Thinking Cubs 2012, a closer look at Carlos Marmol

The sentiment might have been right, but the money wasn't.

At the end of the 2010 season, the Cubs signed Carlos Marmol to a three-year contract, paying him $20 million, the larger portion of which will be delivered in 2012 and 2013.

Marmol was coming off a season in which he saved 38 games, an 89 percent clip. He appeared in 77 total, finishing 70 of them, a league high.

The Cubs did what could have seemed the sensible thing. They bought out the rest of Marmol's arbitration years, and gave him a nice salary bump in 2012 to make up for a lower number in 2011 (Marmol would have made either $4.1 million or $5.65 million. It is amazing what saves can do for arb numbers.)

But in terms of long term thinking, the move is now very short sighted.

Unless your name is Mariano Rivera, bullpen performances fluctuate from season to season. Especially with pitchers who have logged a significant number of games and innings, there comes a breaking point.

In the three years running up to 2011, Marmol had appeared in an average of 79 games, and it is hard to know how many more he did work in the bullpen and didn't appear in the actual game.

He logged 239 innings, throwing hard, harder, and harder, and working his slider into the mix more and more.

Marmol's arm had been well used.

Yet the Cubs' front office saw fit to not play it by ear with the reliever. They probably could have eventually signed Marmol for a little less and $5 million for 2010, and saw what 2011 held for him before committing to a longer deal. They still would have controlled Marmol for another season, and likely could have signed him for about the same amount for 2012.

After all, the shelf life on relievers is short. Thinking past 2012 is a little presumptive.

The results are clear now. While Marmol has saved 32 games -- in a losing season -- with many of the saves coming with a special dose of Marmol's patented drama. He has also blown a league high nine chances -- the Marmol drama taken to the extreme.

The wheels definitely look to be coming off at this point, which admittedly wasn't clear at the end of the season in 2010. Marmol had his share of appearances that left people a little on edge, but for the most part, he was solid.

So while the Cubs could have looked at the innings and appearances that Marmol was logging, they chose to stick with him as the closer. Even when the hiccups became commonplace this season, he was taken out of the role for a little more than a week before he was back causing heartburn.

The signs of a decline are definitely there. Even though projections pointed to a small regression to Marmol's career numbers, Carlos has gone past that. He is allowing 1.36 runners per inning, the third highest among relievers with at least 10 saves this season.

A good share of that comes from the number of walks Marmol has given up. He has the second highest walk rate in the same group of pitchers (only Kevin Gregg in Baltimore is higher in both categories).

And while Marmol's stuff is unhittable most of the time, it has been more hittable this season.

Perhaps it has something to do with his huge move toward the slider in his pitching mix. Based on the PitchFX data, Marmol now throws 65.4 percent sliders (a number which at the end of August, had him as the reliever who favored the pitch the most). At the same time, Marmol's average fastball velocity is down from 94 mph to 92 mph.

In essence, Marmol just isn't throwing as hard as he has in the past.

Marmol isn't going anywhere. It is unlikely that the team could find a buyer for him at this point, and anyone that did want to take a chance won't give up much in return.

With the understanding that finding someone with the "closer mentality" is difficult (assuming you want to acknowledge such a thing exists), the Cubs might be best served evaluating their options for the role in 2012.

There is always Kerry Wood, who may sign on for one last season before fading off into the sunset. He velocity has held up over the past two seasons and he has been an effective closer (with a much better K/BB ratio than Marmol) in the past.

Marmol's numbers in his career are actually better in the 7th and 8th inning, and he could be moved back into a (very expensive, but effective) setup role. Assuming the Cubs could stroke his ego enough -- the $9 million he will be paid in 2012 should help -- he should be a strong contributor.

And if the pitching coach, whomever that might be, can get Marmol back to throwing his slider as an out pitch instead of an every pitch, he might even excel.

With Jim Hendry no longer around to need to justify the contract, this seems like an easy decision for the new GM to make.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Benjamin Miraski published on September 7, 2011 7:53 PM.

Cubs did all they could to deal with Zambrano, now stuck was the previous entry in this blog.

Cubs lose out by Cardinals not signing Pujols is the next entry in this blog.

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