Thinking About the Closer Again

The Cubs offseason appears to be taking its final shape. The will they or won’t they drama surrounding the top of the free agent starting pitcher class seems to be settling on Yu Darvish. It is an opportunity for the front office to make up for a rare miss. The Cubs came in a distant second or third in the initial bidding for Darvish. It is easy to imagine the front office being a bit gun shy after their own $50 million disappointment with Disuke Matsuzaka, and the Rangers have had an aggressive presence in Japan under Jon Daniels. Either way, the Cubs looked poise to make everyone a lot more comfortable with Tyler Chatwood being the fifth starter (though perhaps not happy with Mike Montgomery back into the bullpen where he has excelled). Anything can happen still, but the confidence level in the Cubs adding one more starter has to go up from the disappointing silence of the offseason.

The odds are high that the Cubs will add a starting pitcher and that that starting pitcher will take up most of the remaining budget, if the Cubs are indeed choosing to remain below the competitive balance tax threshold. The Cubs bullpen is set with the variety of low cost options battling out for the final spot at the end of the bulpen. Greg Holland is still available, but that door is likely closed once the final starter is added. And that means that Brandon Morrow is your closer to start 2018.

Closers are relievers and relievers are inherently fickle. Those that play fantasy baseball are well aware how infrequently one man holds that position for an entire year for a club. Brandon Morrow had an unbelievable five months in the Dodgers bullpen, but it was the first year that he achieved the level of dominance projected when he was drafted in the first round over a decade ago. A number of people have questioned the wisdom of investing such an important role in the modern game to such an untested arm. After all, Brandon Morrow has to do two things he has yet to do to hang onto the closer’s role for the length of his contract, pitch at an extremely high level and stay healthy.

It is clear that Brandon Morrow has never had a season like 2017 before, but I think there is an equally plausible scenario than 2017 being a fluke. Morrow was drafted fifth overall in 2006, and pitched all of 16 innings in the minors after signing with Seattle. He began 2007 pitching in the Seattle bullpen. Like many hard throwing youngsters, Morrow flashed great stuff with big strikeout numbers but also shaky command. Morrow’s strikeout rate was regularly over 10 K/9 but his walk rate was also elevated with it over 3 BB/9 every year as well. Morrow’s injury history didn’t help him to find his command, and he moved from Seattle to Toronto to San Diego. He struggled to be able to stay on the field, but something changed in San Diego. Here are his career numbers from Baseball Reference:

morrow-stats

Since entering the National League, Morrow has posted walk rates below 2. His great stuff was sapped by injury and illness that prevented him from taking the field regularly. His strikeout rates show that, but also looking at his career velocity chart shows this as well.

brooksbaseball-chart

The velocity trended up in Los Angeles. The command remained strong, and elite reliever Brandon Morrow was born.

This theory has as much empirical evidence to support as those wishing to caution Morrow as being a one year wonder. Morrow threw a mere 49 innings with San Diego, but that he found some command late in his career isn’t an unheard of accomplishment for a veteran pitcher. The track record of power pitchers developing late is a well worn trope in the game, and it is certainly a plausible development.

Brandon Morrow might falter as a reliever, but it isn’t as if the success he achieved in 2017 came out of nowhere. He posted several strong seasons between Seattle and Toronto. It might also be sacrilege to mention him in the same as Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout performance, but Morrow had one of the all time best pitched games that wasn't a no-hitter. The 17 strikeout jem showed why (even if it was wrong in hindsight) he was picked ahead of Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum in the 2006 draft. Morrow may have never pitched at the level shown in 2017, but it is hard to argue that it was completely unheralded either.

Health is a much trickier proposition. Anyone who makes their living hurling a baseball past hitters is a mere pitch away from being struck down, and Morrow is a textbook case study in the biggest predictor of injury is previous injury. Morrow doesn’t have a lot of mileage in his arm, but mostly because he has started and finished very few seasons healthy. The only way to alleviate concern of the heavy postseason use will be the velocity he shows in spring training and April. If healthy though Morrow should be a solid closer with a chance to establish him as an elite one.

