Strikeout artist Brandon Morrow was given a new three-year contract by the Toronto Blue Jays, and this $20 million pact includes a club option worth $10 million for the 2015 MLB season. This $6.7 million per year deal will allow the Blue Jays to keep Morrow until he is 30, and the contract makes complete sense for the Jays. Morrow is the best starter on a team with a below-average pitching staff- Ricky Romero is, however, nearly as good as Morrow, and his current market value (3.5 WAR starter) is about $15 million.
Over the past two seasons, Morrow has been worth a combined 7.1 WAR, has struck out over ten batters per nine, but his ERA totals have vastly differed from his FIP totals. His gap of 1.08 runs between his ERA and FIP last season was actually less than his gaping and league-leading difference of 1.33 in 2010. Chris Cwik of FanGraphs has an excellent piece which examines his differing ERA totals, and his conclusion is that it’s all luck. Morrow’s propensity for pitching up in the zone to generate strikeouts has hurt his BABIP with men on base, but Cwik states that it’s mainly just poor luck. During these next seasons, expect Morrow’s ERA to normalize to around 3.50 (his FIP and xFIP totals).
Before 2010, Morrow was a replacement-level starter who struggled mightily with his command. He still walks far too many batters, but he has cut down on his walk rate in each successive season. This decrease in walks has contributed to WAR totals above 3.0, and his 3.46 BB/9 last season set a new career-low.
SIERA is a statistic for pitchers which measures a player’s expected ERA, based on their batted ball statistics. Brandon Morrow’s SIERA has been exactly 3.31 these past two seasons, which means that one can safely point to lack of luck as the culprit for Morrow’s inflated ERA totals.
The 41 fans on FanGraphs who submitted projections value Morrow as a 3.7 WAR pitcher, and this was his total WAR for the 2010 season. Morrow is about a 3.5 WAR pitcher, and lesser pitchers worth around 3 WAR (Mark Buehrle) have made $15 million this offseason. Morrow is worth a little more than that, because he is younger and more talented than Buehrle. However, non-free agent deals are almost always below market value, so the Jays can’t get too much credit.
Even so, Alex Anthopoulos was able to strike a bargain, and there isn’t a more fitting term for this deal- except maybe “steal”. Morrow will be paid less than half of his market value over these three seasons, and a decline in play should not be expected for a pitcher in- and more likely heading into- his prime.
Even if his projected WAR is decreased to 3.0 over these three seasons to take injury into account, 3 WAR starters are worth about $13 million. After all, Buehrle received $15 million. With inflation (5%) taken into account, Morrow is worth $45 million over three seasons ($15 million per season).
Brandon Morrow doesn’t generate many groundballs and gives up a few home runs too many, but his strikeout rate of over ten per nine is more than tantalizing. Labeling Morrow as a quality starter is an understatement, and Morrow has the upside of a 4 WAR pitcher and should have one 4 WAR season in him as he continues to improve as a pitcher. He is heading into his golden age, and the Blue Jays have wisely given him a team-friendly deal.
Morrow generates a swinging strike over 11% of the time and is the team’s best starting pitcher. Ricky Romero makes it a tough fight, but Morrow is slightly better at this point. Even if he isn’t their best starter, he is an important player for this team, and this deal was a terrific one for Toronto.
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