Friday, April 5, 2013

Whither Carlos Marmol

For you young readers, there once was a band called The Beatles, and they had a drummer named Ringo Starr. When The Beatles broke up, they each went their own ways, with Ringo Starr releasing a song called "It Don't Come Easy," which contains this lyric:
I don't ask for much, I only want your trust
And you know it don't come easy
And believe me, with Carlos Marmol as the Cubs closer, it sure ain't come easy so far this year. And, just in case your thinking about it, don't send anything to Ringo Starr to be signed--he's too busy and has too much to do.

We'll begin with three basic charts adapted from data from baseball-reference and FanGraphs:                                                          

Nothing too surprising to any Cub fan, this just fleshes out what we've seen in the past couple of years. That strikeouts/9IP in 2010 was historic and its hard to fault someone who still has 12KO/9IP, but that increase in WHIP is troubling, about a 30% increase in base runners over the past couple of years. While the increase in pitches per at-bat may seem slight, it still represents about a 15% increase.

His pitch selection hasn't changed much over the years, as this chart from FanGraphs shows:

I won't show it, but his velocity is essentially unchanged over this time span, with his fastball an average of 93 and his slider 83. It is with these next tables that I will move with great trepidation. These are FanGraphs charts that show how batters are swinging at his pitches:

If you've made it this far, you probably know what these terms mean, but if you don't:
O-Swing%--these are the percent of pitches outside the strike zone that hitters swung at
Z-Swing %--the percent of pitches in the strike zone swung at
Swing %--percent of pitches swung at
O-Contact %--percent of pitches outside the strike zone that the hitter made contact on (I cut off the O)
Z-Contact %--percent of pitches inside the strike zone the hitter made contact with (and I also cut off the Z)
Contact%--percent of pitches swinging at in which contact is made
Zone%--percent of pitches inside the strike zone

It's not dramatic, but it's an instance of how the huge reams of data available to teams today is beginning to translate into changed behavior. How many times has a fan of the team the Cubs were playing scream at his TV "Don't swing at ANYTHING!" when Marmol is pitching? This chart from Brooks Baseball shows his pitches for his career (this is vs. left-hand hitters, but it's essentially the same for right-hand hitters as well):

Anyone who has seen Marmol pitch recognizes this chart--the balls are low and away, and the hitter flails at a pitch that appears to be heading toward the strike zone but drops off the face of the Earth at the end. That hasn't changed, but it would appear that the patience of the hitter has. When two clicks of a computer can bring up this level of analysis, it behooves a hitter to be a bit more patient at the plate, and it seems that the data is catching up to Marmol.

It's way too early in 2013 to be making grand pronouncements regarding the year Marmol will have, but what we've seen so far this year is the continuation of a trend that began in 2011 and hasn't really changed all that much since. I apologize for the number of charts, but in this case, pictures really can speak a 1000 words.

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