Shaun Marcum’s Fastball and Changeup

Baseball fans know about Zack Greinke, the Brewers’ newest addition to a much-improved rotation, but the performance of lesser known Shaun Marcum is arguably just as important to a successful Milwaukee season. The expectations for Marcum may not be as great as that of Greinke, but Brewers fans should be glad to know that Marcum isn’t too shabby a pitcher himself. In 195.1 innings, Marcum struck out 165 and walked 43, good for a 3.74 FIP, a figure better than that of Jonathan Sanchez and Tim Hudson. And Marcum does this with a high-80s fastball.

Marcum mixes two fastballs, a changeup, cutter, slider, and curveball, but primarily relies on his fastball and changeup. He throws a fastball about 45% of the time, but it’s the usage of his changeup that’s the key to his success at getting whiffs. He throws a changeup about 26% of the time, fourth in the Majors. Of Marcum’s breaking balls and offspeeed pitches, his changeup is the most valuable because of its funny movement, leading all of baseball in changeup runs above average.

The right-handed pitcher makes up for his lack of fastball velocity by working both sides of the plate, mixing in a good cutter as well depending on the situation. We’ve PITCHf/x’d to death a certain pitcher in the past with uncanny cut fastball control, so I thought we’d give Marcum that same treatment here. Here are several graphs of Marcum’s fastballs in different count situations. The black points represent Marcum’s cutter:



Marcum’s cutter breaks sharply and slightly away from right-handed hitters. When visualizing these graphs, remember that the colors represent density levels in one graph that can be compared with that of another. The rule of thumb is that the more concentrated the “yellow spot” is, the more telling Marcum’s location is.

On the first pitch to RHH, Marcum will typically work away with his fastball and hit the outer half of the strike zone most of the time with his cutter. He works the batter similarly when behind in the count. However, when ahead in the count, Marcum isn’t afraid to throw his fastball down the middle or his cutter away and out of the zone. When against LHH, Marcum locates his fastball outside as well (glove side for the pitcher) but rarely uses his cutter (using it 17% of the time against RHH, 9% against LHH).

Here’s a look at Marcum’s changeup location in the same count situations. The red points in the following graphs represent swinging strikes on changeups:



Marcum rarely uses his changeup on the first pitch, but isn’t afraid to throw it behind or ahead in the count against both batters. Opposite to that of his cutter usage, he throws his changeup much more frequently against LHH, using it 16% of the time against RHH and 31% of the time against LHH. When behind in the count, Marcum will work outside to LHH and hit the lower outer corner of the strike zone. When ahead in the count, he will throw the changeup lower and out of the zone, getting a significant number of his whiffs down and outside.

These graphs tell us that Marcum works right-handed batters much differently than left-handed batters. In general, Marcum’s best out-pitch is his changeup, which he uses to whiff 27% of both batters. He uses his fastball as well as his breaking balls to get called strikes. Against same-handed batters, the right-handed pitcher diversifies his pitch repertoire with five or six pitches by increasing the usage of his cutter and slider. Against opposite-handed batters, Marcum usually sticks to a two-pitch fastball/changeup arsenal with an occasional curveball or cutter.

Marcum’s approach doesn’t achieve perfect results, as he does get some weird platoon splits. Amazingly, left-handed hitters batted .190/.233/.299 off Marcum against a two-pitch tandem. Right-handed hitters, however, hit .298/.345/.514. You would expect the opposite split for a right-handed pitcher (John Danks is an example of a left-handed pitcher who performs better against opposite-handed hitters). Whether or not Marcum can sustain this split or improve his performance against RHH remains to be seen. What I do know is that I look forward in 2011 to seeing how Marcum’s changeup stacks up against the NL Central’s batting lineups.



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Albert Lyu (@thinkbluecrew, LinkedIn) is a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but will always root for his beloved Northwestern Wildcats. Feel free to email him with any comments or suggestions.


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Nick
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Nick
5 years 4 months ago

He plays baseball

Galt
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Galt
5 years 4 months ago

yeah Marcum’s splits are puke in stratomatic.

grady
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grady
5 years 4 months ago

He’s going to dummy NL batters.

Josh Amaral
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5 years 4 months ago

It’s a shame he’ll still fly under the radar in Milwaukee though.

Barkey Walker
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Barkey Walker
5 years 4 months ago

It might be nice to give the slashline like x-y,x-y,x-y, where x is the slash line for this person and y is the slash line against all other batters or pitchers (depending on if the person is a batter or pitcher). So in this case, you could give the slash line vs Marcum minus the slash line vs all other pitchers for all of the batters who faced him.

I realize there is a weighting issue here. Do you calculate the slash line for each batter and then difference it and average, or use an average weighted by at bats vs Marcum? Weighted by at bats vs other pitchers? Weight by the product of the two? I’d just do the dumbest thing and assume all batters are the same person and difference the slash line vs Marcum and the slash line versus all other pitchers–that weighting is at least arguable.

Barkey Walker
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Barkey Walker
5 years 4 months ago

Very interesting post. I really like reading about Shaun Marcum, and this is one of the best posts I’ve seen. Kudos.

However, what is a dot and what is the heat map? At first I thought a dot was where a pitch went, but in the first graph, top right portion, this can’t be. The pitches and heat map don’t agree. If there is some convention, can you also link to that article? Also, always nice to mention, “catcher’s view” or “pitcher’s view”.

Josh Amaral
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5 years 4 months ago

Albert, those are some seriously cool visuals. I’m not sure if I’m analyzing baseball or playing Splinter Cell, which probably speaks volumes about my athleticism.

Dave
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Dave
5 years 4 months ago

I`m really excited to see if Marcum can pick up some pointers from Gallardo and the Brewers pitching staff to help him improve the consistency of his curveball. When he has his curveball working with consistency it takes the batters off of the changeup just enough for his two pitch approach to lefties to really allow him to dominate. It was to bad his cb wasn`t where it needed to be sometimes last season, but im hoping that could change in his new home. So excited to see him pitch again this year.

Also...
Guest
Also...
5 years 4 months ago

I’m probably more interested to see Marcum’s influence on Gallardo than the other way around. He’s already developed quite the reputation as a rotation leader, and the Jays’ young starters never hesitated to let people know the positive influence he had on them, specifically in terms of pitching with a purpose.

Big Jgke
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Big Jgke
5 years 4 months ago

Marcum will be missed in Toronto, he is also a terrific fielder.

Ed Nelson
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Ed Nelson
5 years 4 months ago

I’ve heard he can hit too, which should be interesting.

grady
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grady
5 years 4 months ago

yeah you’d hear that pretty well every time he’d start; pretty sure he was a shortstop in college.

Also...
Guest
Also...
5 years 4 months ago

He did used to be a shortstop, which is evident anytime he fields the ball. He was probably the second best defensive SP in the league to Mark Buehrle.

Will Hatheway
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Will Hatheway
5 years 4 months ago

Albert,

You might find it (very mildly) interesting that just today I found out I’ll have a post on THT where I argue that, in the case of pitchers with elite command of both fastball and changeup, “luck” can be explained (meaning that, in more challenging fantasy baseball leagues, we should actually ignore xFIP’s regression warning when it comes to Felix). Of course, Marcum’s FB isn’t all that hot, but you can see that when it was at least ok, in 2008, he was significantly “luckier” than in 2010 (which had the much sicker wCH you reference) according to BABIP, LOB, and LD%.

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