Is Shaun Marcum Burnt Out?

As Shaun Marcum takes the mound for Game 2 of the NLCS against Milwaukee tonight, the shadow of a 4.2 inning, seven run implosion against Arizona in Game 3 of the NLDS will loom large. But Marcum’s first playoff start is the only recent negative for the right-handed changeup specialist: Marcum has only put together two solid outings since the calendar flipped to September. After hanging seven innings of shutout, one-hit ball against the Astros on September 4th, Marcum has made five starts (including the playoff outing) for a total of 29 innings, 25 earned runs (a 7.76) ERA, a rough 18-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and six home runs.

The playoff start puts the 29-year-old’s innings total for the year at 205.1, a career high, just over the 195.1 he posted coming off Tommy John surgery last season. With Marcum, never a picture of durability, we must ask: Are these struggles just the struggles pitchers work through over long seasons, or is he burnt out after the longest season of his career?

With Marcum’s struggles beginning essentially after 175 innings, the first course of action is to take a look at if Marcum had these same troubles when he hit this mark in 2010 with Toronto. And although his ERA was a touch high at 4.19, his peripherals were just as good and it wasn’t even a matter of BABIP, either — somehow, opponents managed 10 runs (9 earned) despite only 18 hits, two walks and two home runs. Marcum tallied 14 strikeouts as well — no signs of breakdown there.

Perhaps a look at his velocity chart will be revealing:

We do see a definitive drop in velocity, but Marcum’s velocity of late is essentially the same as it was at the beginning of the year — Marcum’s most productive slice of the season, as he carried a 2.06 ERA through May 5th. Considering Marcum remained in a roughly two MPH range the entire season and he isn’t really a pitcher who depends on his velocity to get outs, this doesn’t seem like a culprit either.

Marcum typically relies on his changeup, often throwing it as many or more times than the fastball. So if his changeup has lost its signature dive or the difference in speeds has decreased, this could be cause for concern as well. Here, we can see the horizontal movement and velocity on all of Marcum’s pitches for the 2011 season, with the poor starts in question coming after the red lines:

In all four instances, we see Marcum’s horizontal changeup movement (the orange) was around its average horizontal break but came in a couple miles per hour quicker than usual. This continued in Marcum’s start against Arizona, as his changeup averaged around 81 MPH (as opposed to 79 MPH for the overall season) and had 4.4 inches of horizontal break in to righties. It simply hasn’t been very effective over this time period, either, going for strikes in 10% fewer instances and getting put in play nearly three percent more often.

But if there’s anything to indicate the ineffectiveness of Marcum’s changeup, it’s that he just hasn’t thrown it nearly as much in this stretch of struggles. In the one good start — September 20th at Chicago — Marcum threw 19 changeups in 97 pitches, or 19.3%, under but reasonably close to his average of 26.7%. The other four starts, however, haven’t been anywhere near this mark, ranging from 15.5% (9/9 against Philadelphia) all the way down to 8.9% (Game 3 against Arizona).

I don’t know if there is a definitive answer the the original question here — only Shaun Marcum himself and maybe the Brewers’ training staff knows if Marcum’s arm is shot from his workload. But we do know that his changeup, his bread-and-butter pitch, just hasn’t been the reliable, go-to pitch he needs it to be for him to get batters out on a regular basis, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all if Marcum’s arm were giving out under the pressure of a long, 200 inning playoff season.

Marcum’s changeup will be the key pitch to watch tonight — if it’s flat and at too similar a speed to the fastball, we could be in for a repeat of Game Three in Arizona. If it’s back to the slower, diving pitch that gave him success early in the year, then Marcum has a chance to right the wrongs of the past month.



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Richie
Member
Richie
4 years 10 months ago

Very good stuff. Thank you. Tho’ the Brewer Fan in me now hates you.

Nate
Guest
Nate
4 years 10 months ago

I’m wondering if the extra day rest between games will help. We will find out.

adr3
Guest
adr3
4 years 10 months ago

nope.

opisgod
Member
opisgod
4 years 10 months ago

Said it back when the Jays traded him away that Marcum was never a pitcher to be relied on. If he loses the changeup, he is replacement level and its happened before in his career.

fergie348
Guest
fergie348
4 years 10 months ago

Well, he isn’t fooling Albert with the changeup tonight.

Kenley Jansen
Guest
Kenley Jansen
4 years 10 months ago

Maybe he’s throwing fewer changeups because he’s getting into fewer favorable counts? This analysis was good but it didn’t consider how good his command has been. I figure that is because the hypothesis is that his arm is tired, and reduced command wouldn’t count as evidence to support that, but I think it would, and it should have been considered. Maybe if his arm is tired, he is putting more effort into maintaining the same movement and velocity, and as a result he is messing with his normal approach, which harms his command.

longfellow terry
Member
longfellow terry
4 years 10 months ago

Marcum has been terrible lately, literally the way he’s been throwing he doesn’t bring one above average big league tool to the table right now. Average fb seems around 86-87 from the right side(good god). He has been getting behind in the counts and not locating his fastball at all while it seems he has lost some depth on his change piece and movement on his cut fastball. I did see tonight his velo return to topping out at 89 which is where it was beginning of the year compared to games late in the season where i didn’t see him get above 87. If he keeps throwing this way i honestly don’t see how he’s not replacement level, especially having to pitch in that home ballpark that can be brutal on pitchers

JSprech
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JSprech
4 years 10 months ago

Is it just me or did anyone have terror-inducing flashbacks to Jeff Suppan while watching Shaun Marcum pitch last night?

Bill
Guest
Bill
4 years 10 months ago

Marcum is a better baserunner than Suppan.

Sam
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Sam
4 years 10 months ago

Marcum had a better swing and miss % (1-contact%) than justin verlander in 2011.

Circular Saws Reviews
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Nice work, I’ll definitely be check this blog on a regular basis in the future.

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