Today In Poorly Formed Thoughts

As another season winds down, two questions are at the forefront of the minds of Blue Jays fans: 1) What happened to the Brandon Morrow we knew from last season; and 2) How can the Blue Jays strengthen their bullpen ahead of next season.

Or at least so says the stats man for Blue Jays broadcasts, Scott Carson, who once infamously suggested that BABIP was one of the most important numbers to look at in deciding the talent level of a pitcher. Mr. Carson’s latest article for Rogers Sportsnet takes a stab at solving both issues with one answer.

Aside: I once used the phrase “kill two birds with one stone,” and a woman who overheard chided me, suggesting that “feed two birds with one hand” would connote the exact same message without the unnecessary violence.

Anyway, Carson opens his article like this:

The Jays need to find a credible closer, but their best option may already be in a Toronto uniform.

Hmm. I don’t know if I’d say they need a closer as much as they’ll need to shore up their bullpen if, as expected, Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch sign elsewhere this offseason, but I’ll digress. Besides, this sounds as though we might be getting some reasoning to allow Casey Janssen a crack at the closer’s role next season. I don’t know if I’m on board with such a move, but it’s an interesting idea and certainly better than going out and burning money on a free agent closer this offseason.

When all is said and done and the 2011 regular season is in the books with the Toronto Blue Jays finishing in their familiar spot of fourth place in the American League East, much debate will go on in the blogosphere about just how successful this season really was.

Allow me to save the blogosphere a lot of time. The team will finish precisely where anyone with any sense would have predicted they’d finish. However, in doing so, they acquired and showcased several pieces of talent that will serve to help them improve in the coming years and compete for playoff spots. The world is not quite as black and white as Mr. Carson suggests.

Jose Bautista’s defence of his home run title, the full throttle arrival of Brett Lawrie, the speed element brought to the table by Rajai Davis . . .

Really? We’re equating Rajai Davis’ running to Jose Bautista’s home runs and Brett Lawrie’s emergence? Sure, I suppose the 2.4 runs above average that Davis contributed through his baserunning was impressive, if only it wasn’t for the 15.4 runs his batting and fielding combined to cost the team.

. . . and the regression of Travis Snider and Kyle Drabek will be a few subjects dissected and discussed.

I think the stats man would do well to look up exactly what “regression” means.

As will the breakout performances by Eric Thames and Henderson Alvarez.

I’m not sure that “breakout” is the term I’d choose to use for either a player who gets on base only 31% of the time or a pitcher who has had seven career starts, five of which were against Baltimore, Oakland and Seattle, but I’ll digress once again.

But in my mind, the lack of a credible closer — leading to an A.L.-high (or worst, depending on how you look at it) 23 blown saves to date — was the biggest reason the Jays were unable to at least reel in the Tampa Bay Rays and stay within striking distance of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

Apparently, Mr. Carson is unaware of what a closer’s role comprises of on a Major League Baseball team. Carson quotes “23 blown saves to date” as evidence of the need for a “credible closer.” However, of those 23 blown saves, a dozen occurred before the ninth inning when a “credible closer” would’ve been unlikely to have been used. In fact, only eight potential save opportunities were blown by a pitcher entering the game in the ninth inning. And one of those came on a day when neither Jon Rauch or Frank Francisco, the two pitchers charged with closing duties through most of the season, were available for the ninth inning.

Let’s just say that in a miracle world where a “credible closer” didn’t give up a single save all season, and the same benefit was not extended to the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees or Tampa Bay Rays, the Blue Jays would still be eight games back of the Yankees, four and a half games back of the Red Sox and a game and a half back of the Rays, with 15 games to play.

Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch were brought in during the winter to replace Kevin Gregg who, despite posting 37 saves in 2010 (fourth highest total in franchise history), was allowed to leave via free agency as a compensation draft pick was deemed the better option.

Kevin Gregg signed with the Baltimore Orioles for a laughable $10 million over two years, and the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Dwight Smith Jr. with the 53rd overall pick in the draft. There isn’t a credible general manager in baseball who wouldn’t choose Smith over Gregg.

