Shaun Marcum, WHIP it good

Since 2007, Shaun Marcum has pitched 505.2 innings, going 34-21 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.183 WHIP. Last year he was good for 3.5 Wins Above Replacement after he missed all of the 2009 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Although he’s not been spectacular, he’s been consistent, and he’s been above average. For those who play fantasy baseball, his rate stats—especially his WHIP—are pretty good.

Thanks to an offseason trade, there’s a good chance that in 2011 he will improve markedly and take a big step toward spectacular.

As most know, pitchers moving away from the American League may see an improvement in their stats when moving to the National League. This may be even more dramatic when the pitcher moves from the AL East, in particular, as is the case for Marcum.

After the Chicago Cubs traded for Tampa Bay’s Matt Garza, many felt Garza will “…probably put up very good numbers given the weaker competition he’ll be facing…”. With the Cubs giving up a couple of their top prospects in the Garza deal, almost everyone that has judged the deal so far cited Garza’s move to the NL and the possible step forward that could accompany that move as key to Chicago coming out ahead on the trade.

Looking back at Ted Lilly, we see a fairly recent&mdash (and extremely favorable) example of an AL East pitcher that went to the NL Central. In his three years with the Blue Jays, Lilly pitched 505.1 innings and went 37-34 with a 4.52 ERA and 1.411 WHIP. Who can blame Brewer fans for dreaming big since Marcum destroyed those numbers in his recent run with the Jays over the same number of innings?

Lilly’s first three years pitching in the NL Central featured an increase in innings pitched, a 44-26 record, a 3.70 ERA and 1.145 WHIP. That line is remarkably similar to what Marcum already posted pitching predominantly against the AL. If Marcum gets a fraction of the boost Lilly did by moving to the NL, he could easily beat his Oliver projection for 2011 of 3.71 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 3.5 Wins Above Replacement.

Marcum probably benefited from a decline in runs scored overall in the AL during the 2010 season, when compared to Lilly’s tenure in Toronto. But, the two time periods are somewhat similar as far as average runs scored goes.

In addition to his strong stats since 2007, Marcum also looks good in xWHIP calculators like this one, which contains a table showing pitchers from 2010 with good WHIPs. In that article we see that xWHIP predicts another year of sub-1.20 WHIP from Marcum in 2011, and doesn’t even take into consideration his change in uniform.

Those in the industry may downplay this benefit for pitchers, as noted in this article:

“I don’t think as executives we say, ‘Let’s go and get an AL pitcher because the ERA differential (between the leagues) was 0.12,’” said Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, the man who acquired Marcum and Greinke.

Whether they specifically make that decision when looking at players to target or not, there’s no denying that a pitcher going from the AL to the NL will benefit from replacing the designated hitter with a pitcher a couple of times a game, if not more.

In addition to a weaker batter in the nine spot of almost every lineup (ironically, the Brewers have AL East teams among their interleague opponents this year), Marcum has the good fortune of facing the Astros (who scored 611 runs last season) and the Pirates (587) a handful of times this season.

The Baltimore Orioles were similarly submissive last year, scoring only 613 runs. But the other three teams in the AL East scored over 800 runs on the year. Quick math will tell you that while facing the Orioles benefited Marcum last year, having two teams coming off years with such low-scoring lineups in his new division should be advantageous.

For more fun with cherry-picked stats, we see that Marcum is 6-1, with a 3.34 ERA and 1.165 WHIP in interleague play. And, as noted in this ESPN article, he had a 2.74 ERA and 1.08 WHIP last year when you take out his starts against the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees.

None of this means Marcum is a lock to post a sub-three ERA in the NL this year, as confounding variables abound in any actual thorough examination. But it does mean that you can look at his projections and maybe bank on a little bump in his numbers over the next couple of seasons—a bump that could make him a valuable starter in fantasy leagues, and one that may be overlooked in comparison to the higher-profile pitchers in the Brewers rotation like Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo.

The Incompleat Starting Pitcher
The end of the nine-inning start and how we got here.

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Jeffrey Gross
Jeffrey Gross

Nice article David, good read, even better title