I sat down excited to watch last night's Mariners game, thanks largely to one of the more intriguing pitching match-ups of the season: Brandon Morrow versus Joba Chamberlain. Both are young, flame-throwing righties. Both started their MLB careers in the bullpen. Both have since been converted into starters without being sent back down to the minors. Joba and Brandon are the same pitcher in highly unique ways. However, Joba was converted last year, and as a result has 18 more career starts than Morrow. With how similar Chamberlain and Morrow are, I was excited to sit and down and watch Joba, thinking he would be a glimpse of what Morrow may be with a little more experience.
I was wrong, completely and utterly wrong. Neither pitcher performed real well - Morrow's line was 4.2 IP, 5 H, 3 runs (1 earned), a whopping 5 BB and 4 K, while Chamberlain's was 5.1 IP, 9 H, 3 runs (all earned), 3 BB, 4 K, and a Ronny Cedeno home run - but the box score tells only part of the story. These two pitchers struggled in different ways.
Brandon Morrow was wild. Early on he got a couple bad breaks, courtesy a couple errors by Chris Woodward, and some ground balls finding holes. His stuff was great, as evidenced by an assortment of broken bats. The Yankees were not getting good swings against him, and never really did. He simply started missing the strike zone badly.
Joba was no control master either, but his problem was nibbling. I expected him to throw a ton of fastballs (as he should do with such an overpowering one), but he pounded the outside corner over and over. Moreover, when Joba shook Jorge Posada off, he seemed to throw a fastball away every time he finally nodded yes. Chamberlain treated every at-bat like it was a crucial one in the seventh or eighth inning.
If I only knew that both Joba and Brandon used to be relievers, and was asked to pick which one has more pro starts, I would have picked Brandon Morrow. He mixed in more breaking stuff. He changed speeds on his fastball some, in particular only saving his best gas for two strikes. In general, he showed a good understanding of what it takes to be a successful starter, but a frustrating inability to execute pitches on a consistent basis. Meanwhile, Joba was rearing back and firing at close to full throttle, taking aim at the low outside corner every time. I was really surprised that Joba remains fixated on overpowering every hitter. He should be farther along as a starter by now. In terms of pitch selection, Morrow already runs circles around Chamberlain.
Before tonight, I thought the Yankees were clearly making the right decision sticking with Joba as a starter. After watching one of his starts though, he needs to go to the bullpen. Mariano Rivera is at the tail end of his career, and Joba clearly has the mentality and stuff to become a dominant closer. Nobody has ever questioned that. However, 99% of successful starters do not try to overpower every hitter. Even overpowering pitchers like Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson, guys who struck out obscene amounts of batters, at least pitched inside and outside.
Maybe I caught an odd start for Joba, but the Mariners do not exactly boast murderer's row. If there is a lineup to work on mixing things up against, it is this one. On the other hand, the Yankees have a very formidable lineup, and Morrow still never gave up on mixing pitches, speeds, and locations, even though he lacks command with his off-speed pitches. It would have been understandable if Morrow had reverted to using only his fastball against such a tough lineup.
Looking down the road, Brandon Morrow should go to AAA, where he can work on his breaking balls. He needs to throw them more to get better command of them, which he really cannot afford to do with the pressure to win at the big league level. His stuff is electric, and he already has a solid feel for how to approach lineups as a starter. Execution is Morrow's downfall, and repetitions would hopefully do wonders.
As for Joba Chamberlain, he should go to the bullpen. Phil Hughes can take his spot in the rotation. The Yankees bullpen would be a ton better, and Joba would gracefully take over for Mariano Rivera whenever he retires. Joba still shows little to no feel for starting, which already leads me to believe he will never develop much of one. Chamberlain is an effective starter, and a better one than Morrow right now. However, that will change once Morrow gets a little more command. Joba's approach is suited for the bullpen so much better.
I expected to see two similar young pitchers tonight. Instead, I saw two pitchers with different futures. They both have the stuff to succeed in whatever role they are thrown in, but they fit best in different places.