Shaun Marcum’s Winter of Silence

Shaun Marcum is a pretty good Major League pitcher. He’s been in the show since 2005 and owns a 3.76 ERA and 4.25 FIP in a little over 900 career innings. That’s a 90 ERA- and 101 FIP-, respectively. Like most pitchers though, it took Marcum a few years to really hit his stride. Since 2008 he’s pitched to a 3.57 ERA (88 ERA-) and a 3.97 FIP (97 FIP-) in a bit less than 700 innings. He did miss the entire 2009 season due to Tommy John surgery, but that’s a solidly above-average performance.

Marcum just turned 31 years old last month and is a free agent this offseason. You probably knew that already, but a lot of casual fans might not since there have been very few mentions of his name on various rumor-churning sites. Casual fans also might not realize Marcum is a pretty good pitcher either, but that’s besides the point. We have ourselves a perfectly capable right-handed starter who has been worth at least 3.0 RA9-wins in five of the last six seasons he’s pitched and is having trouble finding a job. It doesn’t make sense, especially with only five weeks to go in the offseason.

Of course, things aren’t that simple. What Marcum did years ago is less relevant than what he did last year, which includes missing two months with tightness in that surgically reconstructed right elbow. He also posted a 94 ERA- (worst since 2006) and a 105 FIP- (worst since 2007) while only throwing 124.1 innings, his fewest since before the surgery. On the bright side, Marcum did manage a career-best strikeout rate (7.91 K/9 and 20.7%), but he also posted the lowest ground ball rate (35.4%) of his career. Fly balls have always been his thing though (career 42.3%), and despite being homer prone (career 1.22 HR/9 and 10.8% HR/FB), he benefits from the air balls by seeing more batted balls turn into outs (career .270 BABIP).

The 2012 season was one of the worst seasons of Marcum’s career, the worst if we stick to his years as a full-time big leaguer (the last six or so). He also pitched poorly after returning from the elbow problem, particularly in September — a 4.68 ERA and 5.08 FIP in 32.2 innings. It’s the second straight season he finished poorly, as you may remember the ghastly 5.17 ERA and 4.48 FIP in September 2011. That includes a start of seven shutout innings too. The performance carried over into the postseason (16 runs in 9.2 innings), and that kind of stuff tends to stick out, fair or not.

More than anything though, more than the elbow injury and poor finishes to the last two seasons, I think Marcum’s market has been relatively quite this winter because his margin for error is so much smaller than that of his peers. He’s a soft-tossing changeup specialist, and that is not a phrase we use to describe right-handed pitchers all that often. When people see a swing like this…

…followed by a radar gun reading like this…

Marcum velo

…it kinda freaks them out a little. It’s just not normal. Marcum has averaged 86.7 mph with his fastball over the last three seasons, the slowest non-knuckleballer, non-Livan Hernandez right-handed fastball in the game (min. 400 IP). It doesn’t look or feel right because it’s so unconventional, and yet it works for him and has for a really long time now. One day someone’s going to do some really great research and analysis on pitch sequencing and we’ll better understand how a big league hitter could swing through an 87 mph fastball over the heart of the plate like it was 97, and maybe then guys like Marcum will get some more respect.

Anyway, there is no shortage of teams in need of rotation help right now and at some point soon Marcum will have a job. He might even get a multi-year contract with the way the market has been this winter. Obviously the health of his elbow will play a big role in that and heck, for all we know the joint could be a mess and that’s why he’s still unemployed. In an offseason in which Kevin Correia is getting multiple years and Scott Baker is getting nearly $6 million guaranteed (after throwing zero pitches in 2012), I find it odd that someone of Marcum’s caliber is left looking for a job in mid-January. A team with a big-ish ballpark (Padres? Mets? Marlins?) could wind up with the bargain of the winter if the rest of baseball continues to give the soft-tossing righty the cold shoulder.

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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

36 Responses to “Shaun Marcum’s Winter of Silence”

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  1. shibboleth says:

    Great numbers in Metco…

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  2. Jim H says:

    Was just thinking about him the other day. He’s leaving a park that’s great for home run hitters, and his road ERAs have been very good the last two seasons. Seems like he’d be a great value for a team in a decent pitchers park with a good defensive OF…if his arm can hold together.

