I want you to close your eyes for a second….well, now that I think about that maybe that’s a dumb thing to say because it means you can’t read the rest of the post. Anyway, pretend you’re closing your eyes and imagining back to 2007. Imagine watching Carlos Marmol, a pitcher out of the bullpen for the Cubs who was flat out dominant. In case your memory is not that good, here is a quick refresher on the numbers that year.
To put it bluntly in a way all the cool kids these days would understand, his stuff was sick that year. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder he even garnered some MVP votes. It was lights out when Marmol came into the game, regardless of situation that season. As a result, his ascent to the closer role began.
Now, open your eyes if you were dumb enough to still have them closed, and fast forward to 2012 and the disaster that is Marmol as a closer. Things are not quite the same for the right-hander who has seen his stock fall to some of the worst it’s been in quite some time. What happened? How can a guy go from posting a 1.43 ERA to being demoted from the closer’s role and being scorned by fans? It doesn’t make sense. There has to be a cause.
I decided to look at some secondary statistics to make some observations. Are they the reason for the decline? I don’t know. They could be. I’m not an expert, just a fan with an opinion and access to the internet (i.e. – I have no idea what I’m talking about).
The first thing I took a look at was his pitch selection. Perhaps there is a difference in how he’s approaching the hitters. Below is a breakdown of Marmol’s usage of his two primary pitches, the fastball and the slider courtesy of Fan Graphs
Looking at those numbers you’ll notice that with the exception of this season, his fastball usage has declined each year, while his reliance on his slider has increased. There must be a reason that is causing that change, so let’s dig a little deeper to search for why Marmol would alter the formula that was so successful in 2007.
In his time in the Majors, here is his effectiveness based on the two pitches:
Looking at those two charts, there are a few things that stand out.
- The ability to strike guys out with the fastball is just not there anymore, which the ability to strike hitters out with the slide still remains just as strong as it’s ever been.
- His ability to control the slider has declined each year which is evidenced by the increased walk rate on the slider.
- The fastball has become very hittable, to the tune of a batting average over .300 the last two seasons.
As I did more research in an attempt to explain the loss of effectiveness when it comes down to the fastball, I could find only one thing…movement, which leads us to one more chart.
Look at the drop off in movement in 2011 and 2012. It’s a direct correlation to the spike in batting average against. If you throw a fastball to hitters, no matter how fast you throw it, they’re going to catch up to it if it’s not moving. You can’t just rely on heat alone. It doesn’t work. As for the ability to control the slider, I’m not sure I know how to explain that, but when you can’t control that and you’re throwing a flat fastball, you’re going to get hit and get hit hard.
The conclusion to all of this? Well, there really isn’t one. What I set out to do is make some observations. We’ve done that and come to the conclusion that his pitches are just not as effective as they were in the past. I know it sounds like a captain obvious (not that one) statement, but hopefully this was more a look at why the drop in effectiveness.