NLCS Statistical Scouting: Jackson vs. Marcum

Because I’ve been a horrible person and not included this in my past few articles, thanks to the Joe Lefkowitz Pitch F/x tool for the data in these posts.

Earlier I looked at today’s ALCS game, so now we move  on to tonight’s NLCS matchup: Edwin Jackson vs. Shaun Marcum.

Edwin Jackson

Talking through Jackson’s history as a pitcher would take well over 1,000 words and probably bore a large number of you to tears, so let’s keep it simple. After getting rushed to the majors as a raw 19-year-old kid, it’s taken Jackson a long time to finally mature as a pitcher. After logging 380 innings with the Rays and showing little success (and even less control), Jackson has gone on to actually become a good pitcher.* He’s lowered his FIP for five seasons in a row (3.55 FIP in 2011), and posted a 3.86 SIERA and 3.8 WAR each of the last two seasons. He’s no ace, but he’s certainly well above average.

*This still utterly shocks me. And his nine-walk no-hitter against the Rays last season still gives me nightmares. 

Jackson works four pitches: a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, and changeup. And he throws his slider a lot. While there might be a misclassification issue going on to a small degree — his slider use varies from 35% to 45% depending which source you look at — he throws his slider quite frequently against both hands: 30% against lefties, and around 50% against righties. His slider is around 7 MPH slower than his fastballs (87-88 MPH as opposed to 94-95), but he mixes up his movement with the pitch; sometimes it moves similar to his four-seam fastball, and other times it breaks like a hard, hard slider.

His slider is his primary out-pitch against both hands, and he gets a large amount of whiffs on the pitch regardless of the handedness of the batter (30%). Jackson uses his changeup almost exclusively against left-handed hitters, making him essentially a fastball-slider guy against righties. But man, for having such a limited repertoire, it’s certainly working out for him.

Shaun Marcum

If you were to try and find the exact antithesis of Edwin Jackson, Marcum would be a damn close answer. While Jackson goes out there with a blazing fastball, dominating slider, and limited repertoire, Marcum takes a very different approach to pitching: his fastballs top out at 89 MPH; he rarely throws a slider; and he succeeds by properly mixing his 5-6 pitches.

Marcum’s full repertoire is impressive; he throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter, curveball, changeup, and slider. He primarily works off his four-seam fastball and cutter against right-handed batters, mixing in his changeup and curveball both 15% of the time. Against left-handed batters, he instead uses his four-seamer and changeup as his main pitches, and then tosses in equal parts of his two-seamer, cutter, and curve for good measure.

His changeup is dangerously effective against both hands (~40% whiff rate), so the Cardinals’ won’t necessarily improve their chances if they decide to stack their lineup with right-handed hitters. The Rays have pulled such a stunt in the past to try and neutralize a pitcher’s changeup, but in Marcum’s case, it likely won’t make a difference. He actually has a higher FIP against lefties (4.19 FIP) this season than against righties (3.34 FIP), so go figure.

Marcum uses his curveball almost exclusively early in the count, and he only throws his changeup against righties when he’s ahead in the count. Against lefties, though, you’d better be expecting that changeup because it’s one of his favorite pitches no matter the count…although he may try and sneak a cutter by you on the corner if he gets ahead on you.

How is it that the pitcher that doesn’t top 90 MPH has a higher whiff rate (10.3%) than the pitcher that throws 94 MPH with a hard slider (9.2%)? It seems so backwards, but it speaks volumes about Marcum’s stuff.

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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

4 Responses to “NLCS Statistical Scouting: Jackson vs. Marcum”

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  1. Woodman says:

    On that last question: because fastballs don’t get a lot of whiffs compared to offspeed stuff, and Marcum throws a whole lot of offspeed pitches.

    Also, Marcum throws “just” five pitches: the slider and cutter are the same pitch. But apparently he does throw two kinds of changeups, so if that’s true he’d still have six pitches.

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    • Cool, thanks for that clarification. I wasn’t sure if the cutter or slider were distinct pitches or not. It looked like it might be a misclassification issue, but I couldn’t quite tell.

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  2. Lee says:

    Jackson also mixes in an occasional curveball versus lefties, which explains the misclassification issue you referenced.

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  3. CircleChange11 says:

    but he mixes up his movement with the pitch; sometimes it moves similar to his four-seam fastball,

    Some might call that a cutter.

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