An Inning with Carlos Marmol’s Command

Carlos Marmol doesn’t have the highest career walk rate in baseball history. That honor belongs to Mitch Williams, who walked one of every six guys he faced. But Marmol isn’t far behind, and he’s the leader among actives. Marmol has a higher career walk rate than Jason Giambi. He has a higher career walk rate than Brian Giles and Mike Schmidt and Jeff Bagwell. Walks are just part of the package, and Marmol isn’t some kid anymore, so it’s not like they’re about to go away with a mechanical tweak. This is in part due to the fact that Marmol is hard to hit, so he ends up in a lot of deep counts. This is more in part due to the fact that Marmol has had really lousy command.

Control is said to be the ability to throw strikes. Command is said to be the ability to hit spots. We don’t have a measure of command, but we can assume that a guy with Marmol’s walk rate doesn’t list it as a strength on his hypothetical English-language pitcher resume. The walks are part of the reason the Cubs see Marmol as expendable. They’re part of the reason he doesn’t have much of a market, and they’re part of the reason he’s no longer closing. Everybody knows command is a Carlos Marmol weakness. And now we have fun with a quick project.

Marmol pitched on Wednesday, against the White Sox. He was handed the eighth inning, and he allowed a run on 19 pitches, 14 of which were strikes. He allowed a groundball double and he generated a pair of strikeouts. For no reason other than pure curiosity, I decided to investigate his command on the afternoon. How well was Marmol locating against his four opposing batters? Following, you are going to see 19 screenshots. The red dot indicates the catcher’s target, set before pitch release. The assumption is that the catcher was indeed setting a target with his glove. This isn’t always true, but we can’t do any better. And this isn’t science-science. This is just casual science. So, whatever. Follow along, and be thankful I made 19 screenshots instead of 19 .gifs.

We don’t know what Marmol usually looks like. We don’t know what an average pitcher usually looks like, or what a gifted pitcher usually looks like. I went into this not knowing what I’d see, and I’m still kind of tackling it blind. Let’s explore Carlos Marmol’s eighth-inning command.


Fastball, good spot. Good job!


Fastball, pretty good spot. Pretty good job!


Slider, bad miss. A little too high to crush, but nowhere close to down and away.


Slider, good miss, if a miss at all. After Dioner Navarro caught the pitch, he looked at Marmol and nodded, as if to say “good execution, good pitch.”


Slider, bad miss over the plate in a 1-and-2 count. Alexei Ramirez hit this pitch for a double.


Fastball, bad miss. Immediately, Marmol is behind.


Slider, perfect! All right, Carlos Marmol!


Slider, perfect again! Why even throw fastballs!


Slider, bad miss in the middle of the zone in a 1-and-2 count. Alex Rios fouled it off. It could’ve gone much worse.


Slider, perfect! Strikeout!


Fastball, bad miss on the opposite side of the plate. This is an inside fastball at the belt. This is not an outside fastball at the thigh.


Fastball, dreadful miss.


Slider, bad miss again. Adam Dunn is Marmol’s first lefty of the afternoon.


Slider, decent. The pitch was only on the edge of the zone, and Dunn swung through it, but it’s dangerous to throw a low, inside breaking ball to an opposite-handed hitter with pull power if you don’t keep it low enough.


Slider, good. It was a borderline strike in the low-away quadrant, and Dunn flew out.


Fastball, bad miss. Certainly don’t want to groove a heater to Hector Gimenez with no one on in a six-run ballgame.


Slider, perfect! Only throw sliders!


Slider, pretty good. It’s another low-inside breaking ball to an opposite-handed hitter, but Gimenez isn’t a Dunn-type threat, and the pitch stayed on the edge.


Slider, pretty good. Ahead 1-and-2, Marmol could’ve and should’ve buried it, instead of throwing a borderline strike, but Gimenez whiffed, and that was right in the corner. That’s what Navarro signaled for.