Gregg, while never to be confused with a top-shelf closer and caused much hand-wringing amongst the masses, blew only six saves during his lone season in Toronto.

And Jason Frasor blew one save in the ninth when Gregg wasn’t available, so that’s a total of seven blown saves in the ninth inning, which is only one less than the amount of ninth inning blown saves this year. For the record, Gregg has also blown seven saves this season for the Orioles. So, you could say that the Blue Jays have gotten a Gregg value in Rauch and Francisco without committing to paying them in 2012, plus the 53rd overall pick in the last draft and potentially more compensation picks from Rauch and Francisco signing elsewhere this offseason.

Front office moves like this is what the phrase “everyday of the week and twice on Sunday” should be reserved for.

I’m not saying that they made the wrong call by taking a compensation draft pick . . .

Good. You shouldn’t.

. . . but in hindsight, Gregg might have been a more easier-to-swallow option than Francisco or Rauch . . .

Does your hindsight suffer from an astigmatism? How would the exact same results with less compensation and more money being spent be easier to swallow in any way whatsoever?

. . . who have combined to blow 11 saves and both spent time on the disabled list this season.

Francisco and Rauch have actually combined to blow nine saves, only seven of which were in the ninth inning.

So where does this leave the Jays now, looking forward to the 2012 season?

The easy way to remedy this problem is through free agency, something that many of you have wished for in the chat rooms and on Twitter. The obvious choice, based upon who might be out there this winter, is Red Sox fire-baller Jonathan Papelbon, whose 217 total saves since 2006 are second only to first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera.

I seriously can’t believe that a man whose living is earned based on compiling baseball statistics would put any weight whatsoever in the most arbitrary of statistics. No fan should care one iota how many saves the team’s “closer” gets. The only thing of interest should be his team’s wins and the route with which they accomplish that goal.

The only problem is that Papelbon will likely command $15 million-plus on the open market. And, I’ve always been of the belief that bringing in a free agent closer is the final piece of the puzzle for a contender. That doesn’t make fans happy who worry, game-to-game, about the here and now but in the bigger picture (which still has the Blue Jays rebuilding to challenge for the playoffs in 2013), spending big money on a closer this off-season is probably not high on general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ priority list as he reshapes his 40-man roster.

It’s not high on Anthopoulos’ priority list because spending millions of dollars on a multi year contract for a reliever almost never works out.

This past offseason, these relief pitchers all signed deals as free agents that guaranteed them at least $10 million:

  • Rafael Soriano, NYY: 3 years/$35 million
  • Mariano Rivera, NYY: 2 years/$30 million
  • Joaquin Benoit, DET: 3 years/$16 million
  • Scott Downs, LAA: 3 years/$15 million
  • Jesse Crain, CHW: 3 years/$13 million
  • Matt Guerrier, LAD: 3 years/$12 million
  • Bobby Jenks, BOS: 2 years/$12 million
  • Brian Fuentes, OAK: 2 years/$10.5 million
  • Kevin Gregg, BAL: 2 years/$10 million

None of these pitchers, not even Rivera, rank in the top 50 (out of the 137 qualifying) for clutch performances (measured by performances in high leverage situations) this season, and two of them haven’t even pitched enough innings as a reliever this year to qualify. Of the nine, only three (Rivera, Downs and Crain) are being used in enough high leverage situations to rank in the top 20 among relievers for highest average leverage when entering the game.

In other words, teams that have spent a lot of money on relievers, aren’t getting the high leverage performances that they presumably expected, and in most cases, aren’t even using those pitchers in the highest leverage situations. So much for the “credible closer” thing.

Therefore, unless a trade brings in a closer this winter, the options will have to come from within. There’s been talk of Jesse Litsch or Casey Janssen being options, or young prospect Nestor Molina, whose meteoric rise through the system has caught the eyes of many in and outside the organization.

I’m not thrilled at the prospect of either Litsch or Janssen, for very separate reasons, closing out games, and Nestor Molina spent the majority of this season playing A Ball. Even if he gets invited to the big league camp and pitches twenty innings of shutout baseball in Spring Training, he’s unlikely to make the opening day roster.

