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The Jays signed Brandon Morrow to a (for all intents and purposes) 3 year, $21 million deal with a club option for $9 million. Will he be worth it?

The short answer? It depends.

Per Mike Wilner, Morrow will make $4 mil in 2012, and then $8 million in 2013 and 2014, with the $10 million option/$1 million buyout in 2015. Going into 2012 Morrow had accumulated four years of service time, which means that this deal buys out at least one and potentially two years of free agency. The two sides had submitted for $3.9 and $4.2 million in arbitration, so Morrow was going to get about $4 million bucks in any event. The standard rule of thumb is that players get 40%, 60% and 80% of their value in their three years of arbitration; if we look at the last three years of the contract that basically prices Morrow as about a $9 million a year pitcher (or $8.5 if you look at the whole thing.)

Over the last two years Morrow has been either one of the best or worst pitchers in baseball, depending on how you look at things. His cumulative fWAR, FIP and xFIP all rank in the top 25 among the 86 pitchers that threw a total of 300 innings over the two years (lots of guys who pitched worse obviously don't make the innings cutoff), and he leads baseball in K/9 by a full strikeout. Here comes the giant asterisk though: as any Jays fan could tell you, Morrow has come nowhere near close to living up to those numbers in the earned runs category, which at the end of the day is all that really counts. Basically this comes down to Morrow getting hammered with runners on base. The extent to which this is a fluke or not is unclear at this point. Pitching from the stretch is clearly a skill, but Morrow's luck, for lack of a better term, has been especially poor (see this excellent Fangraphs piece for more.) I tend to come down on the unlucky side, and think he straightens himself out, but at this point it's been two full years of significant underperforming  of peripherals, so who knows.

So is this a fair contract? Using Baseball Reference's WAR, which uses ERA as its baseline, Morrow's been worth 2.9 wins combined over the last two years. Fangraphs, which uses FIP (or is it xFIP?) has him at 7.1. This nicely illustrates the problem with trying to figure out if Morrow will be worth his contract. What it comes down to is whether you believe Morrow will in effect "normalize" and pitch well, or if he's doomed to never quite match his stuff. I tend to come down on the normalize approach. I'm actually reminded of Kelvim Escobar, who had a lot of trouble pitching out of the stretch when he was a Blue Jay - he was in fact awful, stranding  as few at 65% of baserunners in a couple of seasons (Ricky Romero for his career is at ~75%, and was at 79% last year, as another example.) Escobar was actually somewhat similar to Morrow, with nasty stuff, although he walked more and struck out fewer. Escobar started to turn things around his last two years with the Jays before signing with the Angels and posting five straight sub 4.00 ERA years with the Angels (with better peripherals and a better strand rate than in T.O.) Obviously that Escobar did this doesn't mean Morrow will, but if one considers it an either/or proposition I think it's more likely Morrow starts pitching closer to his numbers.

If he does that I think he'll be worth the contract, perhaps comfortably. Still, when you factor in the uncertainty, I think the Jays are basically paying Morrow fairly. They could have gone to arbitration with him, where they very possibly would have won, given Morrow's poor ERA, but that wouldn't have saved them much. Instead they get to pay Morrow reasonably fairly and for this they are rewarded with cost certainty, a free agency year and $9 million dollar option in 2015, when Morrow will be 31 and, given inflation, easily worth that, with an out if he's injured. As a comparison, Hiroki Kuroda, who I think is a pretty fair comparable to Morrow given his age and home ballpark, just signed for $10 million for one year. 


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The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
greenfrog - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 12:44 PM EST (#251043) #
I'm happy with the deal. Because it is a relatively short-term contract, there isn't a lot of risk. If he flames out in 2012, the Jays will have to eat $17M ($8M in each of 2013 and 2014, plus a $1M buyout for 2015). Hardly a Darvish-type situation. If Morrow's performance improves even 5-10% going forward, the contract will look very team-friendly.
John Northey - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 01:03 PM EST (#251046) #
So Morrow is either a 1.5 or 3.5 wins per year pitcher based on the two WAR's. Fangraphs goes by $4.5 mil a year per win. So if you use that the range of value is from $6.75 mil a year to $15.75 million.