This has been an inning with Carlos Marmol. Marmol inherited a seven-run lead, and he threw 19 pitches. All of them were either fastballs or sliders. I subjectively characterized eight of them as bad misses, based on approximate intended locations and approximate actual locations. Some of the misses were worse than others, and again, I don’t know Marmol’s actual, true intent with each pitch. This is all guesswork, but it sated my curiosity. One thing I noticed was that there wasn’t much variation in Navarro’s targets. Maybe this is because the Cubs were up by seven. Maybe this is just how Navarro is. Maybe the Cubs realize it’s pointless to try to set targets for Carlos Marmol. Maybe the goal is to get Marmol to look down the middle, and then see where the pitch ends up. It usually isn’t down the middle.

In his Wednesday appearance, Marmol didn’t walk anybody. Was his command unusually good? Was his command actually unusually bad? Was his command more or less normal? What would another pitcher look like, given the same sort of examination? There’s more that could be done here. You’re next, Mariano Rivera, probably.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

19 Responses to “An Inning with Carlos Marmol’s Command”

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  1. Brett W says:

    Dioner Navarro, in the course of having a career day, prevented Carlos Marmol from walking any batters. It’s kind of like The Most Interesting Backup Catcher in the World.

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  2. suicide squeeze says:

    That second to last paragraph reminds me of a quote I heard from Matt Thornton once. He said that he got a lot better as a pitcher when he stopped trying to hit spots and just let it go (sorry, can’t find a link). When a guy can miss bats like Marmol can but doesn’t have command, it’s probably best for him to just throw the ball and hope for the best.

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  3. mike says:

    Something I’ve noticed that hurts Marmol more than most pitchers are the umps. Since he’s so wild every time out there, even pitches that cross the plate but miss where the catcher is setting up, are called balls more often than not. He gets forced into hitters counts despite throwing strikes (bad misses or not).


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    • Dan Greer says:

      This is absolutely true. Marmol walks way more guys than his strike% suggests he should. Some years it’s worse than others, but the umps don’t do him any favors.

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  4. Kody says:

    Great article! I would actually like to see more guys given this treatment, both guys we think are good (Mo, Kimbrel, etc.) and guys we think are not (Marmol, Valverde, Axford). Nothing hugely scientific about it, just interesting.

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  5. MustBunique says:

    Not sure I’m on board with the definitions of control and command that you laid out. Control to me is being able to throw the ball where you want it to end up, whether that is a ball or a strike. Command is more getting the ball to break or move the way you want it to without considering the spot it will end up at.

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    • Cus says:

      No. Control is strikes. Command is hitting spots. Say it with me now …

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      • MustBunique says:

        I see you have repeated what was stated but not offered reasoning. Thank you for your insightful and informative repsone that is very valuable and worth both your and my time.

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        • Brendan says:

          what else do you want him to say? it’s like trying to debate with someone who believes the definition of balls and strikes are backwards

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        • MustBunique says:

          Really any form of evidence would work. If it’s as simple as, “That’s how it is defined in the rule book,” like your balls and strikes statement, then that works for me.

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        • Dan Greer says:

          If you don’t believe that’s the commonly accepted definition, then that’s on you, I’m afraid.

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        • TCQ says:

          I sort of accept that a lot of people say what Jeff and Cus said, it’s just that it doesn’t make any sense at all. If command is “hitting spots” and that’s a thing you can do, then by definition you also have “control,” since what’s the strikezone but a really big spot? With those definitions the word command doesn’t have any value added at all. I could just as easily say “really good control” – which is also done really frequently: when people say Greg Maddux had 80 control, do they need to also say “yeah, and his command was pretty okay too.” No. Because that’s totally redundant. To keep reiterating too many times: is it reasonable, ever, to say that a pitcher has great command, he can hit any spot he wants, but he just can’t throw strikes to save his life? That’s nonsense!

          So, yeah, most people aren’t using MustBunique’s definition (and I’ve seen that definition before, so it’s not like he made it up), but I sure wish they were, since it actually would bring some information to the table. It’s totally possible to envision a pitcher with good control, but who hung sliders a lot, or whose cutters straightened out half the time. And then command would actually be meaningful, instead of some useless subset of control (or vice versa).

