A Baseball Weblog

Friday, December 25, 2009

Swapping Brandons

On Monday night, the Blue Jays and Mariners hooked up on a trade for the second time this offseason --- the previous week, they had been involved (along with the Blue Jays and Athletics) in the Roy Halladay-Cliff Lee blockbuster. This trade featured only three players and obviously didn’t get as much publicity. The Mariners sent 2006 first-round pick Brandon Morrow to the Jays for reliever Brandon League and 20-year old minor league outfielder Johermyn Chavez. The big-leaguers involved have quite a few similarities --- both Morrow and League are hard-throwing, right-handed pitchers with great stuff who have not yet been able to have sustained success. Also, they’re both named Brandon. Just for fun, I would like to look at both of these pitchers with PITCHf/x. Let’s start with Morrow.

Brandon Morrow

Morrow was the 5th overall selection in the 2006 amateur draft. In his three major-league seasons, Morrow has both started and relieved, compiling a 3.97 ERA, 9.29 K/9, and a 5.83 BB/9 over 197 2/3 innings. He’s a four-pitch pitcher, and there’s nothing “soft” in there. Here’s his stuff.

Brandon Morrow Pitch Data

PitchAverage Speed (mph)Max Speedpfx_xpfx_zspin_angle

Hard fastball, hard slider, hard changeup (it’s more or less a splitter), hard curveball. The changeup (or splitter)/fastball and slider/curveball combinations seem to run together sometimes, so there may be a few changeups classified as fastballs (or vice versa) or curveballs classified as sliders (or vice versa). The stuff itself is impressive, as are the whiff rates (especially for the fastball and slider):

PitchPitch#Wide Zone%Swing%Whiff%


Morrow has expressed the desire to start in Toronto, and the Blue Jays seem willing to honor that request. His average fastball velocity dropped from 95.79 in the bullpen to 94.36 in the rotation. Although that’s a significant drop, 94.4 mph isn’t too shabby ---- only four qualified starters in 2009 had faster fastball velocities.

Brandon League

Like Morrow, League has the ability to miss bats. Before I look at that more closely, here are the graphs and charts for League’s repertoire.

Brandon League Pitch Data

PitchAverage Speed (mph)Max Speedpfx_xpfx_zspin_angle

There were a few stray pitches that looked like kind of like sliders, so I labeled them as such. But for the vast majority, League works with sinkers and splitters, both of which have some serious vertical “drop.” The movement and velocity combination is enticing enough, and, as I mentioned earlier, it led to some serious whiffing:

PitchPitch#Wide Zone%Swing%Whiff%


The 29.8% total whiff rate is spectacular, and the 68.3% mark on the splitter is beyond ridiculous. in fact, his offspeed offering was the most unhittable pitch in the majors last year. When he wasn’t avoiding contact, League was getting groundballs at a 55.7% rate (actually down from 66.7% in 2008, but still excellent) --- but he didn’t get great results with his 4.58 ERA. However, he did have a 3.80 tERA and 3.58 FIP last year, and if he can retain his peripherals, he could improve his numbers vastly due to the ability of the Mariners’ defense and the .... pitchers'-ballpark-y-ness (?) of Safeco Field.

To some, this deal may seem like a steal for the Blue Jays --- a 2006 first rounder with ace-type stuff for a reliever and a 20 year old outfielder? And who knows; if Morrow turns into the Jays’ ace for years to come and League and Chavez fizzle out, it will be a steal. But we must remember that Morrow has been an injury risk in his time in the majors, and that on paper League is a great fit for the Mariners' back-end bullpen due to his pitching style. And if Chavez becomes a useful player or trade chip, the deal could become that much better for the Mariners.

Gameday PITCHf/x data is from MLB Advanced Media; it can be easily accessed via this tool. Other statistics are from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.


  1. So, what's your prediction? Which team will come out ahead in this trade in the medium-to-long run?

  2. My honest guess? I think the Mariners. Morrow is too much of a project. I think League will really be big for them at the back end of their bullpen (which was already spectacular last year). Sure, Morrow could be the next Roy Halladay, but looking at it now, I think it's a safer bet for the Mariners. We shall see!

  3. Happy New Year! Whenever League has been healthy, he's been the most impressive Jay reliever. It's never a good thing having him come in - those goggle-type glasses are cool.