Is Brandon Morrow the Best Right-Handed Starter in the AL East?

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Is Brandon Morrow the Best Right-Handed Starter in the AL East?
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Toronto Blue Jays' Brandon Morrow has arguably been the team’s best starter despite being abused in his May 25 start against the Texas Rangers (0.2 innings and six earned runs).

Overall he's been excellent.  In 10 games he's posted a 5-3 record with a 3.47 ERA and two complete-game shutouts.  In 62.1 innings, the opposition is batting just .208 and has whiffed 54 times, but his 1.07 WHIP might be his most impressive stat as his inability to find the strike zone has often been his Achilles’ heel.

In 2010, he walked 66 batters in 146.1 innings and walked 69 batters in 197.1 innings last season.  This year he is on pace to toss roughly 215 innings and issue 70 free passes—a major improvement over his ’10 and ’11 campaigns.

He has looked untouchable at times as he has given up one earned run or less in six of his starts, which includes a dominating four-game winning streak from April 23 to May 9.  In 27.2 innings of work, he allowed only two runners to cross the plate as the opposition mustered 19 hits and drew just five walks.

There is a lot to like about Morrow’s strong start to the season, but is he the best right-handed starter in the division?  Here’s a look at his competition. 

 

Jason  Hammel

The Baltimore Orioles have gotten off to a terrific start to the season and much of that can be attributed to Hammel as he has given his team seven quality starts (three earned runs or less in six or more innings).  He owns a 6-1 record with a 2.78 ERA in nine games.  In 55 innings of work, opponents are batting just .222 and have struck out 53 times. 

 

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Josh Beckett

Through nine games, Beckett is 4-4 with a 4.15 ERA and is beginning to resemble the pitcher we saw last year (13-7, 2.89 ERA, 175 strikeouts) as he appears to have put his slow start behind him.  Seven of his nine appearances have been quality starts.  In his last three games (Boston victories), he has surrendered just three runs over 21.2 innings.  For the season opponents are hitting .241 and have struck out 45 times in 56.1 innings.

 

Jeremy Hellickson

Hellickson sports a 4-1 record through 10 games, which includes seven quality starts.  His 2.83 ERA is second to staff ace David Price (2.71).  In 63.2 innings he’s registered 41 strikeouts and has held batters to a .238 average.

 

James Shields

Shields is off to another strong start this season as he’s gone 6-2 with a 3.63 ERA in 10 games, including six quality appearances.   He’s a workhorse and as of May 28, his 67 innings pitched rank him second in the AL East behind CC Sabathia (71.1 innings).  Overall, opponents are batting .249 and have struck out 66 times. 

 

All five candidates have had their moments this year, but if I were to base my decision on stats alone up to this point in the season then Jason Hammel would be my choice as the best right-handed starter in the division.  However, his history (34-45 record entering the season and 4.84 career ERA) does not suggest that he’ll be able to maintain his strong numbers as the season progresses. 

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Beckett and Morrow are fairly similar in that they can be dominant at times but are also prone to getting hammered.  Morrow has given up six earned runs in three starts, while Beckett has given up seven earned runs twice.   Consistency is the biggest concern with both hurlers.  Morrow has been rocked in two of his last three appearances and Beckett was hammered in two of his first six. It is difficult to know which pitcher you will see on a game-in, game-out basis. 

Hellickson will be the best of this group moving forward and may already be the best of the bunch right now. 

However, if I needed to win a one-game playoff, Shields would be my pitcher of choice.  Although he will likely not duplicate his ’11 season (16-12, 2.82 ERA, 249 innings, 225 strikeouts, 11 complete games and four shutouts), he has the ability to come up big (hence the nickname “Big Game James”) against good teams as four of his six wins have come against Detroit, Boston, Texas, and Baltimore as the visiting pitcher—making him the best right-handed starter in the AL East. 

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