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        • MGL says:

          There is no intractable definition of control or command.

          It is more like, “This is the way it is understood in baseball over the last X number of years when baseball people talk about it.”

          There is no point in arguing about it. It is simply baseball jargon.

          The commonly understood definition is what Cus says. You can have good control but bad command by simply trying to throw the ball right smack in the middle of the strike zone. Because you are trying to throw it down the middle, you will get lots of strikes, but because you have poor command, your strikes will be all over the place. You will not have much success unless you have great stuff.

          That is the way some pitchers with great stuff but poor command pitcher because they have to. If they tried to hit their spots with their great stuff, they would walk too many guys.

          You can have good command but poor control only if you like to nibble and perhaps pitch backwards, throwing off-speed pitches in fastball counts.

          It is true that part of command is getting your pitches to break the way you want them to, but it is not true that that is “without considering the spot it will end up at.”

          Again, those definitions are only by convention. They do not necessarily adhere to any dictionary definition or particular logic or reasoning.

          If you want to know the commonly accepted definition simply ask a pitcher, pitching coach, or catcher, or even a position player who has played at a high level of baseball and remembers that sort of thing. Most of them will tell you exactly what Cus says is saying and NOT what MustBunique is saying.

          MustBunique or anyone else can define those terms anyway they want, but if they were talking to a major league pitcher or pitching coach, they would get a quizzical look. Those guys talk about a pitcher having good or bad control simply based on their strike zone or walk percentage. If you are wild (throw pitches out of the strike zone a high percentage of time), you don’t have good control.

          If you throw the ball where you want to a good percentage of the time, it is said that you have good command, whether you like to throw the ball in the zone a lot, like a Greg Maddux, or you like to nibble like a Dice-K.

          Those are the definitions that baseball people use. What anyone else thinks is irrelevant.

          Those two terms are somewhat interchangeable and overlapping, so it is possible, maybe even likely, that some baseball people define it differently than I am laying out…

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        • MustBunique says:

          Appreciate the insight MGL. I don’t talk to many inside professional baseball people. It still doesn’t make that much sense to me, but if that is how the terminology is used then that is good information. I’m still going to look at it from a logic standpoint and will probably argue that the definition in the article and by yourself, Cus and Brendan is missing something, but for conversation purposes I will have to concede that the terms are used in that manner and accept it for now.

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  6. TKDC says:

    Do pitchers aim breaking pitches to end up where the target is or do they throw them at the target and then the break takes them away? It seems it would be easier to always be aiming as if you are throwing directly at the glove rather than aiming a foot away or more and having the ball break back to the glove. I think this evaluation definitely works well for fastballs, but maybe not so much for those sliders.

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    • Yes, this is one complication, and I suspect it varies between different pitchers.

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    • Patrick A says:

      They aim at a different target to end up at the glove. I’ve talked to a pro pitcher and he said they work on creating targets for a breaking ball (for a RHP)such as at the catcher’s right shoulder or above his head, etc.

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    • MGL says:

      It depends on the count, the batter, and the situation. The catcher may want a breaking pitch in the dirt on an 0-2 count, but he is not going to put his glove flat on the ground.

      Typically, as Patrick says, they aim at something in order to hit the mitt after the break, but again, it depends on the count and other things, and how much break that particular pitch will have. So it is not a hard and fast rule. But clearly where the catcher puts the mitt is supposed to be in the vicinity of where he wants to catch it, i.e. where he wants the pitch to end up…

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  7. blwfish says:

    It will indeed be fascinating to compare with others. Rivera must be the paragon of command; even if he does actually throw more than ONE pitch, it sure isn’t much more than that, so his command has to be supremely better than average. There must be others that would provide useful perspective. I assume they aren’t all the elite control pitchers. Presumably someone who’s “average” but I have no idea how to characterize that.

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