It’s been rumored since before the World Series was over, but the Chicago Cubs are on the verge of signing Brandon Morrow, pending a physical. Which is obviously no sure thing given his history, but these things rarely go balls-up over that. Let’s just assume that Morrow is coming to the Northside.
When he’s on the field, there’s not too much to complain about with Morrow. Last year he was stupid dominant. He struck out over 10 hitters per nine while walking under two, You’re not going to complain about a 5-to-1 K-BB ratio.
The big key to Morrow’s rise in the pen was a huge jump in his velocity. Given that it went up over three MPH on his fastball, this is probably more than just a different reading that every pitcher got last year. As a reliever, Morrow dumped any change-up or curve or offspeed pitch, and just went fastball-slider. His slider also jumped in velocity by two miles per hour. As well as that, Morrow got that slider to dip far more than it did in the past, really adding to its sink. It’s a wipe-out pitch. It doesn’t sweep across the zone but does enough horizontally along with its newfound drop. Morrow’s fastball can also bore in on righties and away from lefties, which is why the latter managed to hit all of .111 against them.
But the problem lies in “when on the field.” Morrow hasn’t thrown more than 54 innings since 2012. He only threw 43 last year, and that’s basically his one season as a full-time reliever. I guess there’s some positive that once his season started in May, he made it through the rest unscathed. But whatever role the Cubs have envisioned of him, they have to be envisioning at least 60 innings of it. And he’s never done it.
Which leads you to believe that, at least to start, the Cubs will have him purely as a closer. Strange as it sounds, a closer gets less innings than the firemen of the previous innings. For instance, Edwards, Duensing, and Strop threw more innings than Davis last season. You’d have to expect that Edwards and Strop will do so again, and probably whoever else the Cubs sign and whoever might surprise in spring training (hi there, Dillon Maples).
And that’s a little disappointing. I know it’s pie-in-the-sky, but I have to feel like this front office is itching to go back to a closer-free pen, which they once tried in Boston. They would almost certainly prefer to just throw Edwards, Morrow, Strop at the highest-leverage situation, be it in the 6th, 7th, or 8th. But given that Morrow is going to have to be watched, at least for the season’s first half, that’s unlikely. And we know that Joe Maddon probably doesn’t want to do that either.
If Morrow can stay healthy, he might actually be an upgrade on Davis. He doesn’t walk the hitters that Davis did and he didn’t give up a single homer last year in a league where everyone homered. And hey, he’s another year removed from his arm problems, so the odds of another injury are lowered by however much. But it is a risk, and the Cubs pen at the moment isn’t buttressed for anyone to get hurt. And Edwards is no sure-thing yet either.
It’s a good move. A two-year deal really isn’t much, and if he does the things that vests the third year no one’s going to mind. But the Cubs still have foundation-ensuring to do around Morrow.