Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Giants Pitching Preview 2006: The New Bird
I want to preface the Morris write up by linking to a post on Giants Cove in December that caused some minor controversy throughout the Giants universe. They compared the numbers of Matt Morris and Brett Tomko over the past two years and argued, essentially, that Tomko has been the better pitcher and thus it's asinine to be giving Morris $27 million for three years when he's just a glorified version of Tomko.
Now, the first reaction to this comparison would probably be to throw Cheerios and spew invective at the computer screen, but unfortunately the similarities between the two pitchers are just too evident for my tastes. Ignoring irrelevant win-loss record, Tomko and Morris have essentially been league-average inning-eaters over the last two seasons. However, due to the deceptive magic of wins and losses, Morris is valued as a "proven winner" while Tomko gets pissed upon.
My only rebuttal to the Giants Cove argument would be that Morris's track record is way better. Since 2001, he's been one of the better starters in the league, and his only really bad year came in 2004, and that was clearly a fluke due to the uncharacteristically high number of home runs he surrendered (35; he has never given up more than 22 in any other season). Tomko, on the other hand, also had a fluke year, in 2004, but it was his best year since 1997. Everything else has been mediocre to awful.
As for the financial part, well, I have a harder time rationalizing that. Sure, the screwy market for starting pitchers dictated handing Morris $27 million, but that's an awful lot of money for a guy who really hasn't performed too well the past two years.
As I mentioned before, Morris was one of the best pitchers in the league from 2001-2003, and the reason was because of one pitch: the curveball. His yakker was yakking better than just about any pitcher in the big leagues during that stretch, and he could pinpoint the damn thing wherever he wanted in the strike zone. I remember Morris throwing one of his curves to Shawon Dunston in the 2002 NLCS, sending Dunston buckling towards third base as the pitch floated harmlessly over the plate for strike three. Dunston (who was, um, never my favorite Giant) walked back to the dugout shaking his head in bewilderment. The pitch made a lot of hitters look foolish. He complimented the curve with a low-90's fastball and superb control. And until Game 1 of the 2002 NLCS, he always, always beat the Giants.
I haven't seen Morris pitch much the last two years, but from what I hear through the grapevine, the curveball isn't breaking like it used to. Ol' Uncle Charlie has apparently discovered the bottle and is becoming increasingly erratic and unpleasant at family get-togethers. Morris had arm surgery in the winter of 2003 and apparently his curve hasn't been the same since. He had his bad 2004 and then, after seemingly recovering in the first half of 2005, completely imploded once again. His strikeout rates have been sinking like a rock, never a good sign, and his hit rates have been steadily rising, an even worse omen considering the Cardinals had one of the best defenses on baseball the past few years.
I see Morris having a season more or less in line with his 2004. The move to Mays Field won't really make much difference, since Morris doesn't give up too many home runs anyway. At worst, Morris is a reliable guy to eat up a bunch of quality innings and keep you in most of the games he starts. There's a theory, mostly spread by idiots, that Morris will be rejuvenated by a reunion with former catcher/medicine man Mike Matheny, but this idea is overblown and rather reminiscent of these guys.
Morris is no longer an All-Star, even if he's getting paid like one, but he provides a stable arm in what was a very shaky rotation last year. I'd say about 13 wins and a 3.80 ERA in 200 innings seems about right.
I don't really buy that Tomko is better than Morris, but I wouldn't say Morris is better than Tomko, either. Morris has shown the ability in the past to be a better pitcher than Tomko ever has been, but Tomko has been at least as good, if not slightly better, than Morris the last couple of years -- k/bb ratios notwithstanding.
Making even money, I'd want Morris a little bit more than Tomko -- Tomko's better stuff never seems to translate into better k rates, and I like Morris' control. But at his current price tag...heh, wrote this back in December.