This week, the Cubs officially brought reliever Brandon Morrow in the fold, fresh off a resurgent, dominant year with the Dodgers.
Here are the pitchers who had a better FIP than Morrow’s 1.55 in 2017:
Kenley Jansen (1.31)
Craig Kimbrel (1.42)
That’s it. Whatever you might be concerned about with Morrow’s health or durability, there can be no argument that he was overwhelmingly good in 2017.
But, yeah, that health and durability stuff. The Cubs aren’t signing 2017 Morrow, they’re signing 2018 and 2019 Morrow. As Michael detailed in our profile, Morrow, now 33, has had a career filled with injuries. Most recently, Morrow dealt with the dreaded “shoulder problems” in 2015, which ultimately led to surgery. On the bright side, when he was able to pitch in 2015 and 2016, he was very good, and obviously he was healthy and ready to go in 2017.
In fact, despite the shoulder surgery – heck, probably partially thanks to it – Morrow saw his velocity climb dramatically in 2016 and 2017 as he transitioned into the bullpen (Brooks):
Excuse me while I’m just over here fantasizing about watching a 98 mph fastball, a 93 mph cutter, and an 89 mph slider next year.
Still, I can’t help but take note of just how heavy the workload was on Morrow in 2017. How really, really heavy it was, given his history.
Consider that, in 2016, now a reliever coming back from shoulder surgery, Morrow threw 63.0 innings combined at various levels of the Padres’ system, but only 16.0 innings at the big league level, where you’d presume the “competitiveness” was quite a bit higher than while he was rehabbing. (And, even then … it was the Padres.)
By contrast, in 2017, Morrow threw a whopping 77.1 innings between the minor leagues (20.0), Major League regular season (43.2), and Major League postseason (13.2) – the latter two sets of innings coming in some of the highest-leverage, highest-stress moments a pitcher can face.
To be sure, a number of relievers threw that many innings last year, but Morrow hasn’t thrown that many innings in a season since 2012, when he was a starter with the Blue Jays. Moreover, he did see his effectiveness wane in the postseason (HR rate spiked to 1.98/9 from 0.00 in the regular season, groundball rate dropped, strikeout rate dropped), though we can’t know for sure if that was the effect of the grind, or simply the effect of seeing better bats.
Is it even fair to fantasize about those huge velocity numbers from 2017? Because of the injuries, Morrow doesn’t have a lot of mileage on his 33-year-old arm, and relievers sometimes carry their great stuff well into their 30s. But given the substantial workload in 2017 – a workload that I have no doubt impacted the high end of Morrow’s market – I’m going to temper my expectations a bit for what he’ll definitely be in 2018, even assuming he’s healthy. (Which, full disclosure, is not necessarily fair to assume as a lock.)
All that said, I’m still really excited about this guy. When he was finally healthy and given a chance to be a full-time reliever with the Padres in 2016 and the Dodgers in 2017 for the first time in his career, he was absolutely fantastic. There’s little reason to believe he won’t be very good for the Cubs in 2018, if healthy.