In my mind, the Jays have their best option already in uniform and the type of swing-and-miss arm that they need to pitch in the ninth with the game in the balance.

His name is Brandon Morrow.

I beg your pardon?

Before most of you accelerate carpal tunnel syndrome by responding to my suggestion at the bottom of this column, hear me out: Morrow has closing experience with the Seattle Mariners before being sent to the Jays for Brandon League (whose 34 saves this season rank him third in the A.L. and saw him pitch in the All-Star Game — gulp!) a week after they traded Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies in December of 2009.

For the record:

  • Brandon Morrow (as a Blue Jay): 6.7 WAR.
  • Brandon League (as a Mariner): 1.5 WAR.
But the All-Star Game!?!?!?!?! Well, then. The Blue Jays sure lost that deal.

We all know just how dominant Morrow has been as a starter; his 17-strikeout, one-hitter against the Rays in 2010 was one of the best starting performances in franchise history, but those moments have been few and far between.

Please show me a pitcher for whom 17 strikeout, one hit outings aren’t few and far between.

And one has to wonder just how durable the 27-year-old diabetic is and what affect the disease might have on his performance.

I’m really surprised that Mr. Carson chose statistics when medicine seems to so obviously be his true calling. He must not have had much effection for that type of career.

A statistical breakdown of Morrow’s career to date certainly adds to the debate:

STARTER > 4.73 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .243 Opp Avg, 0.97 HR/9 IP

RELIEVER > 3.65 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, .217 Opp Avg, 0.84 HR/ 9 IP

Thank you for adding to the debate, now let me finish it:

STARTER > 25.9% K Rate, 10.5% BB Rate, 3.74 FIP, 3.76 xFIP, 378.2 IP.

RELIEVER > 25.5% K Rate, 15.1% BB Rate, 4.17 FIP, 4.53 xFIP, 118.1 IP.

There isn’t a scenario known to man in which Brandon Morrow, with this ability and these numbers, isn’t worth more to a team as starter rather than a reliever.

While Morrow hasn’t exactly been an automatic in save situations (16 for 22 career), the fact that he’s one of the top strikeout artists of his generation adds to the intrigue. Over his two seasons with the Blue Jays, Morrow’s rate of 10.41 Ks per nine innings is tops in the majors. And while digging into the numbers, it also dawned on me that Morrow, in 183 career appearances spanning just under 500 innings pitched, has induced just 20 double-plays, including zero this season.

Double plays? Seriously? The stats man is going to complain about the quality of a pitcher because he’s not inducing enough double plays? How many double plays has Jered Weaver or Jeremy Hellickson induced this year? Morrow isn’t a ground ball pitcher. He throws a hard four seam fastball, and he throws it, rightly so, up in the zone.

Morrow really is just a one-trick pony. It has been strikeouts and little of anything else.

Please, Mr. Carson. Mr. Carson, please. Do yourself a favour before embarrassing yourself any further. Go back to the introduction of DiPS Theory and just think about pitching reasonably. Think about what BABIP really measures. And think about what a pitcher can actually control from the mound. Think of the outcomes that a pitcher actually has a say in. Do all that, and then tell me that it would be best for the Toronto Blue Jays to use Brandon Morrow less rather than more.

More than anything else, his constantly high pitch counts keep him from going deep into games. He has averaged just 5.2 innings per start as a Blue Jay due to throwing 17.4 pitches per inning. That has led to an already suspect bullpen being overworked. It’s classic cause and effect.

Unless the cause is someone writing completely out of their element and the effect is this article, I’m not sure I follow.

Strike-throwing closers have been scarce around these parts. Outside of Tom Henke and Duane Ward and, for single seasons, Victor Cruz and Billy Koch, they have been the rarest of birds. I’m sure there will be many options discussed this off-season, but Brandon Morrow might prove to be their best option.

