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March 23, 2009 at 10:45 AM

Bill James on Morrow, other M’s

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Sorry for the late post. Going to be working extensively today on a major feature for tomorrow’s paper that you should all like. For now, I just got some freshly-released excerpts from the new Bill James 2009 Gold Mine book written and researched by the stats guru himself.
It contains some enlightening tidbits about a number of Mariners. We’ll focus on Brandon Morrow first, since he was a hot topic this weekend.
“The Mariners in 2006 drafted Brandon Morrow with the #5 pick in the draft, rather than local favorite Tim Lincecum, who went to San Francisco with the tenth pick. This is something that people talk about, but–just my opinion–in the long run, I don’t think anybody is going to regret drafting Brandon Morrow. I think he’s tremendous. Morrow had a 3.34 ERA last year, but there are several signals that he may be a better pitcher even than that. Batters hit .174 against him, which is Randy Johnson territory. He made a mid-season conversion from relief to starting, which probably didn’t help his numbers any, and he gave up 10 home runs with just 47 fly outs. A ratio like that is probably a fluke, since the pitcher doesn’t really control the percentage of flyballs against him that become home runs. He may not be a starting pitcher. In five starts in September he walked 19 men, which is too many; even Randy couldn’t succeed as a starter issuing that many free passes. He may have to go back to the bullpen. And I’m not saying he is Tim Lincecum, but…I think he’s a guy who has Cy Young ability.”
There are some other things to consider that you won’t find in the book. This is coming from me now and not James.
Morrow, as most of you know, is a Type 1 diabetic. One of the things this team will be monitoring closely is how Morrow holds up on the mound for six or seven innings at a time. Diabetics have to closely monitor their blood sugar levels and make sure they don’t fluctuate at dangerous levels. If not monitored properly, they can create a ‘crashing” feeling in a person. And that’s the last thing a team needs with a starting pitcher. It’s one thing for a reliever to have to have his levels in-line for an inning or two. Quite another for a starting pitcher to have to keep things constant for up to three hours, or when a game is delayed by rain at the start. Or when a pitcher has to recover from the exertion of that type of mound work and get back out there five days later.
Morrow did start in college, yes, so there is a track record of him controlling his condition. But the major leagues are not the college ranks. There are different types of stresses and realities placed on pitchers at this level — not to mention the later start times for some of their games and the different time zones they have to travel to that can mess up the body clock — than in college.
Nobody is discriminating against Morrow. His first-round draft slotting should have eliminated that debate right away. But this is a legitimate concern. It’s one of the things the team was planning to monitor with Morrow this spring. Now, that can’t happen. The most he’ll throw is an inning at a time at first. It’s why there is no way on Earth — no matter what the team states in public — that Morrow is going to start the year off in the major league rotation. He isn’t close to being ready. The team has not had a chance to look at Morrow’s ability to handle starting every five days.
It’s why Don Wakamatsu raised eyebrows the other day when he seemed to suggest Morrow could begin the year in the major league bullpen. Wakamatsu has since clarified that, saying he misunderstood the initial question by an AP reporter and several follow-ups afterwards.
Wakamatsu has since said Morrow will begin the year starting in the minor leagues if he isn’t able to make the M’s rotation. And that is what many of us felt was going to happen all along. The team needs to see how Morrow handles starting. Not just from a results perspective, but a physical one as well. He showed he could do it somewhat last season, but he only actually took the ball every fifth day on three occasions, going between four and 6 1/3 innings in those starts. Not much of a gauge.
Anyhow, something to consider.
Here’s James on Yuniesky Betancourt:

“What happened to Yuniesky Betancourt’s glove? His fielding plus/minus figures (the number of plays he makes above or below what an average defender at his position would have made) have dropped each of the past two years, and he was last among all major league shortstops in 2008. He has particularly lost range on groundballs up the middle.”

And on Felix Hernandez: “Last year, we mentioned that Felix Hernandez threw his slider more often in 2007. In 2008, he changed his pattern again, throwing fastballs more often than anytime in his major league career, and de-emphasizing the slider and curveball.”
On the M’s offense: “The Seattle Mariners last year had a man on second base, no one out 116 times, and scored only 111 runs in those innings. They were the only major league team to score less than one run an inning when they had a leadoff hitter at second base. ”
Oh yeah, he also thinks Adrian Beltre is great. We knew that. These other issues will impact the team’s performance to a greater extent in 2009.
Today’s lineups
Seattle Mariners (11-12-1)
10 Endy Chavez LF
7 Yuniesky Betancourt SS
4 Jose Lopez 2B
5 Mike Sweeney 1B
25 Wladimir Balentien RF
21 Franklin Gutierrez CF
27 Matt Tuiasosopo 3B
32 Rob Johnson C
71 Chris Jakubauskas P
San Francisco Giants (14-13)
2 Randy Winn RF
16 Edgar Renteria SS
48 Pablo Sandoval 3B
1 Bengie Molina C
33 Aaron Rowand CF
35 Rich Aurilia 1B
8 Eugenio Velez LF
7 Emmanuel Burriss 2B
51 Randy Johnson P

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