Given the contract is $21 over 3 or $30 over 4 that works out to $7.0 - $7.5 million a year. If Morrow stays 'as is' and there is no inflation in baseball salaries (unlikely) then the lower figure of $6.75 is where he'll be and the cost will be a loss of $250,000 a year over 3 or $750k per year over 4. If, however, he does the Fangraphs level (ie: 'luck' goes to neutral) then he'll be worth $8.25 to $8.75 million _more_ than he is paid.

I'd say that, if you assume BR WAR is the low end and FG WAR is the high end then the Jays easily win this contract as their risk is capped at $21 million with a probable of $750k (assuming no improvement and they let him go rather than year 4) but their potential profit is $33 million.

Nicely done AA. Nicely done.
Mike Green - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 01:27 PM EST (#251048) #
Here are Morrow's BBRef comps.  Not a single successful starter among the lot.  It's really a reflection of BBRef's similarity score weighting which doesn't place enough weight on K rate.  It is a bit unnerving that Chad Gaudin is a serviceable comp statistically. 
Chuck - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 01:35 PM EST (#251049) #

Fangraphs goes by $4.5 mil a year per win.

For free agents. The first two years of Morrow's contract are arb years.

Geoff - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 01:40 PM EST (#251050) #
I'm glad the Jays gave that contract to Morrow today. What is money anyhow? Here today, gone to Morrow.
Richard S.S. - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 01:51 PM EST (#251051) #

Should the Brandon Morrow, of his last three starts of 2011, be the new Brandon Morrow going forward, he's underpaid and on too short a term.   Why?   He'll be a # 1 to Romero's 1A, or, a # 1A to Romero's 1A, or a # 1A to Romero's 1.   Should the Brandon Morrow, of the first 27 starts of 2011, be the new Brandon Morrow going forward, he paid about right but still too short a term.   Why?   He'll be a quality dependable # 3 or # 4 Starter making 30+ starts with 200+ IP, and those guys aren't cheap.   IMO, he'll never be a bust causing Toronto to eat his contract.   His work ethic is too good.

Now we have to see what kind of long-term contract Casey Janssen gets.

Anders - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 01:59 PM EST (#251052) #
For free agents. The first two years of Morrow's contract are arb years.

Yeah I mean you can figure this out, it would be the equivalent of him making $6.66 and $10 million those first two years, for just under $35 million in total value. Then you have to factor in Morrow regressing at age 30-31, etc. I find $/WAR conversions to be very silly in the first place for a whole lot of reasons, not the least of which is no one can really agree what WAR is.
John Northey - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 02:37 PM EST (#251055) #
Well, my goal was to estimate if the contract makes sense. Yes, it takes a ton of assumptions (Morrow will be similar to his past, $4.5 mil per win, etc.) but it certainly gives what seems like a reasonable range given the range of potential most feel Morrow has.

Few feel Morrow will be a sub-average pitcher despite his 92 ERA+ as a Jay. Given even B-R which bases WAR on his ERA+ has him valued at a level that virtually matches his contract (less than $1 mil off per year) it is hard to see how this contract can be anything but good news.

As to decline at 30-31, pitchers are different than hitters. I haven't seen any report that pitchers drop off a cliff at 32 vs how many hitters do. Sometimes pitchers can hold on as they learn their craft despite their arm not throwing quite as hard.

Since his potential over those 4 years is around $16 mil a year (based on free agency) then buying out 2 years of free agency could make the deal a break even with the arbitration years a freebie ($32 mil of value in exchange for $30 mil contract) if you assume that is his talent level.
Ron - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:02 PM EST (#251056) #
Thumbs down

I'm not a fan of extending a number 4 starter like Morrow when you can pay him through the arbitration system for the next 2 seasons. Morrow at this point of his career is nothing more than a sexier version of Jesse Litsch. We've seen 2 straight season where he can't make the necessary adjustments pitching out of the stretch. I feel like he's going to continue to frustrate Jays fans and basically be the AL version of Ricky Nolasco.

The most amazing stat is that he only induced 1 GDP last season. This has to be some sort of record.
fozzy - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:09 PM EST (#251057) #
Fielder to the Tigers for 9 years, per Rotoworld. Guess losing V-Mart was a motivator.
Forkball - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:12 PM EST (#251058) #
Do you want him in the rotation?  Yes.  He's been pretty durable in his 2 years as a starter, and is probably the team's 2nd most reliable starter.  The Jays have been fairly cautious with him so far, and now he should be ready for 200+ inning seasons.

