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Sleeper Sleuth: Brandon Morrow is one intimidating fellow

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade

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From now through the rest of the exhibition season, the Sherlock Holmes of fantasy will feature names that will artificially inflate player values, ticking off readers who sincerely believe they are the only individuals on earth that know about a particular sleeper. Come on Watsons! It’s time to do some digging …

Analysts would unanimously agree baseball is a game of adjustments. Hitters and pitchers are constantly correcting, and sometimes overcorrecting, mechanical flaws in their swings or deliveries in an attempt to achieve consistency. Often, these minor alterations work without fail. Other times, problems are further complicated.

For Toronto’s Brandon Morrow(notes), one tweak unlocked his inner Clemens.

Not long ago, many thought the future ace would never evolve.

Back in 2007, the hard-throwing righty was quickly blazing a trail to Seattle. Drafted fifth overall in the ‘06 draft, just ahead of Clayton Kershaw(notes), Max Scherzer(notes) and hometown hero Tim Lincecum(notes), the Cal standout possessed the heat (high-90s fastball) and secondary meat (slider, curve and change) to become a dependable anchor. An enduring partnership with Felix Hernandez(notes) atop the Mariners rotation was sure to follow. Unfortunately, control woes and the team’s ninth-inning uncertainty forced many within the organization to rethink Morrow’s future as a starter. So, over the next three seasons, he was toyed with, shifted from reliever to starter to reliever to starter again. Because his development was obstructed by the merry-go-round treatment, the promising hurler, unsurprisingly, yielded only modest results.

However, a positive change of scenery was on the horizon.

During the winter of ’09, the Mariners, shorthanded in the bullpen entering 2010, shipped Morrow across the border for Brandon League(notes), ending one of the worst mismanagements of a top pitching prospect in recent history.

Results in Canada were not immediately achieved. Over the first six weeks of the regular season, the youngster was largely erratic, allowing 26 earned runs over 35 innings (6.69 ERA). But after getting shelled by the Red Sox on May 10 (1.2 IP, 6 ER), Jays pitching coach Bruce Walton devised a solution that instantly transformed Morrow. From Buster Olney:

Walton suggested that Morrow lower his arm angle, from over the top to a high three-quarter delivery -- a change of "about five inches," Walton said.

The change in Morrow's ability to command a sinking fastball, and get the ball down, was evident almost immediately, Walton recalled. "It was like, 'Here we go.' He had a sinker at 91, and four-seamer at 95." And Morrow was able to throw a devastating slider from exactly the same angle as his fastball, which helped in deceiving hitters as they tried to guess whether he was going to throw a fastball or slider.

That simple change spawned an untouchable monster.

Over his final 19 starts, Morrow mowed down one opponent after another, winning eight decisions while posting a respectable 3.80 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 3.23 BB/9 and stupid 10.67 K/9, the highest mark among starters with 100 innings. If not hampered by bad luck (.342 BABIP), he would’ve likely been a top-flight SP2 in mixers (3.16 FIP). Included within that line was one of the most exhilarating pitching performances in major league history.

On August 8 against the whiff-happy Rays, Morrow was magical, allowing one hit – a weak grounder by Evan Longoria(notes) with two outs in the ninth – finishing with an absurd 17 strikeouts. According to Bill James’ Game Score metric, the dominating performance scored a 100, the fourth-most effective performance by a starter since 1920. Overnight, Morrow's name was etched on a column alongside baseball deities Koufax, Randy and Ryan in the pantheon of pitching greats.

Despite his riveting post-April run, the fantasy masses are still relatively cool on the 26-year-old (129.3 ADP, SP34), a very surprising development. Normally, a double-digit K/9 is to virtual managers what a kilo of coke and wild pack of strippers would be to Charlie Sheen. Maybe it’s the AL East factor. Maybe owners are concerned about an injury flame-out. Maybe people can’t forget his Mariners past. Maybe brain-destroying levels of arsenic have seeped into Fantasyland’s water supply. No matter the explanation, the strikeout king can be had at a bargain basement price.

If Morrow can continue to locate his fastball and slider accurately, missing bats and drawing increased groundball outs, he will reach fantasy’s upper-echelon. His stuff is simply that good.

For owners foraging for a starter with top-of-the-line potential in the middle rounds, the Morrow is now.

Fearless Forecast: 173.1 IP, 13 W, 3.67 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 198 K

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