By Michael Jimenez
I was vehemently against the removal of Carlos Marmol from the closer role earlier this season; not because he was pitching well by some metric or even that I expected he to return to 2010 Marmol, but because the move would wreck the little trade value he had left heading into the deadline. So when Marmol was renamed the closer, I assumed that was dictated by the front office more than Sveum deciding he was the best choice (as that’s really been Shawn Camp all year long). In any case, Marmol has been pretty good since he returned from the DL and this column will inspect what has changed since his DL stint.
On May 12th, when Marmol was put on the DL, he had pitched 11.1 innings, given up 9 hits, 16 walks, 1 homerun and 8 earned runs while accumulating 12 strikeouts. Since his return on May 30th, he’s pitched 12.1 innings, given up 9 hits, 9 walks, 1 homerun and only 5 earned runs with 18 strikeouts. The obvious improvement was he started striking out more and walking less.
During telecasts I’ve heard Len and Bob refer to a larger usage of his fastball over his slider which has resulted in his improvement since returning. It’s true that Marmol has increased his usage of his fastball on the year, up to 50.6% from only 35.8% in 2011, 40.7% in 2010, and 44.4% in 2009; however, pre-DL stint Marmol used the fastball 50.2% of the time, and since his return he has used it 50.8% of the time – a negligible disparity.
There has been a couple noticeable differences though. First, his velocity has significantly increased. Pre-injury, he only averaged 92.8MPH on his fastball, and averaged only 94MPH+ in a game twice out of 15 games. Since returning he’s averaged 94MPH+ 11 out of 14 games for a total of 94.2MPH. He’s seen a similar jump in his slider velocity. His average slider was 83.1MPH pre-injury, and afterward his average slider jumped to 84.3MPH. There was not a discernible difference in his velocity between his starts before May 11th, which means if his forearm strain was the issue, it was affecting him all season long not something that he aggravated at some point during the season.
The extra velocity increased his swinging strike rate which is one of the reasons he has accumulated more strikeouts and less walks since returning but another noticeable difference is the amount of pitches he’s thrown that were strikes. Pre-injury Marmol had only 54% of his pitches called for strikes. Post-injury Marmol saw that number jump to over 60%. This seems to be due to a more consistent release point. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of his release points before and after May 12th from FanGraphs:
Pre-Injury Release Point
Post-Injury Release Point
Marmol’s release point was quite erratic before being placed on the DL, and you can see that he was releasing his slider at a completely different point than his fastball, not only making it easier for hitters to identify which pitch was coming but also causing many sliders to be off the plate. Since returning he has found a consistent release point for his slider which is much closer to where he releases his fastball and that has yielded better control and results.
The chances he would have been traded went from slim to none in May to a good possibility over the past 5 weeks. A team looking for a closer should expect similar results to his last 14 games as he has fixed his issues and regained his velocity since returning on May 30th. I don’t expect a significant return but if the Cubs can shed a chunk or possibly all of his contract off next year plus get a bullpen arm or two that may be useful in the future, that would be decent value for a guy who looked pretty lost on the mound to start the season.