Why stop at Morrow. Why not have a rotation of closers and include all the best pitchers on the team. That way you never lose a game in the ninth inning and there’s always a great pitcher ready and fresh to go. I’m thinking that Ricky Romero could pitch the ninth in the first game, then Morrow in the second game. The third ninth inning could be handled by Brett Cecil, then Henderson Alvarez, and finally Kyle Drabek (fingers crossed he’s good enough) could be counted on to close out every fifth game. Just think about that.

The starting rotation might suffer a little bit, but the Blue Jays would never lose a game in the ninth inning again.

Comments (44)

  1. you really went all out on this one…

  2. It awoke something inside of me. It felt like Cloverfield in my soul.

  3. The jays should obviously try to trade for a bonefide closer like Broxton or Soria who you know will be closing for years to come.*

    *Written in 2010

  4. they should have gone into Book of Morons over at DJF.

  5. It’s sad that articles like this still require completely dominating them Parkes style. But, I’m glad he did

  6. Dustin,

    This article was as much a waste of your time as it was a waste of anyone’s time it was to read the original article; other than the comical value. Tho I enjoyed your closing point the most.

    I loved the timing of Scott’s article – right before Gregg blew one vs the Jays

  7. If the Jays had better starting pitching that went deeper into games, they would rely on the lesser arms in the bullpen less often and the bullpen’s numbers would go up. Everybody remember 2007-08? The bullpen didn’t have great numbers because of a great closer (Accardo in ’07, diminished BJ Ryan in ’08) but rather because they didn’t pitch a ton of innings.

    How do you get this starting pitching? By letting guys like Morrow (who was rushed through Seattle’s minor league system) work out their problems so they become more effective and pitch more innings. Ditto for Drabek, Alvarez et al. Until the starting pitching is up for pitching 6+ innings a game, it doesn’t matter who’s in the bullpen.

  8. Carson did not mention that although there were 23 blown saves this season, only 14 losses resulted from them. Only 7 of those losses were due to a blown save in or after the 9th inning when a traditional, “credible”, closer would have appeared. Two of them can be hung around the neck of Francisco and three for Jon Rauch. Perez, Camp, and Tallet each had a blown save leading to a loss coming in the 9th and beyond. $10+ million to prevent seven losses? No thanks.

    Data: http://www.baseball-reference.com/play-index/share.cgi?id=fukIk

  9. Before you tell someone that he doesn’t know what the word “regression” means, make sure you do. He’s using it in the sense of reverting to an earlier and/or less advanced state. It is a totally acceptable (and very common) use of the term. No one reading that would think he was using it in the sense you are talking about.

    • Anyone who talks about statistics in baseball would use it only in the sense that I’m talking about. That isn’t too much to expect from The Stats Man.

      • I’m sorry, but that’s a ridiculous assertion. Some examples of the great Keith Law using it in the same sense that Carson did:

        http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/chat/_/id/37345/mlb-insider-keith-law
        http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/chat/_/id/26938/mlb-draft-keith-law
        http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/chat/_/id/21934/21934

        He used a term that, in context, was both correct and unambiguous. You (fairly) ripped the guy a new one for the thesis of what he was saying – try accepting some criticism when you make a comparatively minor mistake.

        • I’m fine with admitting a mistake when I’ve made one. I haven’t here. In two of those instances Law is writing about top caliber prospects who have an area of their game that isn’t as top calibre as it once appeared. It’s regressed back to what other prospects are considered to have. And in the other he’s probably misusing the term. There’s a difference between regression and decline.

          • “There’s a difference between regression and decline.”

            Not necessarily, and I think that’s the point you’re missing. If the decline returns you to a point that you were at before, that IS regression.

            And for the record, I think you’re completely misunderstanding Law’s use of the term if you think he’s saying that those prospects are regressing to some “prospect mean”. Their skills have declined (or have appeared to, at least). That’s word the word regression means, in that context.

          • http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/regression

            1 a return to a former or less developed state

        • Sorry, Scott Carson. You’re just not getting it.

          1) They’re talking about statistics.
          2) He’s the stats man.
          3) Drabek & Snider have never put up numbers at any level like this.
          4) And they’re certainly not regressing toward a mean.
          5) Regression in any sense of the word isn’t being used properly here.
          6) Let me know what they’re regressing back to?

