What Happened In 2017: Became an important part of one of the best bullpens the Dodgers have ever had by staying healthy and dominating in a new relief role.
Brandon Morrow was a non-roster invitee on a minor league deal last spring. The Dodgers gave him a chance to get healthy and reinvent himself, transitioning from starting pitcher to relief. He did just that and excelled in the new job, contributing significantly to the NL pennant winning team.
The season didn’t start out that great for Morrow who failed to break with the team out of Spring Training and had a couple of poor outings with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers in April. The 33-year old right-hander eventually found some consistency in Triple-A and was called up in May when Alex Wood was put on the disabled list with minor shoulder inflammation. Morrow was optioned back to OKC on June 10, but would return to the big club on June 21 to stay.
I wrote about the tough journey Morrow went on and his renaissance with the Dodgers in August:
“Despite the setbacks, the veteran still possesses electric stuff 11 years into his career. He’s bounced back at just the right time for the Dodgers, whose bullpen has notoriously needed reliable arms to man the so-called “bridge” to Kenley. Morrow didn’t allow an earned run in his first 11 appearances with the Dodgers, and he’s found success by utilizing his cutter when he’s behind in the count and batters are looking for that 100 MPH fastball. He has a four-seamer that flirts with 100 MPH and averages 97.9 MPH according to FanGraphs (up more than 3 MPH from last year when he pitched in relief for the Padres), a cutter that averages 92.6 MPH and a hard slider that averages 88.9 MPH. Not only is he in the top two percent as far as velocity in the majors, but he’s throwing 70 percent of his pitches for strikes. The Dodgers have had quite a few stories of redemption recently, from Chris Taylor emerging as a MVP candidate, to former non-roster invitee Justin Turner becoming one of the best hitters in baseball, to Morrow’s journey and transition from starter to dominant reliever despite facing obstacles like injury, illness and Type 1 Diabetes. Should Morrow stay healthy and continue to pitch effectively down the stretch and into the postseason, his signing could be one of the better ones to have been made by the Dodgers’ front office.”
It was a great signing. The Dodgers’ bullpen lead the NL in ERA (3.38), FIP (3.55), WHIP (1.15), strikeouts (637), K/9 (10.24) and a 27.7 strikeout percentage. Morrow was a big factor in the Dodgers’ bullpen dominance. His 45 percent ground ball rate was third-highest on the team behind Ross Stripling and Luis Avilan, and his strikeout percentage (29.4) was second to Kenley Jansen (42.3).
Left-handers hit .125/.183/.125 against Morrow, but he pitched well against right-handers as well (.231/.273/.260).
Morrow even clocked 101-mph on the gun.
The signing of Morrow turned out to be a great deal for LA, who took a small risk on the contract that paid Morrow a mere $1.25 million in the majors.
Morrow wasn’t as successful in the postseason for the Dodgers comparatively, but that was due to the insane number of times Dave Roberts went to him out of the pen in October. He appeared in 14 of the Dodgers’ 15 games, tying Paul Assenmacher’s record in 1997 for most games pitched in one postseason. Morrow also pitched in all seven World Series games, only the second pitcher to have ever done that besides Darold Knowles in 1973.
Overall, he allowed six runs on 11 hits with four strikeouts and a walk in 13 2/3 innings in all three series. The three home runs he allowed, one in the NLDS and two in the World Series, were the only homers he allowed all year with the Dodgers.
Morrow got paid this winter, but not by the Dodgers. The Chicago Cubs signed him to a 2-year $21 million contract. Pretty darn good for a pitcher who got a minor league deal last January.
2018 Status: Will be key late-inning guy or possibly even the closer for the Cubs.