Is it a fair contract?  Yes.  Morrow locks in money for life and the Jays get a pitcher under control for the next 4 years and can cut bait after 3, taking him through his year 30 season.  That's probably a better alternative than 2 arbitration years and then, if he's at least a $10MM pitcher, having to sign him to at least a 4 year contract.

Can you trade him if you need to?  Unless he falls apart or gets injured, yes.

Hard to see downside here unless you just don't think he's a good pitcher.
whiterasta80 - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:13 PM EST (#251059) #
I can't say I'm upset with the Jays passing on Fielder at that price.  Damn that's alot more years and money than I thought he'd get.  Damn they're going to be a scary middle of the order... just damn!!!
greenfrog - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:15 PM EST (#251060) #
Ron, the problem with going the arbitration route is that if he excels, then he's almost certainly gone after 2013, as he'll be priced out of the Jays' budget (and extending him after 2012 will get more costly). For me, the bottom line is: does the front office like him going forward? If so, this is a good deal. It's about balancing risk/reward in a way that doesn't eliminate the risk, but keeps it manageable while giving AA significant flexibility in team-building.
smcs - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:20 PM EST (#251061) #
AA should be calling Dave Dombrowski every five minutes, and saying "Gose and d'Arnaud for Miggy."
Glevin - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:22 PM EST (#251062) #
"I can't say I'm upset with the Jays passing on Fielder at that price. Damn that's alot more years and money than I thought he'd get. Damn they're going to be a scary middle of the order... just damn!!!"

Wow...And the AL gets stronger. Pujols, Fielder, and Darvish coming over with...Buehrle going back. It's a terrible contract but seeing Fielder in a Tigers uniform will be very familiar.
rfan8 - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:23 PM EST (#251063) #
I like the deal.  I think he has a fair chance to improve on what he's been delivering given his short time as a starter.  I also think his performance may have been impacted by the early DL stint last year.  That may have thrown off his game, and, when his early results were not positive his confidence too. 
greenfrog - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:24 PM EST (#251064) #
To me, the Fielder deal just points up the value of the Darvish posting fee + contract. If I'm AA, I would *much* rather have Darvish (through his age-25 to 31 seasons) for 6 years/$111M than Fielder (through his age-28 to 36 seasons) at 9 years/$214M.
Mike Green - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:26 PM EST (#251065) #
It's a terrible contract but seeing Fielder in a Tigers uniform will be very familiar.

...and regularly reminding us of the failings of Jimy Williams.  Oh joy. 
fozzy - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:29 PM EST (#251066) #
greenfrog,

I think if you're AA, you'd wish to have neither. And you'd have gotten what you'd wished for.

Ron - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:32 PM EST (#251067) #
"Ron, the problem with going the arbitration route is that if he excels, then he's almost certainly gone after 2013, as he'll be priced out of the Jays' budget (and extending him after 2012 will get more costly). For me, the bottom line is: does the front office like him going forward? If so, this is a good deal. It's about balancing risk/reward in a way that doesn't eliminate the risk, but keeps it manageable while giving AA significant flexibility in team-building."

AA has said numerous times on the Fan 590 that the Jays have the ability to retain their own star players. If Morrow were to pitch well the next 2 seasons and be priced out of the Jayís budget, than we have much bigger problems when it comes to the commitment of winning from ownership.

The bottom line is that I donít think itís a smart move to extend a number a 4 starter like Morrow. I would bet against him developing into a number 1 or 2 starter.
greenfrog - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:36 PM EST (#251068) #
Fozzy, agreed on Fielder and his hefty contract, but what makes you think AA doesn't wish he had Darvish at that price? If he's a legit #2 starter, as many anticipate, the price seems to be right, and everything else about the pitcher (age, stuff, stats, no cost in prospects or draft picks) seems to fit well with the Jays' direction. Do you think Daniels + co. are overrating him?
fozzy - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:44 PM EST (#251073) #
I think that if AA wished for Darvish at that price, ownership would have been convinced to pony up and blow the posting fee out of the water. I think AA had his value for him and that it wasn't enough. Whether that means Daniels overrates Darvish, or AA underrates him will only be seen with time.

