloured his early career with Seattle.
In other words, while I’m certainly not saying he’ll surely be healthy, I do think the issue is very possibly considerably overblown by the most negative of fans, or those who aren’t capable or willing to look a little deeper at his issues than the simple fact that he has missed a bunch of starts over the last couple of years.
Consider that, over the three seasons prior to this one, Morrow ranked 75th in MLB in total innings pitched, despite being shut down at the end of 2010. Consider also that, in all of the big leagues, pitchers to have averaged over 200 innings per season in the last three years number just 21. Morrow, from 2010 to 2012, pitched more innings than relied-upon guys on title-aspirant clubs such as Homer Bailey, Clay Buchholz, Phil Hughes, Jake Peavy, Derek Holland, and Adam Wainwright, and was within 50 innings over that span of Kyle Lohse, Josh Beckett, Mike Leake, Francisco Liriano, Matt Harrison, and Jason Hammel.
Not all of those guys were losing innings to poor health, mind you, but included among them are a bunch of names I suspect you’d be pretty damn alright with pencilling in for a rotation spot on your team, and not hemming and hawing with all the Jeff Blair-fuelled “Morrow, you can’t even count on!” case-closed nonsense.
The Jays will have someone like Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison or Marcus Stroman as their sixth starter next year, and even if you end up needing ten starts out of one of those guys, would that really be such a bad exchange for getting twenty-odd out of Morrow? So can we maybe stop pretending this is a bigger deal than it really is? It would be shocking if he doesn’t pitch more in 2014 than he did this year, not the other way around.