Morrow Should Start. Heilman… Not So Much

Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik announced yesterday that both Brandon Morrow and Aaron Heilman with have the opportunity to compete in spring training for 2009 starting gigs.

The room is there to accommodate both pitchers – if the organization wants to admit its mistakes and place both disappointing starters – Carlos Silva and Miguel Batista – in the bullpen. The oft-injured Erik Bedard is also not a good bet to spend a full season in the rotation after having his frayed labrum repaired in September. The only real locks in the rotation, at this point, are Felix Hernandez and Jarrod Washburn.

Morrow certainly has more upside – and fantasy potential – than Heilman. The 24-year-old hurler, who has spent the majority of the past two seasons in the bullpen, was hard to hit in 2008 and allowed just 40 hits in 64.2 innings. Batters made contact against Morrow 72.7% of the time (compared to King Felix, for example, at 80.8%).

He also has very good stuff – with a fastball that sits around 95 mph, as well as splitter and a slider. Unfortunately, his repertoire is fastball-heavy at this point and he will have to sharpen up the command and control of his secondary pitches to succeed as a starter.
Morrow’s overall control – or lack thereof – could be his undoing as a starter. His walk rate was a startling 7.11 BB/9 in 2007 but it improved to 4.73 in 2008, which is still far too high.

Heilman certainly cannot compete with Morrow’s raw stuff, but the right-hander has a history of solid command and control. That deserted him in 2008, though, and he posted an out-of-character walk rate of 5.45 BB/9. He was also more hittable in 2008 than in previous seasons and allowed 75 hits in 76 innings. At 30 years of age, Heilman should be peaking as a pitcher, so his 2008 season is a little disturbing. He is also moving to league that produces more offence, which could further muddy his numbers in 2009.

By moving both Morrow and Heilman to the rotation, it would severely damage the Seattle bullpen, which lacks proven, veteran relievers. He may not like it, but remaining in the bullpen will probably benefit both Heilman (Can he hold up health-wise as a starter? Probably not.) and the Mariners. It should also help fantasy owners because the right-hander would not be a top-tiered pitching option and, as a late-inning reliever, he would likely help preserve some of Morrow’s wins.

We hoped you liked reading Morrow Should Start. Heilman… Not So Much by Marc Hulet!

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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joser
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joser

” the Seattle bullpen, which lacks proven, veteran relievers.”

So I’m wondering where on Fangraphs can I look up pitchers’ comparative values for these “proven” and “veteran” traits? Is there a leaderboard? From the names I assume these characteristics aren’t innnate, so can we track them, perhaps with a graph, as pitchers acquire “proveness” and “veteranness”?

When Seattle put JJ Putz into the bullpen he wasn’t a “proven, veteran reliever”… until all of a sudden he was. There were other guys who were more “proven” and “veteran” but Putz displaced them because he was good and they weren’t, and you could see that in their numbers. Now Seattle has traded him and Sean Green, and they’ll replace them with new guys who will succeed or fail regardless of how “proven” or “veteran” they are. Though if they do succeed, I imagine they’ll become anointed “proven veterans” too.

Malcontent1
Guest
Malcontent1

He’s not inferring that everybody in the bullpen needs to be a “proven veteran”, but that somebody needs to be, because the manager has to have at least one guy he can go to with confidence in a bad situation. A “proven veteran” would be someone, when inserted into a situation where they have to preserve a lead after the last guy left 2 on with no outs, wouldn’t go out and try to throw 100 mph fastballs at the bottom-left quarter inch of the strike zone. A “proven veteran” would go out to the mound and be able to handle the situation, for better or worse. When Putz was first inserted into the Seattle bullpen in 2004, it was alongside “proven veterans”: Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Eddie Guardado, who, along with Julio Mateo who had at least 1 full season under his belt, received most of the high leverage situations.

That’s why it’s important to have a “proven veteran” or 2 in the bullpen; because you want to give your manager someone that he knows he can send out that won’t break a sweat if he gives up a lucky base hit or doesn’t get his call on a strike 3 pitch.

Besides which, if you take Aaron Heilman out of the equation, you’ve got a bullpen full of guys with control issues.