    Incentive contracts were made for guys like this, and the incentive values may not even have to be that expensive at this stage of the off-season.

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  3. Mark says:

    ” and despite being homer prone (career 1.22 HR/9 and 10.8% HR/FB), he benefits from the air balls by seeing more batted balls turn into outs (career .270 BABIP).”

    I imagine the main reason for the low BABIP is because Marcum is a pitcher who relies on a change up (and has a very good change up, at that). So he’s able to induce a lot of weak contact by messing with a hitter’s timing.

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    • Steve says:

      Also, BABIP doesn’t count homeruns, as they are not count as batted balls “in play” (though I don’t know if the number of homeruns would make too big a difference to average overall).

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      • Jovins says:

        Home runs are fly balls. Fly balls have a lower BABIP. Fly ball pitchers tend to have higher home run rates and a lower BABIP.

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  4. Jonathan says:

    At the same time, even AAAA-type players can smoke a 97 mph fastball for a home run. I have to think pitchers with an excellent change-up like Marcum appears to have (1.37 wCH career)can succeed with any fastball above 80 so long as there’s solid separation from the change. Jamie Moyer comes to mind as well.

    87 isn’t 97 but the distance from the mound to the plate is only 60’6″. If you take away about 5 feet from that given the average release point, (which, i’m just estimating there) that’s down to 55’5″. At 97 mph, the ball covers that distance in 0.390 seconds. At 87, the ball reaches in 0.435 seconds, so you’re talking about a difference of 0.045 seconds, what essentially boils down to clicking a stop watch on and off as fast as you can. It increases your margin of error as a hitter, sure, but when paired with a change up like any other starter? I just don’t think human perception is that resolved.

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    • KM says:

      Moyer came to mind for me immediately also. If memory serves tho, he had at least 4 pitches, and was pretty good at keeping all of them away form the heart of the plate. When he wasn’t hitting the corners, he had some pretty rough days…

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    • Bip says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      We’re talking about baseball. Sure, .435 seconds and .390 seconds are only .045 seconds different. But a .310 batting average and a .250 batting average are only .060 points different but that’s the difference between a so-so hitter and an elite hitter, assuming average power and plate discipline.

      So the difference in time doesn’t have to be the difference between being blown away and hitting batting practice. But hitting is all about pitch recognition and timing, and any little amount of extra time to do that is a slight advantage.

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  5. kushernova says:

    Could the Cubs be in the market here? If nothing else is on the table, perhaps a 1 year deal would be beneficial to the Cubs.


    At the very least, Marcum would be a solid value pickup – by improving the 2013 rotation relatively cheaply (he made $7.75m last year) and as another candidate for a trade at the deadline if the Cubs are out of it (as expected).

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    • Jake W. says:

      The Cubs have a deep but unspectacular rotation. I can’t see Marcum being one of the top 5 starters, therefore it would be very difficult to improve his stock. Also he wouldn’t be a great fit in Wrigley with his fly ball tendency.

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    • haslone says:

      You forgot 2013 Cy Young Winner Travis Wood…

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  6. FMelius says:

    As a Twins fan, I would rather have given some (most?) of Kevin Correia’s $5MM/yr to Marcum. He’s worth a shot, right?

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    • Billy says:

      Until the Jays went crazy trading for star pitchers to fill out our rotation, I wanted Marcum to get signed here. He’s a bulldog on the mound and goes about his business the right way. He hasn’t been great against the AL East in his career in total (4.64 ERA in 242 IP) but his overall body of work was solid for the Jays. He would’ve fit nicely as a #4 or #5 for us this season, but after the trades, he’d be a depth signing with the Jays at this point. He is a fundamentally sound pitcher with a good attitude, which I like in my players.

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  7. Big Jgke says:

    He’s also as good a defensive pitcher as plays in the game today.

