The term “matchup play” gets thrown around a lot in fantasy
circles. It’s not exactly a flattering
term to bestow on a player, denoting that they’re only capable enough to use in
specific situations. Nobody really wants
to own a matchup-play player, resigning to the fact that their lineup isn’t good
enough to completely consist of players who are full-time contributors. Yet, if you can swallow your pride, there are certain
matchup players who are strong enough under certain conditions to genuinely be
worth a spot on your roster.
This brings us to Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow, the
ultimate matchup play this season, who owns a 5-6 record with a 4.69 ERA, a 1.42 WHIP and a 10.03 K/9 rate. The 25-year-old
right-hander, who was acquired from the Mariners in the offseason, has the
talent to be a full-time fantasy stud. Morrow
has a mid-90s fastball with late movement that can be dialed up to 98 if he’s
so inclined, complemented by a nasty breaking ball which fluctuates between
85-90 mph and drops out of the strike zone in a flash. However, currently in his first full season
as a starter after the M’s shuffled him back and forth between the rotation and
the pen last year, the young flamethrower has struggled to find consistency.
Or actually, it might be more accurate to say that Morrow
has been very consistent, as it’s become easy to predict when and when not he
will be effective — the personification of a good matchup play. In eight home starts this season Morrow has
been as dominant as his stuff suggests, going 5-1 with a stellar 2.82 ERA and
1.10 WHIP while opponents are batting just .234 off him. On the road, however, he’s been a disaster, sitting
at 0-5 with a 6.80 ERA and a 1.78 WHIP over nine starts, while opponents have hit .281. The biggest disparity has
been in his control, walking just 13 batters in 51 innings at The Rogers Centre
compared to issuing 32 free passes over 45 frames in U.S. ballparks.
Morrow recently reeled off a masterful five-start stretch during
which he pitched to a 1.80 ERA with a 35/12 K/BB ratio. Four of those outings were in Toronto. He followed this up by yielding five runs in
Cleveland, then surrendering five runs at Yankee Stadium during his most recent
outing on July 4.
Morrow may simply be a guy who needs the warm and fuzzy feeling
of getting cheered to relax and locate the ball where he wants. Or he might just be easily rattled by
trash-talking fans. The again, maybe it’s
an artificial turf thing.
The most notable matchup play from 2009 was a starter who
pitched in the only other artificial turf ballpark currently in the Majors,
Tropicana Field. Also in his first full
year in the rotation, Tampa Bay’s David Price pitched to an 8-3 record with a 2.93
ERA at home last season, compared to 2-4 with a 6.24 ERA on the road. But Price’s tale is one that offers hope for
Morrow, who is not as highly-touted as the former No. 1 overall draft pick and post-season
hero yet has stuff equally electric.
Price was virtually unplayable in fantasy lineups during
his first seven road starts in ’09, racking up a 8.07 ERA. Then something clicked towards the end of the year, as he went 2-0 with a respectable 3.90 ERA in his last four outings away from St. Petersburg. Fast forward to 2010 when Price has been one of
the best pitchers in the American League over the first half, while going 6-3 with a 2.79 ERA on the road.
So as Morrow gears up for road start No. 10 this season,
he should look to Price for encouragement that he can right the ship outside the friendly confines of the country to our north. If this happens, owners will be extremely thrilled
with their investment, as anyone who can ring up 107 Ks in just 96 innings has the
capability to be an elite fantasy starter.
But even if he doesn’t figure it
out on the road, Morrow is one matchup play proven dominant enough under the
right circumstances to keep anyone from feeling ashamed to own him.