Filed under: Bullpen, Cubs

Tags: Brandon Morrow, bullpen, Closer, Cubs

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  • Fangraphs projects Holland at 0.1 WAR, which doesn't mesh with Dave Cameron's estimate of 3/$45 to buy that tenth of a win. Even if we sign an impact starter and slide Montgomery into the pen, I think the bigger need is an innings eater (the Cahill/Wood/Richard/Warren role in past years). Bullpens are a crapshoot, but Morrow,Cishek, and Wilson have all gotten tough late outs in their recent past and Carl and Pedro aren't exactly chopped liver. If Montgomery is in the rotation part of the season (six man?), someone needs to be able to go once through the lineup with three clean innings. Unless that is a healthy Butler or Mills we need one long arm.

  • Spend lots of money on a SP pitcher
    Sign a fairly young quality FA pitcher
    Trade Russell and Happ or Alomara for a top AAA pitcher

    which is the best choice for this year

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Since the Cubs are in win now mode in the majors not the minor leagues trading Russell and Happ or Alomara for a top AAA pitcher is out of the question.

    There are no fairly young quality FA pitchers on the market if you are talking about mid 20 year olds.

    So I guess spending lots of money on a SP pitcher is the only choice I see.

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    I know he isn't going to get a ton of high leverage opps given the depth of the pen, but I feel like Dillon Maples is getting no mention as a possible arm in the pen. The guy has an insane slider and can bring the heat. If he harnesses even 10% more control he could be a force for this team.

  • In reply to Dave Sampsell:

    I think he starts in Iowa and closes some games there and could be option number two to Morrow. He definitely has closers stuff.

  • I look at this bullpen to be more asymmetrical like the old Cinci Reds or recently the KC Royals with multiple hot hand closers and out makers.

  • Its about time to see if any of our young SP can do the job

  • It’s possible that Drew Smyly will be an extra bullpen arm down the stretch. Depending how he recovers from TJ surgery, he can really make his presence felt.

  • Sooner or later some of these extra pitcher we picked up during
    the last few months will have to show us what they have

  • Don't sleep on Chen either. Reminds me a lot of Hendricks earlier in his career. He got lit up once last year right when he was called up but had progressed every year in the system. Could be a real sleeper (sorry for overusing the "sleep" references - kinda tired myself).

  • In reply to BobMiller146:

    You mean Tseng? Don't be racist

  • In reply to Kramerica20:

    (I'm joking, by the way)

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    In reply to BobMiller146:

    I am curious to see what happens with Tseng. I think he could be better than many people realize. He doesn't have electric stuff. But he also doesn't have the control and great change-up that Hendricks has developed (though that isn't impossible in the future). I remember not that long ago many who are saying Tseng would not even be a good BOR starter were saying the same thing--and with the same rationale--about Hendricks (he doesn't throw hard enough).

    Tseng might be one of those guys who turns in a long career of mediocre performance and earn tens of millions of dollars. He could turn into an innings-eater at the bottom of the rotation. While not as glamorous as a "TOR" of "MOR" starter he still has some value. And at league minimum salary he could become an important part of the team.

    Or he could flame out and have a career consisting of less than 20 games played. There's that too.

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    In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Tseng is like Hendricks in the respect (or lack of) he gets. I think we still look at how fast the FB is and that colors our judgement. I try not to do it but one of the first things I do is just that. Tseng has had excellent minor league stats and you can only pitch to the batters up--he's proved that he can pitch there and now he has to do that in the majors, and I think he can.
    I also think that Maples is the real deal, and having him come through is like trading for a closer only we didn't give up anyone. We have a much better pitching staff than most of the others think.

