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Post-Tommy John, Marcum Strong

While Good Doctor is no longer on call, the Toronto Blue Jays still feature a youthful, talented starting rotation. Jays starters boast a collective 4.17 xFIP, a mark bested by only the Minnesota Twins among AL squads. The grizzled veteran of the group is 28-year-old Shaun Marcum, who has impressed in his first season back from Tommy John surgery.

In 125 innings pitched, Marcum has struck out 7.7 batters per nine innings, walked 2.02 per nine and has a 3.24 ERA. Marcum’s xFIP is higher, though still sturdy, at 3.84. The righty gives up a lot of fly balls (38.8 GB% in 2010, 40.1 GB% during his career), and he has given up a home run on just 7.7% of fly balls hit against him. For comparison, his career rate is 11.4% and the MLB average is also around 11 percent. Odds are, that HR/FB figure will climb. But even so, Marcum has missed bats and limited the free passes.

Toronto’s third-round pick in the ’03 draft throws…well, what doesn’t he throw? Marcum has used his 87 MPH fastball less than 50% of the time, supplementing the pitch with a mid-80’s cutter, a mid-70’s curveball and a low-80’s changeup (some low-80’s sliders are sprinkled in, too). That repertoire, coupled with Marcum’s minuscule walk rate, screams “finesse.” That’s not the case, however. Despite not lighting up the radar gun, he’s employing the approach of a power pitcher.

Marcum’s stuff is fooling plenty of hitters. His swinging strike rate is 10.8% (8.4% MLB average), which is tied for seventh among MLB starters with teammate Brandon Morrow. His overall contact rate is 76.1% (81% MLB average), ninth among starters.

Not surprisingly, Marcum’s fastball doesn’t garner many whiffs — according to Pitch F/X data from TexasLeaguers.com, batters have swung and missed just 4.1% of the time that he throws the pitch (that’s whiffs out of total pitches thrown; the MLB average is around six percent). The rest of his pitches have above-average whiff rates, though. His curve has a 12% whiff%, slightly above the 11.6% MLB average, and his cutter’s causing hitters to come up empty 12.2% (8.4%). But it’s his changeup that’s really flummoxing the opposition. Marcum’s getting whiffs 26.9% of the time that he pulls the string, compared to the 12.6% big league average.

With so few walks, Marcum must be pounding the strike zone, right? Nope. He has located just 42.7% of his pitches within the strike zone. The major league average is 47%. Rather, Marcum is adept at getting batters to chase his stuff off the plate — his 33% outside swing rate is well above the 28.9% MLB average and places ninth among starters. Per Pitch F/X data from Joe Lefkowitz’s site, batters have chased Marcum’s cutter 34.9% of the time (27.5% MLB average, according to THT’s Harry Pavlidis). That’s nothing compared to the changeup, however — they’re hacking at 53.2% of changeups thrown out of the strike zone (30.7% MLB average).

Marcum did serve a DL stint in early July with elbow inflammation, while also missing a start with a blister on his middle finger. The Jays might be playing for keeps in another division, but they’re squarely in no-man’s land in the AL East. As such, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team take it easy with Marcum down the stretch. In the meantime, he’s plenty useful and is available in slightly more than one-quarter of Yahoo leagues.