Cubs Keep Marmol Around for Three More Years

The rumors began a week and a half ago, and today they came to fruition. The Cubs have signed closer Carlos Marmol to a three-year extension worth $20 million. An agreement of some sort was expected after the two sides found their arbitration submissions $1.5 million apart. That the deal will last three years, buying out Marmol’s first year of free agency, represents the interesting part.

Last season, in his first full season as closer, Marmol established a level of dominance. His 15.99 K/9 led all pitchers by a considerable margin. To put it in perspective, his 138 strikeouts matched the total for Johnny Cueto, even though the latter pitched more than twice as many innings. He also struck out more hitters than starters Jon Garland, Derek Lowe, and Joe Blanton, just to name a few. That freakishly high strikeout rate, something Marmol has approximated, but not quite reached, during the previous three seasons, certainly played a major role in the Cubs’ decision to sign him long-term.

Another aspect of Marmol’s dominance is his ability to keep the ball in the park. Normally we wouldn’t consider a 1.6% HR/FB ratio sustainable, but for Marmol it appears to be within reason. He allowed just one home run on 63 fly balls last season, after allowing two on 77 fly balls in 2009. That he accomplishes this without getting an inordinate percentage of ground balls suggests that there might be something here. Hitters just can’t seem to square him up. There’s always a chance that he’s been outlandishly lucky during his last 667 batters faced, but that’s a risk the Cubs are rightly willing to take.

That brings us to the two biggest concerns about Marmol’s future. The first involves his walk rate, which, at 6.03 per nine, ranked third among relievers last season. That would be a much bigger issue if his strand rate didn’t consistently sit in the high 70s. That is in large part due to his strikeout rate. Even if he walks a guy there’s a good chance that he’ll strike out the next one. After all, he did sit down 41.5 percent of the 332 batters he faced last season. His low home run rate adds further to the solution. Even better, all three of the home runs he has allowed in the last two years have been of the solo variety.

In fact, if we look at relievers from the past four years, minimum 180 IP, and sort by walk rate, we can see that Marmol is in good company. Nearly all of the pitchers on that list with a BB/9 of 4.5 or higher have beaten their FIPs by decent margins. The trend appears to be largely based on strikeout and ground ball rates, which works in Marmol’s favor. As long as he can keep striking out batters at a rate similar to his career numbers, 11.68 per nine, he should be able to survive a BB/9 of around 5 to 6. It might make for a few heart attacks on the North Side, but the results should remain solid.

The other concern involves Marmol’s injury potential. This risk certainly isn’t based on his track record. During his four-plus-year career, Marmol has spent just 16 days on the DL, and that came in 2006. He did miss a few games with a sprained knee in 2009, but it wasn’t severe enough to require a DL trip. Instead, Marmol’s injury risk stems from the insane number of sliders he throws. In the past few seasons he has been around 50 percent sliders, and last year that was 59 percent. If we again look at the list of relievers in the past four years and sort by slider usage, we see only a few whose rates approach Marmol’s. But the two closest, Michael Wuertz and Brad Lidge, have had their injury troubles. Maybe Marmol is just a physical freak who can remain healthy while twisting his wrist for more than half of his pitches. But if other similar pitchers can serve as a guide, he seems to present a greater than normal injury risk.

It appears that the Cubs did well to lock down their closer for the next three seasons. At $20 million he’s averaging under $7 million per season, which places him below a number of comparable closers. The injury specter will loom for as long as Marmol throws that slider, but apparently the Cubs like what they’ve seen in terms of his health. As long as he keeps generating swings and misses, he’ll be a valuable chip for the Cubs, high walk rate be damned.




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

24 Responses to “Cubs Keep Marmol Around for Three More Years”

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  1. Tomas says:

    140 fly balls is not a huge sample size. I think in reality there’s a very minuscule chance that Marmol can sustain that HR/FB rate. There is also zero chance that Marmol sustains a 16 K/9.

    This was an unnecessary over pay, IMO.

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    • jerkstore says:

      You know, we all wont spontaneously combust if we acknowledge a decent, maybe even solid move by Jim Hendry….

      I am not sure where you see an overpay here – certainly not in year one (3.2m) or year two (7m). He would have made at least 12m in those two years going year to year. And the guy has been good to spectacular (not to mention durable) for four straight years so what possible warning sign could you reference to predict he is not going to be effecitve in 2013?

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    • Brandon T says:

      Not sure I agree, Tomas. It looks as if an 8% HR/FB percentage is more or less normal. 8% of 140 is 11. The square root of 11 is 3.3. Using Poisson statistics, we can therefore establish that Marmol0s performance is a 2.4 sigma outlier. In other words, he has about a 1 in 50 chance of being a lucky pitcher with an average HR/FB%. It’s therefore highly probable that he does have an exceptional ability to induce people to pop up.

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  2. SeanP says:

    Many of the articles at FanGraphs have a lot of grammatical mistakes and very limited vocabulary. This was not one of those articles.

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  3. Matt says:

    I disagree, tomas. Just take a look at what all of the other relievers have been raking in this winter… Some not even closers. In this market, although he is still arbitration eligible – that’s granted – buying out his first year of free agency saved then a tonne of money, especially in the context of the current market.