          • Most of your list there is completely beside the point.

            They’re regressing back to a less developed state (i.e. less good at baseball, seemingly not as close to being successful major leaguers, etc.).

          • Give it up, Scott. I don’t think you should be the one telling others to accept criticism.

            You pulled one definition of regression that doesn’t specifically state that the return to a less developed state has to be a state that the person was previously in and you’re jumping at other people. If it isn’t clearly defined, then the connotation exists. Otherwise, it’s regression to a mean, in which case it’s still wrong.

  10. Well done.

    Carson is an embarrassment.

  11. Carson’s use of regression is still probably misused in that Drabek had never pitched before in the Majors and Snider has yet to establish his true talent level. So by all accounts, saying they had disappointing seasons based on some peoples expectations would have been more poignant.

  12. I’m actually quite offended by the diabetes talk. As if that has anything to do with Morrow’s apparent struggles. My mother and grandmother both suffered from Type-1 Diabetes. My mother was an incredible athlete, leading her high school to a provincial championship in volleyball before moving on to university where she won team and provincial MVPs. She was also a talented horse-back rider and track runner.

    I feel like the constant blaming of Morrow’s “troubles” on Diabetes is an ill-informed cop out by a writer who’s too fucking lazy to actually look at the facts. It’s insulting to people who suffer from the disease and it pisses me the fuck off.

    • C’mon Travis, what do you expect from a guy who clearly hasn’t grasped how to interpret stats in order to back an argument? I’m mean, his bio clearly states he a….oh. Well nevermind then.

  13. Fun read for sure. Guy got pretty carried away. I’ve got to say though, do you really think the bullpen has been good? Is it NOT something we need to improve if we’re ever going to pretend to compete?

  14. @DT For a player to regress, they must progress prior at some point. Drabek in his first shot at the major leagues this year, failed miserably. No progression there. While Snider has shown flashes of ability to produce against ML pitching it was never for a long enough period of time to say he legitimately progressed.

    • Players don’t have to establish themselves in the majors in order to be able to regress. Is it possible that Snider and Drabek were just never as good as anyone thought they were? I suppose, and in that case, then no, they didn’t regress. However, both of them put up some of the shittiest numbers of their minor league careers after being sent back down. To me, that fits the definition of “regression”, but you’re free to disagree.

      Either way, the word “regression” IS a totally legitimate term to use in the discussion.

  15. make carson read this.

  16. “He must not have had much effection for that type of career.”

    Comedy gold.

  17. If you’ll allow a little tangent thinking here, the idea of a “rotation of closers” isn’t nearly as far fetched as you make it sound. Though I wouldn’t use them as capital letter Closers has been traditionally used.

    Why not use the starters on their off-day throw day out of the bullpen for 10-15 pitches? Wouldn’t it be more productive to use Romero as a LOOGY once every 5 days instead of just side session work?

    They would have to be carefully monitored of course, but it would be effectively strengthening your bullpen at no additional payroll cost.

    …and it’ll probably never happen as any and all pitcher injuries would be, rightly or wrongly, attributed to this strategy.

  18. I would give Morrow another year to make some progress into becoming a good major league starter. If he can’t start to go deeper into games and start lowering the amount of runs he’s allowing. I think we saw last year that when he lowers his velocity, he gets more contact. If he’s only throwing two pitches then pitchers are going to adjust and start to hit him.

    The bullpen seems perfect for him because he has two pitches he can throw for strikes and doesn’t walk too many people. I think this should only be considered if he proves to the Jays that he can’t be a great starter.

  19. I’ve always preferred the term “get two birds stoned at once.”

  20. There really are two reasonable ways to see this.

    1.) Brandon Morrow is just development away from being a star starter based on his peripherals (which, as Carson pointed out, largely rely on his ability to strike people out or give up big hits –but no fly balls XFIP, anyone?). His historical numbers suggest he is unlikely to fail if given more opportunities based on the stats that are on hand based on his comparison’s with other pitchers.