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  8. Tomcat says:

    Imagine that the Royals could have had him for two years, for the money they are paying Santana, Chen and Hochevar this year(21 million)

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    • KCDaveInLA says:

      One pitcher can’t replace three, but imagine that the Royals could have nabbed him before caving in to the Rays.

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      • Tomcat says:

        Those three had ERA+ of 73, 81 and 71. Marcum’s 111 would have replaced a lot of bad IP

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      • Nile says:

        More interesting is Marcum is a KC native. It always seemed like a a natural fit. After trading for Shields the team should have been more interested in Marcum. The Royals have two years to compete to make that deal worthwhile at all, just as Marcum was a great compliment to Greinke to boost Milwaukee’s rotation, so he would’ve been to KC’s.

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      • Billy says:

        I think Marcum still can be a great compliment to the KC rotation. It can’t hurt to have 6 guys with MLB experience and when one goes down, you keep trucking. A healthy Marcum is solid in the ALC in his career. 128.1 IP, 2.96:1 K:BB ratio and 3.72 ERA. He’s pitched 24.1 IP in Kauffman to the tune of a 1.48 ERA. Small sample, but clearly the man likes pitching in that stadium, and in that division. It’s not like the ALC is significantly stronger offensively now than it was in 2006-2009 when he was facing them more often. Marcum would be a nice grab for them.

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  9. Ben says:

    “He’s a soft-tossing changeup specialist”

    I’m surprised the Twins haven’t been all over him like white on rice.

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  10. I was hoping Mike would take a winter of silence….

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  11. rbt says:

    Everything I’ve heard is that his medicals are terrible and he’s unlikely to pass a physical; that’s why teams are staying away.

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  12. Bob says:

    Marcum is a good enough player, when healthy. His problem is that he completely fell apart at the end of 2011, and followed that up with injury problems in 2012. He’s a 1-year-deal type of candidate, given his history.

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  13. Arm Side Run says:

    Great article/read. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Marcum pitch while he was in Toronto. He shows amazing pitchability for a guy who pitched AND played shortstop in college. I also remember him being a good athlete who fielded his position well. It is also nasty that he reportedly cuts, slices, bakes and grates his change. Nasty!

    While most teams would be lucky to have him I think Marcum and Villanueva would be redundant in the same rotation- I have trouble thinking of two pitchers more alike. I may be assuming a little much by implying redundancy in a rotation is a bad thing, but in the case of soft-tossing change up artists I think the assumption is more warranted than with flamethrowers.

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  14. AnAvidReader says:

    So Marcum is an above-average pitcher when healthy, who happened to play in a ballpark that was not well suited for his skill set. He is also most likely injured, or experiencing lingering health issues. So in a market where worse pitchers, even guys with sketchy injury histories, have gotten more friendly contracts, I think there are two main questions concerning Marcum going forward.

    1. What teams are good fits for him given his potential health issues and age?

    2. And what is his future performance likely to be?

    I don’t think it is really possible to have an accurate prediction of his performance going forward, given other team’s injury concerns.

    So, what teams are a fit? The Padres, Mets and Marlins all have the ballpark and space on the roster, but also are unlikely to win too many games this year, so potentially wasting development time on Marcum might be counterproductive for their own younger pitchers.

    The Royals, Jays and Yanks might be good fits based on their lack of depth and win-now sensibilities. Really any contender with depth issues should be looking at him real hard right now…but one team that has shown a willingness to take chances on guys like Marcum both this season and in the past is the Nationals and their relatively aggressive GM, Mike Rizzo.

    In the past, Rizzo has signed guys like Chien-Ming Wang, Luc Giloito (in the draft) and Christian Garcia, who were all passed over by other teams for their own injury checkered careers. Wang had a mini-revelation for 2 months before losing it again, Giolito got injured almost immediately after being drafted and signing, and Garcia has reinvented himself as a potentially great find. The point is that RIzzo has no problem signing guys with health problems, which he did again just a month ago by giving Dan Haren a shot on the current roster.

    Despite the Nationals current impressive pitching, the one thing they are sorely lacking is depth in the bullpen and the upper levels of the minors. Last year’s run included 0, yes zero, major injuries to their pitching staff. That won’t happen again. The Nats need a back-up plan, and they need one desperately.