  • I like Albers and Cahill as cheap pitching insurance. Maples and Tseng may be good but are short on real major league comps. I hope they do not go 5 years for Darvish. Starters become available in June-July. The Cubs have enough to get there and Smyly and Alzolay are in the bushes. High value veterans like Albers and Cahill are wonderful insurance. If they break down, just move on.

  • In reply to Swarf:

    Cahill really pitched well for the Cubs. Spot starting and in the pen capable for multiple innings.

  • Brewers to acquire Christian Yelich.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    I wonder if they will open the pocket books and give Darvish 5 years.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    If they do they're the division favorite. Now Darvish is essential, if he wasn't already.

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    In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    Outstanding deal. They gave up less and got more than the Cubs in the Quintana trade. Can see them turning around and trading for a pitcher now. They are going to be really tough.

  • That's a big move for the Brewers. Cubs are going to be tested this year.

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    They are going to be tough this year and the next few too. Great move by them.

  • I expect everyone to panic and act like the brewers just added barry bonds but "Yelich’s groundball rate is problematic he has ranked in the top six in the majors in that department in each of the past four seasons, making it unlikely he suddenly will transform into a 30-homer man. One of the execs also noted Yelich’s .704 career OPS was not nearly as good as his .855 mark against righties."

    Yelich is a very Sold player that I've always liked but the cubs have 4 groundball pitchers and 2 lefties in their rotation(maybe 3).This acquisition doesn't move the needle for me personally

  • In reply to bolla:

    Right. Not worried at all. The Cubs are still the favorite by far.

  • I'm happy for Yelich. Milwaukee should be a good competitive situation for him. He is too accomplished to be part o of a rebuilding team. It doesn't seem as if the Brewers gave up that much. Cubs will have their hands full with the Brew Crew.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Well they gave up Brinson who looks like a future stud but he's not quite there and Yelich is a proven player. Some Brewers fans are miffed about giving up Brinson, they shouldn't be but he's not nothing.

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    In reply to TC154:

    They traded 6 cost controlled years of Brinson for 5 cost controlled years of Yelich. Easy, easy trade.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Totally agree.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    How come you never mention the cost control the Cubs got with Quintana? As we see with the starting pitching market, that’s likely more valuable than for position players.

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    In reply to John Winter:

    No, we absolutely got cost control. My problem with the Quintana trade isn't his salary -- which is very good for a pitcher of his caliber -- but the price. Quintana is a middle of the rotation starter and we paid like he was Chris Sale for 3 1/2 years. He tends to be overrated, IMO, because his sabermetric stats are quite good but his performance has consistently been just good.

    Yelich, by contrast, is a great leadoff hitter. He gets on base. He runs well. He is among the league leaders year-in, year-out in PPPA. That tends to be undervalued in this game but the Cubs' offense really struggled without Dexter playing that role. So for less than the Cubs spent to get an okay starting pitcher, the Brewers got one of the very best at his job in baseball. It's significant to me.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Denizens were trying hard to figure a trade for Yelich or a value free agent contract for Cain for the top of their order. Now the Brewers have both.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I wouldn’t call Yelich “a great leadoff hitter” just yet. He’s hit leadoff approx 1/4 of his career. And that was 2014 w/a .769 ops. He’s been mostly 3rd in the lineup. Nice player, for sure. Looking at his career #s, I hope Milwaukee hits him leadoff instead of 2nd or 3rd where his overall #s are better.

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    In reply to Milk Stout:

    They also had Dee Gordon which necessitated some movement. But his skillset is of a very good leadoff man.

  • Marlins got a first rounder and two second rounders, so they can spin it. But Brinson is the key and the Brewers got him from TX for Lucroy and Jeffress (who's back), so four very cost controlled years of a 4 WAR CF for a half season of an aging FA catcher. Brewers have resources to play in free agency to pick up one of the top arms, plus Walker or similar for 2B. They will be hanging around our pant legs all summer.
    Jeter must hate the Cubs. Now we face Yelich and Ozuna 19 times instead of 7. Almost gave Stanton to Satan's Messengers until he nixed it. And Starlin wants out ASAP. Can't blame him.