    2) Brandon’s great unless he has runners on base. Well then, all he has to do is pitch from the windup all game! Problem solved.

    Brandon’s ERA is horrible and although this is not the be all end all of rating a pitcher, it suggests he is not doing his basic job–to last a long time into games and provide quality starts on a consistent basis. Unless Brandon learns to control what he throws more consistently or adds another pitch, the bullpen might be where he belongs. Yes, a strike thrower like Brandon would be much more valuable as a starter to the team–but not if he is giving up 7 runs in 3 innings. And adding the innings up is a non-starter from that vantage point.

    Now I’m well aware there is a dearth of good starting pitching in the league (and the expensive nature of it). Most of the new “aces” that have been discovered on teams like Texas and Cleveland are two pitch pitchers, and that throwing a great fastball is a lovely front of the rotation weapon. But in this division, you need pitchers, not throwers. Especially against teams like the Sux and the Skankees.

    But as far as Carson’s article goes, it’s just as plausible a musing to suggest Morrow go to the pen. Now, would it be better for the Jays if the first scenario works out? Of course. But sneering at those who would suggest otherwise and playing semantics with the word regression doesn’t really afford you any authority, it just makes you unnecessarily douchey.

    Will he be sent there? Probably not–unless they get Yu Darvish in the off season. But considering Seattle has already moved him around already quite a bit, I don’t think it sheer idiocy to suggest that might be where he eventually ends up.

  21. Bottom line. end all of the conversation..

    200 IP @ 4.5 ERA >>>>>> 70 IP @ 3.50 ERA

    you hear that texas rangers?

  22. Scott Carson is a joke.

  23. I wanted to look at this from a losses point of view in that the Jays bullpen has been charged with 19 losses. That’s a lot in the AL East. But then I looked at the Atlanta Braves (because that’s who the gods of this blog would have us look at for comparable numbers) and found they have 20 losses. But they have an excellent closer in Craig Kimbrel (43 saves). Clearly, blown saves and losses are meaningless since they have similar numbers in those departments and in the equally fantastic NL East (oh, what’s that? it’s not comparable? oh fuck off Parkes!)

    Anyway, Craig Kimbrel is fucking awesome and I hope the Jays can develop someone similar. At the end of the day though, no, free agency will never net someone good because anyone good is already past their best-by date by the time they’re ready for free agency. Therefore, spending $100 million on a closer is like spending $100 on Vernon Wells for a full year. Meaningless.

    As for Morrow, a) Morrow seems to have too much good stuff and potential and he’s too good to toss out of the rotation and b) you bloggers don’t really know what you’re talking about when it comes to relievers and neither do I. Stop pretending you do until you’ve got actual alternatives to suggest.

  24. The most shocking thing about this article isn’t Carson’s stupidity and lack of knowledge about statistics and baseball (go figure), it’s that this article isn’t as rife with spelling and grammatical mistakes as his other articles are.

    Well said Parkes. It’s just disappointing that so many people out there get their information from bad sources like Carson and James Cybulski. I’m just glad that we have a GM like AA and not JP, who would probably go out this off-season and sign a Papelbon.

  25. Dammit, I should have said “as rife with spelling and grammatical mistakes as are his other articles.” Whatever; I’ve been at work since 6:30.

  26. Dustin this is one of your best written articles. You’re evoking a Richard Dawkins type polemic here. Equal parts scathing rhetoric and scientific justification.

  27. And your credentials are?

    I doubt you’ve played baseball at any professional level whatsoever.

    Scott Carson has at least lasted in this business.

    Maybe the Yankees and Red Sox (even with Sabermetrics) are on to something.

  28. Boy, Morrow just got roughed up again big time…
    Would the majority of you say that this is because:
    a) he’s burnt out at the end of the season (his IP is pretty close to last season, but his number of pitches would have to be higher based on the games he’s had this year)
    b) or the fact that he’s mentally burnt out (getting shelled often)
    c) or?

  29. Great article – Absolutely love it when you go FJM on folks Parkes. Also appreciated the Dylan & The Band reference. Keep up the mostly satisfactory work.

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