Friday, August 12, 2011

Why Brandon Morrow is a Top Starter

I was looking at some numbers on fan graphs the other day, not looking for anything in particular just looking at pitching stats, surveying the leaderboards. I found something that I thought to be rather interesting. Brandon Morrow is having a sensational 2011 season. However he is not getting any recognition as being a great pitcher, because his greatness goes beyond the basic numbers. Looking at Brandon Morrow’s, 2011 season it seems rather unspectacular. He is 8-6 with a 4.51 era, an ERA+ of 91. He has a WHIP of 1.27 and a K/BB ratio of 3.16. He does lead the league in strikeouts per 9 with 10.5, which is excellent. If you go behind the basic numbers though you can see that he is one of the best pitchers in the league. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is 2.90. Basically what FIP shows is how well a pitcher should be pitching based off what he can control (Ks, BBs, and HRs). His FIP is 14th in the league ahead of top of rotation starters like Felix Hernandez, Josh Becket, and David Price to name a few. That is a pretty compelling number, but the biggest reason that Morrow is one of the best pitchers in the league is his SIERA. SIERA is a new stat created Matt Swartz. It is a very complex statistic. For a full explanation visit the link Matt explains it all in there. SIERA stands for Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average, and it estimates ERA through walk rate, strikeout rate and ground ball rate, eliminating the effects of park, defense and luck. SIERA accounts for how run prevention improves as ground ball rate increases and declines as more whiffs are accrued, while grounders are of more materiality for those who allow a surplus of runners.
SIERA accomplishes the following: (this is taken from the article linked above)
  1. Allows for the fact that a high ground-ball rate is more useful to pitchers who walk more batters, due to the potential that double plays wipe away runners.
  2. Allows for the fact that a low fly-ball rate (and therefore, a low HR rate) is less useful to pitchers who strike out a lot of batters (e.g. Johan Santana's FIP tends to be higher than his ERA because the former treats all HR the same, even though Santana’s skill set portends this bombs allowed will usually be solo shots).
  3. Allows for the fact that adding strikeouts is more useful when you don't strike out many guys to begin with, since more runners get stranded.
  4. Allows for the fact that adding ground balls is more useful when you already allow a lot of ground balls because there are frequently runners on first.
  5. Corrects for the fact that QERA used GB/BIP instead of GB/PA (e.g. Joel Pineiro is all contact, so increasing his ground-ball rate means more ground balls than if Oliver Perez had done it, given he's not a high contact guy).
  6. Corrects for the fact that FIP and xFIP use IP as a denominator which means that luck on balls in play changes one's FIP.
Morrows SIERA is 3.02, which is the 8th in the league and second in the AL to Justin Verlander. This shows how good a pitcher Morrow is, he should have an ERA right around 3.00. Of course immeasurable factors like luck are why his ERA is 4.51, but this is very compelling evidence as to how good Morrow is. The Blue Jays have themselves a very strong young pitcher on their hands. Hopefully the Jays front office realizes this and can get him locked before another teams realizes how great he is and trys to get him.
Comments are appreciated let me know how I’m doing and what I can improve on. Thanks


  1. I like the article. Morrow is beast at fantasy.

  2. I enjoy your article, and having played D1 ball as a pitcher and totally understand how flawed ERA is in reflecting a pitcher's ability/performance. However, watching Morrow pitch all year long, he is a man of two completely different subsets. A game like last night, and Morrow stands in the top tier of all pitching. The only problem is, that Morrow shows up about 3-5 times a season. What separates Morrow from being a top tier starter is consistency. When a guy like Verlander/Halladay, etc.. goes out, you can bet you will get 7 quality innings at the very least. With Morrow, you never know what to expect. Of course that is something that can change with age, as he has made significant strides over the last two seasons already. However, until that happens, Morrow can't be put in the same category as these guys as pitchers, but only based on ability.

  3. It's crazy that Morrow has had such horrible luck. He hasn't gotten one double play behind him this season, and the Jays defense isn't the best out there. Another thing when watching him pitch is that his high K/9 rates often means that he usually has a high pitch count.

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