  • Now they sign Cain. Yikes.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Yikes is right LOL.

  • In reply to TC154:

    So now it will be interesting if they dip into their pool of prospects and trade for a starting pitcher. Although if I were them, I might try and sign a certain bearded, erstwhile CY Young who pitched in the North Side of Chicago last year.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    Someone would most likely have to take some of Braun’s salary off their hands for that.

  • In reply to TC154:

    I was being a bit tongue in cheek. Some type of trade seems in the offing.

    Although, in 2017 the Brewers had a $63K payroll, the absolute lowest in the league. It's time to spend, small market or not.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Looks like the cheeseheads be trying to get serious!

    ‘18 division standings will still wind up the same as ‘17’s......just sayin.....

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    In reply to TC154:

    Yeah, and now they can go out and trade for a starter. It's not looking like our season but the Brewers will be out on Harper and Machado and Kershaw (maybe) in a year.

  • Brewers have now signed Cain also. I think they will trade for a pitcher next.

  • At least that should take them out of the running for a top free agent pitcher.

  • I have a feeling the Cubs will sign their starter tomorrow.

  • 5 years 80 million for cain is an overpay and the brewers have way too many outfielders now.

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    In reply to bolla:

    Of course, some of those extra outfielders could be in Tampa soon with Archer learning to like beer and cheese.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    So? Archers rep precedes his actual production.Nothing the brewers have done concerns me AT ALL. Cards should be concerned not the cubs.

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    In reply to bolla:

    Yes, so does Quintana's but everyone went crazy about him. Archer would be the 3rd starter in all likelihood for the Brewers. He'd eat innings, save their bullpen, and give a very scary offense a chance to win every day. At the right price -- and the Rays would be nuts to hold out for a Quintana/Sale return -- he could be very dangerous.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Jeez, we get it Mike, in your book Q was an overpay. Give the kid a year, then, if warranted, have at it....

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    Why would it be okay next year if it isn't okay now? Maybe he'll be good the year after that.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Because sometimes kids have a hard time adjusting going from worst to first, like Wilson. Q, on paper, was a fairly equal trade value wise, at the deadline, by metrics and analysis I respect as much as yours. But you’re the only one who is poo pooing it SO DAMN much.
    Eloy has zero big league at bats, so yeah give a year at least.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Boy, I regretted that as soon as I wrote it. You are right, projections are taken into account at the time of a trade....but so r windows and team needs/surplus.
    Q, on paper, was a fairly equal trade value wise, at the deadline, by metrics and analysis I respect as much as yours. But you’re the only one who is poo pooing it SO DAMN much.
    Frankly, after this off-season Mike, I think something in baseball is broken.....

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    I'll chill too. Yes, I hated the trade but I know I'm in the minority and I probably won't convince anyone. Maybe I'm wrong. Definitely hope so because we are going to need him to be great.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    For the record quintana is overrated to me and eloy jimenez was an extreme overpay that burns my soul whenever I see his name. That being said adding archer is good but he's not an ace and his addition would make the brewers more formidable but wouldn't scare me either. I think the brewers overachieved last year & the cubs were hung over until post all star break and they feasted on a weak schedule in the 2nd half. Cubs talent,depth,improved bullpen,starting pitching,hopefully more disciplined better situational hitting offense & experience give them the edge overall.

