Sean Marshall is not going to be a rental for the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds, who own Marshall’s last arbitration year at $3.1 million for 2012, pulled the trigger on a three-year extension that will pay the 29-year-old left-hander $16.5 million over the next three seasons.
As unpredictable as relievers can be, Sean Marshall has been one of baseball’s best bets over the last two seasons. Over the past two seasons with the Cubs, Marshall has thrown 150.2 innings with a 60 ERA- and 169 strikeouts to just 42 walks. He might be under the radar because he isn’t racking up the saves, but make no mistakes: Marshall has been in the elite as the Cubs setup man. Check out his ranks over the past two seasons among relievers with at least 100 IP:
2.45 ERA: 20th
60 ERA-: 15th
2.07 FIP: 1st
51 FIP-: 1st
4.02 K/BB: 15th
0.24 HR/9: 3rd
5.0 WAR: 1st
Marshall had success keeping runners off the bases and runs off the board despite the poor defenses routinely set behind him in Chicago. His fielding independent numbers speak for themselves, but the question remains, particularly with a move to Cincinnati: can he continue to keep the ball in the yard? Prior to 2010, Marshall had never posted a HR/9 below 1.0; since, he has allowed all of four home runs in 150 innings.
Not every pitcher is equally affected by the transition from starter to reliever (or vice-versa). In the case of Marshall, it may have saved his career. Marshall allowed 45 home runs in 311 innings as the Cubs first tried him as a starter. Even as Chicago continued to experiment with him in both roles, Marshall emerged as a far superior relief pitcher. Although he struggled in 2008, allowing four home runs in 26.2 innings, he would calm down in 2009, allowing just three in 39 frames (0.69 HR/9) before bursting onto the scene as a full-time reliever in 2010 and posting the 0.24 HR/9 over two seasons as noted above.
Particularly as a left-handed pitcher in front of Great American Ballpark’s incredibly short porch (having sat in the front row in left field, it’s even shorter than it appears on TV), it is likely too much to expect that he allows just one or two home runs per season as a Red. As such, he won’t be the single best relief pitcher in the league with Cincinnati, but that’s not what the Reds are paying for. He has the ability to be a very effective setup man who can move into the closing role should Ryan Madson depart after the season, and at a cost of just $5 million per season, the Reds are getting a fine deal on that skill set.
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