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After a year in which he notched a stellar K-BB% of 24.1 percent, Brandon Morrow fashioned himself into the most trusted reliever in the Dodgers bullpen not named Kenley Jansen. Morrow has appeared in 12 of the Dodgers 13 games this postseason, including every single game of the World Series. If 2016 was the year of bullpen usage in the highest leverage situations, 2017 has been the year of bullpen usage, period. Much has been made of the idea that “bullpenning” games work in the playoffs after Joe Girardi used his bullpen to shut the Twins down in the AL Wild Card Game. While a team with viable pitching depth, such as New York or Houston, can afford to pull their starters after two times through the order, let’s consider the toll bullpenning takes on individuals who are heavily counted on.
Before we look at Brandon Morrow, let’s consider an earlier case of a heavily used reliever: Aroldis Chapman in the 2016 postseason. He was gassed by Game 7 of the World Series and gave up crucial runs, but let’s look at the details surrounding these circumstances. First, here is a calendar of his appearances with how many pitches he threw in each game:
You can see that in from Game 3 on, Chapman had to pitch four times in a six day span. All of these appearances came in high leverage situations and took an average of 29 pitches. Chapman is not used this way in the current Yankees bullpen because many of these innings can go to David Robertson, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, and others, but on that Cubs team, he was the only trusted man in Joe Maddon’s bullpen. Let’s consider the Exit Velocities Chapman allowed in each appearance coupled with his xwOBA:
Yikes. Both the Exit Velocities and xwOBA Chapman allowed increased with each taxing appearance. It’s very clear that having him throw 35 pitches (for a two inning save) in Game 7 wasn’t the best idea.
Now let’s consider Brandon Morrow. Again, Morrow is great. So was Chapman. We’ll do the same exercise again and go through Morrow’s pitching schedule in the World Series:
This is pretty consistent usage. Each game, Morrow came in for 10-15 pitches and only got one off day. He was asked to pitch five times in six days, including three days in a row. Now let’s see how the contact he allowed changed from game to game:
You can see his xwOBA creeping up in each game (with a blip in Game 2) until he finally blew up in Game 5. As we know, Game 5 was his third day taking the mound in a row. It’s hard to justify putting him in for Game 5, and it might be hard to justify pitching him at all for the rest of the series.
Bullpenning is an interesting idea, but when your ‘pen relies on a few pitchers that typically go one inning or five batters, stretching those guys out leads to instances like Brandon Morrow and Aroldis Chapman. We shouldn’t see Morrow pitch for the rest of this series, unless manager Dave Roberts is out of options in Game 7. At the same time, a race will commence immediately following the World Series to stockpile pitchers who can get through an opposing lineup effectively and then give way to the next multiple inning guy. It’ll save the next poor Brandon Morrow.