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    • cpebbles says:

      If the market for late-inning relievers is unreasonable, spend your money elsewhere and not on a late-inning reliever. Given his service time, he’s being paid like a 2-win player, which is the number that counts. He could easily be that, but personally I’d shy away from the injury risk.

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      • Jack Nugent says:

        I realize most readers FG readers are inclined to go with the numbers here on this site, but I think it’s worth mentioning that Marmol has fared significantly better in rWAR: 2.8, 2.2, 1.5, 3.0 since 2007, which is almost 3 wins more than what fWAR has him at over that span.

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      • Jack Nugent says:

        If you buy that Marmol is one of the best relievers in baseball, then it’s tough to argue he doesn’t represent a discount for at least the first two years of the deal. $9.8MM is a lot for a reliever, but you have to have expected a little backloading here, and I think he almost certainly would have gotten a comparable number in his first year of free agency had he waited it out.

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      • cpebbles says:

        rWAR sure seems to have a lower replacement-level baseline, which puts the cost per win lower.

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      • jackweiland says:

        He was a three win player last year … what evidence is there that he’s going to decline? The fear that he MIGHT get hurt?

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      • Davor says:

        FWAR uses FIP, while rWAR uses ERA.

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  4. Norm says:

    This deal is simply…fine.
    Nothing to hate, nothin to love….just right.

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  5. Oscar says:

    Most relievers with BB rates of 4.5 or higher who kept a job for 180 innings will underperform their FIP because any pitcher who walks 4.5 per nine and pitches to their FIP will be very unlikely to stay employed. That’s the mother of all selection biases there.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      The BB/9 is really insignificant, unless it’s one of those “Marmol Innings” where he walks 2, plunks 2, and throws 2 wild pitches.

      But he walks 4/5 per 9. In closer terms that’s “he walks a dude every other game”. Hardly an issue, when you K 3 times that amount and don’t give up many hits.

      He’s as unhittable as any closer in the game.

      Rather than continually assuming that teams overpay for late-inning relievers, eventually we’re (FG community) is going to understand that we are assessing relievers incorrectly.

      Hist stats last year are essentially ‘fictionlike’ …

      15.99 K/9, 6.03 BB/9, 0.12 HR/9

      If he didn’t exist, you’d have to create the character.

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      • jerkstore says:

        hopefully those “marmol Innings” will be at a minimum considering the additional “wood innings” that will be added this year.

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    • Archie says:

      Oscar,

      With all due respect, I think that you are selectively using stats here. You said, MOST relievers. However, Marmol is NOT “most” relievers. You must look at the 16+k/9 when you look at the walk rate to be fair. One of the reasons that his walk rate is that high is that so many of the pitches that he gets swings and misses on are balls. This is a big reason that his HR/FB is so low as well; very rarely does a batter get a good pitch to hit with Marmol. What makes him different and special, though, is that almost every pitch LOOKS like it is going to be a great pitch to hit when the batter starts his swing. Just watch the guy pitch once and see how many really good hitters he makes look like little leaguers as they swing at pitches 9 inches out of the zone.

      I think that Marmol has a good chance to be well worth this deal if he can stay healthy. That is an insane K rate. Even if it regresses a good long way, he should still be quite effective.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        What makes him different and special, though, is that almost every pitch LOOKS like it is going to be a great pitch to hit when the batter starts his swing.

        Spot on.

        He starts his slider in the zone and the movement carries it out of the zone, sometimes way out of the zone.

        He works middle-away far more than he works in-middle.

        He has an overall 61% contact rate. That’s good (<–understatement)

        When I watch Marmol pitch I wonder why batters even swing. [1] You can't hit it anyway. [2] It's a coin flip on whether it's in the zone.

        Might be harder if a batter forced Marmol to throw 3 pitches out of 7 in the zone. *grin*

        He sure seems to get a lot of "Why the hell did I swing at that?" swings.

        Marmol is about the only reason to watch any game on WGN. Most guys need a whiffle ball to get the same movement.

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  6. Rob says:

    It’s worth noting that Marmol is a converted catcher, so he doesn’t have quite as much mileage on his arm as you might expect.

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  7. Ben Hall says:

    I second Tomas’s points on HR/FB rate and K rate. In 2008 he had a 9.9% HR/FB. He may be able to keep it low, but 2.6% and 1.6% seems simply unsustainable, not to mention that 140 fly balls is just not a large sample.

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  8. Perry Saturn says:

    Carlos Marmol is a fat slob.

    Oh wait, I was thinking of Carlos Silva.

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  9. Doug says:

    Interesting that you bring up 2008 for Marmol’s HR rate being 9.9% but not 2007, when it was also incredibly low at only 3.6%. The reason Marmol’s HR rate IS so low is that he gets a mindblowing number of pop ups. Just look at the IFFB rate for his career:

    12.6%
    10.4%
    14.9%
    20.8%
    6.3%

    Obviously that last one is low and these things are somewhat subject so I’ll bring in Statcorner’s numbers on him too:
    11.4%
    18.2%
    13.9%
    13%

    League average is 7.3%.

    So many balls that go in the air against him barely get into the shallow part of the outfield. I mean, go watch some youtube of him pitching, his slider is outrageous. I certainly don’t think he’s gonna keep up a 1.5% HR/FB rate but it’s perfectly likely that Marmol is capable of something like a 5%HR/FB on a consistent basis.

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