One thing I can say is this off-season has been rather disappointing, Santos trade aside. All those we are chasing, except for TB, who have talent brimming in AAA, improved by strides this year, while we stood pat. I don't know if that will be enough to overcome.

greenfrog - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 03:45 PM EST (#251074) #
"AA has said numerous times on the Fan 590 that the Jays have the ability to retain their own star players."

The Jays definitely would not have the ability to retain their star players if in every case they waited until FA to extend them. Like the Rays and other teams, the Jays have to be ahead of the curve (cf. Bautista, Romero and Escobar, and the Santos acquisition).

It sounds as though you and AA value Morrow differently. You see him as a #4 starter going forward, while the Jays see him as somewhat (perhaps significantly) better than that. From the Jays' perspective, extending him makes sense. From yours, it doesn't.
Alex Obal - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 04:34 PM EST (#251086) #
I am all in favor of this signing. Even if Morrow's 2012 turned out to be a disaster, the Jays would almost certainly have picked up his last arb year regardless - for what, maybe $4.5 million if he'd put up a 4.40 ERA over 109 innings? Say the Jays would have committed themselves to $8 million over the next two years, barring injury. In effect they're paying $13 million on top of that to have Morrow locked up in case he succeeds this year.

Morrow was perfectly fine at stranding runners when the Mariners stupidly rushed him to the show as a reliever. I've always meant to look into what's happened since. Was it, like, his only out pitch was the heater and once the league figured that out it was game over? At any rate, I think the odds he figures it out are non-insignificant and easily justify the contract.
Alex Obal - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 04:40 PM EST (#251090) #
That should read 190 innings. Anyway, the point is that I think the amount of money the Jays are investing here is astronomically small given where Morrow stands as a pitcher - even smaller than it looks since he is practically guaranteed to be on the 2013 Jays in some capacity, barring trade (presumably for positive value) or injury.
PeteMoss - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 05:52 PM EST (#251103) #
This article - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/making-sense-of-brandon-morrows-era/ points out that Morrow likely been more unlucky than bad with men on base. His strikeout rate actually goes up... its been more of a BABIP issue, which should at some point regress to the mean.
raptorsaddict - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 06:08 PM EST (#251106) #
I like this deal in every way possible for the Jays. Lots of chance to outperform, and if he stinks the joint out you're not hamstrung. A very AA-like move.

Hate the Fielder deal, glad he's not a Jay.

Wish they'd spend more on Darvish, I said as high at 165 or something like that. Obviously way too high, but I'd still do 135 and be happy. But, in retrospect, that is not an AA-like "value" move - Yu has to perform to best case scenario, or it's a bad deal. And it has the potential to be a horrible deal. I focussed too much on the upside - I actually let the fan in me pop out for a minute and thought "screw you Rogers, buy me some entertainment!".

Richard S.S. - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 10:39 PM EST (#251125) #
If you consider Morrow, even if good, as no better than a # 4 Starter, then I must consider Romero as no more than a # 3 Starter.
Richard S.S. - Tuesday, January 24 2012 @ 11:12 PM EST (#251127) #
Brandon Morrow's problem up until the last three starts of 2011 was % of effort.   If he throws with 100-110% effort, he blows eveyone away, and lasts barely 3 innings.   Prior to the last three starts, he was throwing with 92-93% effort.   The problem with this is too many of his pitches are hard, with minimal movement, and he get a middling result.   In his last three starts (NYY, T.B., CWS), he threw at 95-96% effort: 2-0 .857 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 21.0 IP,11 H, 10 BB, 24 SO, and kicked butt.   I think he's figured it out.   It's possible A.A. and Farrell agree.
Gerry - Wednesday, January 25 2012 @ 09:51 AM EST (#251146) #
I like the deal.  Morrow has the skill, he just needs to harness it.  Gamble your money on the skill players rather than on the average guys and hope they figure it out.
uglyone - Wednesday, January 25 2012 @ 11:36 PM EST (#251189) #
Not as good as AA's other contracts, but not bad, IMO.
jgadfly - Friday, January 27 2012 @ 08:55 PM EST (#251284) #

    More @ Fangraphs ...     A followup article looking at Morrow's pitch selection, BABIP, swinging strikes and runners left-on-base numbers ...

 http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/brandon-morrows-left-on-base-blues 

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