Premium Pitching: Brandon Morrow and Crawford Simmons Lead the Way

The week of August 2nd-8th was capped off with one of the most dominating pitching performances of the season.  In fact using Bill James’ Game Score as the measuring stick, Morrow’s 1-hit complete game shutout was the best performance of the season.  

Down on the farm, the week was topped by Royals lefty Crawford Simmons.  

Follow along as I recap the best starts of the week in the majors and minors in the debut edition of Premium Pitching.

Since this is the first installment in this series, it seems prudent to set the stage and give some background.  The concept is simple and straight forward.  Every week I will recap the best starts in the show and down on the farm.  To narrow down the field of candidates, I chose Game Score as the stat used to provide a cut off.  If a pitcher’s start results in a Game Score (GSc) over 80, it will be considered for that week’s edition of Premium Pitching.  Any start with a GSc of 80, or less, does not qualify.  

This is a somewhat arbitrary cut-off intended to give me a good number of starts to consider each week while keeping it managable.  My current plan (always subject to change) is to include the 5 highest rated starts for both the majors and minors.  From there I will provide some thoughts or additional details on a few of those starts, especially when it comes to the minor league performances.

If you are not familiar with Game Score, it is a simple measurement developed by Bill James to assign a singular numeric value to the strength of a pitcher’s start.  To find the GSc of any given start is very simple using the following:

Start with 50 points.
Add 1 point for each out recorded, so 3 points for every complete inning pitched.
Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th.
Add 1 point for each strikeout.
Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed.
Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed.
Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed.
Subtract 1 point for each walk.

If a pitcher were to throw a nine-inning perfect game while striking out all 27 batters faced, the resulting Game Score would be 114.  The highest GSc on record in a nine-inning game is Kerry Wood‘s 20 strike out, 1-hit masterpiece back on May 6th, 1998.  His GSc on that day was 105.  Keep that number in mind as you read on.

Major Leagues: 5 starts qualified

[81]  August 7th, Tim Hudson (Atlanta Braves):  8.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 SO

[82] August 4th, Scott Baker (Minnesota Twins):  8.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 SO

[87] August 6th, Adam Wainwright (St Louis Cardinals):  9.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 7 SO

[90] August 4th, Vicente Padilla (Los Angeles Dodgers):  9.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 SO

[100] August 8th, Brandon Morrow (Toronto Blue Jays):  9.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 17 SO

It may be hard to believe, but Morrow’s masterpiece is the highest rated performance this season topping the perfect games of Dallas Braden, Roy Halladay, and Armando Galarraga‘s “almost” perfect game.  Remember Kerry Wood’s start that resulted in a 105 GSc? If you think Morrow’s start is pretty close to that you’re absolutely right.  Since 1920 only 9 times has a starter hit triple digits with their GSc in a nine-inning game.  It is a list that includes Kerry Wood at the top followed by Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax who each had a start with a GSc of 101.  Then there are 6 starts sitting right at 100 which were turned in by Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan (twice), and now Brandon Morrow.

No one has ever doubted Morrow’s ability, stuff or potential and Sunday’s start showed what the talented righty is capable of.  As is the case with most young starters, consistency has been the fly in the ointment.  Now 25-years old, even at his worst, Morrow has always been an average to slightly above average pitcher despite bouncing between the pen and the rotation during his time with the Mariners.  I was stunned when he was dealt to Toronto for Johermyn Chavez and Brandon League and while he has continued to be inconsistent he is making the Mariners look foolish for trading him away. 

In 127.1 innings this season he now has a 4.45 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 2.65 SO/BB and a major league leading 10.7 SO/9 (for starting pitchers).  As Brian noted in today’s Notable Numerals, Morrow has 26 SO in his last 2 starts (14.1 IP).  He threw 137 pitches in Sunday’s start, but prior to this weekend the Jays allowed him to go over 100 pitches just 8 times in his 21 starts prior to his masterpiece.  He’s thrown more than 110 pitches just 3 times on the year counting Sunday’s outing.  Some folks may look at the 137 pitches thrown on Sunday and criticize the Blue Jays, but they have otherwise done a good job of keeping his counts down and a good job of protecting him.

Minor Leagues: 11 starts qualified

[83]  8/2, RHP Radhames Liz (Portland Beavers – Padres AAA):  7.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 SO

[83]  8/3, RHP Joseph Wieland (Bakersfield Blaze – Rangers A+):  7.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 14 SO

[84]  8/3, RHP Bryan Martinez (GCL Cardinals – Rk):  7.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 SO

[84]  8/5, RHP Carlos Matias (DSL Cardinals – Rk):  7.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 SO

[85]  8/2, LHP Crawford Simmons (Burlington Royals – Rk):  7.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 SO

The Kansas City Royals have quietly built one of the most loaded minor league systems and are in the discussion of having the #1 ranked farm system in all of baseball right now.  Regardless of the rankings, heading into the 2010 season they had no equal when it came to left handed pitching prospects and that was before the emergence of Simmons.  It is a group that includes John Lamb, Mike MontgomeryDanny Duffy, Noel Arguelles and Chris Dwyer.  Crawford Simmons can now officially be added to the list. 

The Royals drafted the 19-year old in the 14th round of the 2009 draft but he didn’t make his professional debut until this season.  In 10 starts for the Burlington Royals he has a 2.78 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 3.73 SO/BB and 9.2 SO/9.  Those are certainly numbers to get excited about, but wait, there’s more!  He followed up his August 2nd start listed above with a 7.0 inning, 2-hit shutout on August 8th.  If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 14.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB and 15 SO in his last 2 starts.  He also threw a 6.0 inning, 1-hit shutout on July 18th giving him 3 dominant shutout starts in his last 5.

If you haven’t already done so, put Crawford Simmons on your “prospect map.”

*Major League Game Score data pulled via the Baseball Reference Play Index and Minor League Game Score Data pulled from Minor League Splits.

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Tags: Adam Wainwright Brandon Morrow Bryan Martinez Carlos Matias Crawford Simmons Joseph Wieland Radhames Liz Scott Baker Tim Hudson Vicente Padilla

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