2012 Player Profile: Carlos Marmol

Carlos Marmol recovered his velocity and fastball/slider mix in his second-half rebound. (Photo by Stephen Green)

2012 Innings Pitched: 55.1 (61 G, 0 GS)
2012 Pitching (all per 9 IP): 3.90 RA, 6.5 H, 7.3 BB, 0.7 HR, 11.7 K
2012 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 0.2
2013 Contract Status: Signed (through 2013)
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): Four-seam (94), Slider (85)

We saw both the good and the bad with Carlos Marmol in 2012—so which version will we see next season? That’s a tough question to answer, but after a great second half, the Cubs closer looks like he’s piecing together some of his old form.

The 2012 season was a bit of a roller coaster for the (then) 29-year-old closer. Marmol struggled with his command early on, lost the closer’s job in May and suffered a thigh strain that sidelined him for a couple of weeks. By mid-June, he did step back into the ninth inning role, where he saved 18 of his last 19 opportunities and had a 2.09 ERA. Pitching coach Chris Bosio worked to simplify things for Marmol, including getting him to stop shaking off his catchers for one game in early July. The experiment was a success, and the right-hander said it was a lesson that would stick with him.

Getting their closer right is important to the Cubs, who hope to rebuild their bullpen from within as they divert most of their resources to starting pitching. Since Marmol became a full-time big leaguer in 2007, he’s picked up 115 of the team’s 231 saves, including 92 in the past three seasons as the primary closer. His 32.7 strikeout percentage ranks seventh among MLB relievers who have pitched at least 100 innings since 2007, and his .167 batting average against is baseball’s fourth-best mark. On the flip side, his 15.3 walk percentage ranks last and has been a persistent problem in recent years.

Let’s take a closer look with PITCHf/x data, using the proprietary tags and tools provided by BrooksBaseball.net and Baseball Prospectus (player card).

Marmol fits in the category of two-pitch power relievers—the kind who trust the quality rather than quantity of their stuff. He throws a mid-90s four-seam fastball that has some run and a sweeping slider that, at its best, is one of the game’s true wipeout pitches. Early in his career, Marmol would throw his slider as much as his fastball early in the count, particularly against right-handed hitters. But he, via his catchers and coaches, has become a bit more conventional in his usage. This season, he threw a fastball in more than two-thirds of his first pitches before turning heavily to the slider when ahead in the count. His patterns versus right- and left-handed hitters are similar.

The nature of his slider has changed a bit in the last few seasons, as it’s lost some of its two-plane depth. In 2011, Marmol started throwing a smaller version of his slider—manager Dale Sveum said in February that he considered it a cutter—that somewhat blurred the large velocity and movement distinctions between his two pitches. That was scrapped this season. PITCHf/x movement data shows that the 2012 version of his slider ended up being more of a downward-biting pitch (particularly in relation to his fastball).

Marmol also threw his slider harder than ever before—reaching more than 85 mph on average by season’s end. But it’s important to note he was throwing his hardest overall since the beginning of 2010. This increase in velocity coincided with large improvements in all of his numbers, including hits, walks, strikeouts and runs allowed. That’s a good sign if Marmol can carry it into next season.

One thing we cannot evaluate with available PITCHf/x data is command—in other words, the ability to hit a particular spot (as opposed to just the strike zone in general). Of course, that’s always going to be a key to Marmol’s success, and anecdotally, many thought it improved later in the year.

Marmol is now entering the final season of a three-year contract extension that bought out his first year of free-agent eligibility. It’s important for him to prove he can build on his second-half recovery when he takes the mound in 2013.

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