With the season quickly emerging, the Shaun Marcum Conundrum falls upon us. This column is exactly what the title says: it’s a mere proposition from a guy sitting at his computer. Note the heading isn’t “How the Brewers Should Handle Shaun Marcum”, but rather a question. Here is one way I’ve configured that the Brewers could go about it with the help of FanGraphs, injury analysis, Baseball-Reference, and a heart-sinking photo of a dejected Marcum during the 2011 Playoffs scattered across my tabs.
Three different sections–the past, the present, and the future–will cover Marcum and a possibility on how the Brewers could handle him. Each section is additionally cut into subheadings because, as you all know by now, I can’t contain the contents of a column very well.
Marcum was dealt to Milwaukee in the off-season before the team’s postseason run of 2011, but was done so for a high price. Milwaukee dealt to Toronto its top prospect, Brett Lawrie. In merely 150 at-bats last season, Lawrie hit nine home runs and batted .293 for the Blue Jays. Quite frankly, if Marcum doesn’t produce in 2012, Brewers fans will cringe each time Lawrie heads to Souvenir City for the rest of his career.
The Brewers gave up a high price for a pitcher who had always been considered “good”, but never “elite”. At the time, the deal was propitiously intriguing for both sides: the Blue Jays receive a top young slugger while the Brewers focus on the present and acquire a proven starter.
With Marcum, the Brewers should be doing just that–focusing on the present, that is. Both sides failed to reach a contract extension and, much like what occurred with Albert Pujols this off-season, talks will die down during the season. Technically, any more discussion of this belongs in “The Future” section, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
It is evident the Brewers are more interested in signing Zack Greinke to a long-term deal. The recent Matt Cain deal has set a standard for a similar contract with Greinke, and the Brewers are beginning negotiations. Previously, Greinke had announced himself as his own agent, joking or not. Now, there are unconfirmed reports that he has chosen an agent, but is likely close.
The writing is on the wall for Marcum. He will be headed for free agency this winter with the Brewers placing Greinke as a higher priority and with young pitchers such as Wily Peralta, Taylor Jungmann, Tyler Thornburg, and Jed Bradley on the cusp of the Major Leagues. The Brewers won’t be getting any more use out of Marcum after this season, unless he has a horrid 2012 and becomes affordable for Milwaukee yet ruins their postseason hopes.
A quick glance at the numbers for Marcum presents nothing flashy. 2011 was a laudable campaign for Marcum, who was the most
consistent starter in Milwaukee’s rotation throughout the season before September and October. Over the campaign, he posted a 13-7 record (though record isn’t an accurate representation of a pitcher), 3.54 era, 7.09 K/BB rate, and 2.7 WAR in 33 starts. In August, Marcum had a 2.95 era and held an even-better mark of 2.21 in March and April.
But his September and October struggles create an immense amount of concern around Marcum.
Did he tire down the stretch? Did hitters figure him out? Was he over-worked by the Brewers?
The numbers don’t give a clear-cut answer to these questions. Obviously, his effectiveness faded down the stretch as backed up by his 5.17 era and 1.38 WHIP in September and October of the regular season. His postseason performance was so brutally abysmal that I refuted to look up the numbers. (All I know is that he has the highest postseason era of any starter over at least two games in MLB history). The same changeup that created an MLB-leading wCH value of 23.3 in 2010 and Marcum relied on 26.7% of the time in 2011 simply lost its effectiveness late in the season. However, when pitching on six-days’ rest, his era skyrocketed over 5.00 once again.
His late season and postseason issues create the Shaun Marcum Conundrum (SMC). Should the Brewers continue to use him as they would normally do, or should they ease him off come the end of the year? Marcum was brought in to win pennant races, so easing him off gently toward the end of the season would counterbalance the trade that shipped Lawrie to Toronto. Additionally, this will more than likely be Marcum’s final season in Milwaukee, so any future issues because of 2012 won’t hurt the ballclub.
See how that’s all connected?
Marcum’s health status for the beginning of the season was in question up until the final two weeks of Spring Training. His shoulder soreness had brought about questions as to whether he would open the season on the DL, but a terrific start against minor leaguers last Friday answered that question. He is slated to start on April 9 against the Cubs, wedged in between Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson–a strategic move to break up the lefties.
We won’t be seeing Marcum go particularly deep into games for his first few starts (though he didn’t pitch into the ninth in any starts in 2011, either). Thus, his pitch counts and innings totals may be lower to begin the season and gradually increase, opposite of last season.
Projections are good for, really, nothing other than….being projections. But for this column’s sake, here are the Bill James, RotoChamp, Marcel, and ZiPS projections for Marcum’s 2012 season. (Source: FanGraphs)
Pennant Chase and Contract
Marcum was brought in to bolster Milwaukee’s staff so that the Brewers could bring home their first World Series in franchise history. His postseason performance last season did anything but bring home the Commissioner’s Trophy, but 2012 hopes to be different.
If Marcum pitches as the Brewers hope he will, Milwaukee will be in the pennant chase; however, if he doesn’t, the Brewers will be out of Playoff contention and faced with a dilemma. That dilemma would center around the question of resigning their right hander. After a bad season, he would be much more affordable than Greinke and still has a good track record from the past to promote a semblance of reliability.
The best-case scenario for the Brewers long-term may be to sign Greinke and let Marcum test the waters of free agency after an exceptional year.
After all, it is his contract year and we know how players perform in their contract years. (See Fielder, Prince; Pujols, Albert; Ramirez, Aramis; Wilson, CJ)
The possible solution to the SMC follows the L.I.R.B.K.H.F.S.O. adage.
Let it rip but keep him fresh for September and October.
2011 was Marcum’s first season with over 200 innings and he visibly faded towards the end of the season. I’m not saying the Brewers should monitor his pitch in a Strasburg-esque fashion. But, instead, keeping him fresh by possibly skipping a start or relying more on the bullpen during the dog days of August.
Marcum has shown to be an effective pitcher (for reassurance, just ask his career 3.77 era, 4.28 FIP, and 40.1 wCH) in his six seasons. The question doesn’t pertain to whether he will produce this season, but rather for how long he will produce. The Brewers can’t afford another Marcum implosion in October.
Get the full value out of him rather than ephemeral success by fully monitoring his health and longevity and the Brewers have a good shot at playing October baseball in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1981-’82. Then, at season’s end, end the SMC by letting him test the Hot Stove.
Otherwise there may be an excessive amount of cringing and cries of “what if…?” when Brett Lawrie goes yard in Toronto.