  • In reply to bolla:

    I still like the trade. My one regret is that
    Eloy could only be traded once. He would have been a nice piece to get Yelich. If my theory 'score first win often' has merit the Brewers are in pretty good shape. Better than the Cubs unless someone surprises and steps up to leadoff, or at least lengthen their bottom half of our lineup.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I had no problem trading jimenez but I rather trade him for a stud pitching prospect(honeywell from the rays) or marcus stroman type picrthers. NOT jose quintana., especially a year after trading torres for a rental. Those are the chips that can get you cost controlled aces quintana is a 3-4 starter imo

  • In reply to bolla:

    Quintana is better than you are giving him credit for

  • In reply to bolla:

    Idk, Q is not Sale as far as stuff, but has been almost as effective. I think that Quintana is a little more grounded personally. I do not think that it is that big of stretch to think of him as a two with contract control at a value price. The Cubs would chasing the wind for starting pitching this off season without Quintana in the fold.

  • In reply to bolla:

    Quintana may be underrated

  • *They have a lot of outfielders to trade.

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    What if Milw signs Yu or Jake? Then they will really be contenders.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Keep in mind, Steamer, error bars aside, have the Brewers projected for 75 wins and the Cubs 92. these moves add 5 or so. This is all about raising the middle, which I think is great. And the Cubs are also sure to add a SPer. Both have strong pens and signed a wildcard starter. Chacin for the Brewers and Chatwood by the Cubs. Nelson is a big hit for them. I also think our down year players have more upside, this year, then theirs.
    But make no mistake, Milwaukee is going to be a force to be reckoned with. They just lined up their window to 2022.

  • They won 86 games last year. I think the gap is closer than you think

  • And yu darvish will sign with the cubs tomorrow. Bet the house on it,I got hold of some inside information

  • In reply to bolla:

    LOL sure you do LOL

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    Sure glad I didn't bet my house on Cubs signing Darvish. So much for inside information.

  • In reply to bolla:

    You can bet your house on it. I think I won't wager my house.

  • In reply to John57:

    The cost of poker did just go up though......expect Theo to respond.....

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    In reply to Wickdipper:

    I don't think that Theo makes any moves based on what other teams do.

  • In reply to Ray:

    I don't either but if Milwaukee gets a pitcher this division is neck and neck and St. Louis certainly can make some moves. I think he pursues his plan but this has to up the sense of urgency a little. You can throw away years in your window.

  • In reply to TC154:

    The Cubs have stated they will add an impact starter. The free agents are still available and trades are still possible. No sense of urgency unless the free agents sign elsewhere.

  • In reply to Wickdipper:

    I agree. I think the Cubs will have the need to counter the Brewers moves. They just got better so, the Cubs will want to improve. It is only natural.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    The Cubs have been working on getting another SP for a while. I don't see them changing that strategy now that brewers got better in the short term.

  • In reply to John57:

    I agree. But, I think it makes the Cubs more determined to sign that SP rather then waiting till the dead line.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    They will get a starter. This weird offseason is changing expectations. The Brewers moves doesn't change strategy or time frames.

  • Fangraphs has the brewers projected for 76 wins after adding yelich and cain. Too many people panicking. Cubs are the cream of the nl central and the nl,and they're hungry.last time this cubs core were embarrassed(2015 nlcs) they came back crushing the competition. I expect the same in 2018

  • In reply to bolla:

    If the Cubs add Darvish they project to be the best team in the NL. Fearing the Brewers is a little silly, I think. Cain and Yellich are very nice additions, but the Brewers are still playing catch up. In 2017, every Brewer had a career year, and every Cub outside of Rizzo & Bryant had a down year. And Hendricks missed substantial time. The Cubs beat them by 6 games anyway.
    Milwaukee's offense looks pretty solid. The Cubs defense is still much better, bullpen is still much better, and offense has more upside (and is still better). And a rotation of Anderson, Suter, Davies, Chacin, Gallardo is not very formidable.

  • In reply to Kramerica20:

    My sentiments exactly

  • In reply to Kramerica20:

    You may not fear the Brewers but adding 2 good players to an 86 win team is enough not to overlook the Brewers.

  • In reply to WaitUntilNextYear:

    But I don't believe they're a true 86 win team. They collectively outplayed their talent level in 2017.

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