    Rizzo is reportedly meeting with Javier Vasquez, and just gave a minor league deal to Ross Ohlendorf, so why not give Marcum a shot on a deal? He is at least as good as those guys, and his change-of-pace pitching style might mesh well in a roster dominated by overpowering arms. If he really is injured, Rizzo could give him a cheap multi-year deal and try to rehab him back into game shape.

    If Marcum really is injured, he won’t be looked at by most teams, especially not for a multi-year deal. A league-minimum deal might be the best he gets this year. Why not sign with a contender and compete, or rehab on their dime?

    Am I crazy, or is this a win-win for both parties here?

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  15. jpg says:

    I actually think contenders are going to shy away from him. Stability, I would figure, is paramount to them so 200 not terrible innings from a Joe Saunders type would be viewed as more valuable than the possibility of only getting 120 good innings from Marcum + 80 replacement pitcher innings. I think he’s a better fit on a team like the Mets or S.D or Seattle because he can reestablish his value in a low pressure environment before getting traded to a contender. Kinda like what Dave Cameron proposed for Oswalt last year.

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    • Franco says:

      Yeah, contenders usually go for stability or risky guys they can sign to minor league deals to fill out rotation spots 5 through whatever. I don’t think they want to sign a guy like Marcum who is going to cost enough a decent chunk of money and not know if he’s going make it to the All Star break.

      Maybe if the Sox or Yanks had a phenom at AAA that they want to bring up after May, they could blow some money on Marcum and not care if his arm fell off in June. Otherwise, I think we see him sign a 1 year deal with a crummy team without much young pitching to block.

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  16. Bip says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    Marcum seems to start his delivery almost in slow motion then accelerate very suddenly prior to release. At the point of acceleration, the ball is still held down by his hip. We know deception is a large part of pitching, and we assume it is the main source of success for the changeup as a pitch. Marcum, then, would have to have a deceptive delivery to be successful, and it appears he does.

    A poster made a point about how much longer it takes for a 87 mph fastball to reach the plate vs. 97. Looking at Marcum’s delivery, I could see how the suddenness of his release could make it take longer for the batter to acclimate his timing. It’s probably so long that his fastball is effectively 97 mph, maybe it’s more like 92 in that respect. But that fact, coupled with the fact that Marcum surely is able to repeat his delivery when throwing a changeup, sounds like the recipe for an above average starter.

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  17. Franco says:

    I’d swear Chris Young threw as “hard” as Marcum and Livian. I think it has more to do with him being 6’10 and his high arm angle. Especially the way hitters go from looking stupid the first time through the order to looking like they’re hitting BP the third time through.

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  18. alphadogsball says:

    Would love to see him with Oakland to replace McCarthy. Would be a good home park for him.

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  19. BJsWorld says:

    Depending on the price but he could easily fit with the Angels. Start Richards in the pen and give the team some wiggle room if Hanson ends up hitting the DL.

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    • pitching fan says:

      A poster said he heard his medicals are terrible, that is completely false information. I know that he has had new or should I say proper medicals done this winter and came back with a clean bill. The team DR’s in the MLB are like a fraternity, if someone has one opinion they generally all follow, whether it’s acurate or not. I will also say he has ALWAYS pitched in a hitters parks/divisions. Not many guys throw up consistent numbers every year all year. As a fan and coach, I know velocity isn’t everything, guys are a dime a dozen that throw 95, but they can’t locate and create movement, they’re throwers, not pitchers. It’s all about movement, location and changing speeds.

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  20. noone says:

    a rebuilding team like the mets should take a flyer on him and if he shows he is healthy try to move him at the break

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  21. Wily says:

    I think that the Brewers should attempt to bring him back for 1 more season. With the several young pitchers that the Brewers now have, they could certainly benefit from his experience if anything. He’s also a great clubhouse guy and keeps everybody loose. He and Gallardo are very entertaining to watch in the dugout.

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  22. swanized says:

    Why exactly do we expect lefty’s to be more of the soft-tossing variety?

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