Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE
After blowing two of his first three save opportunities, Carlos Marmol rattled off 19 straight saves for the Cubs in 2012. Can he stay the team's closer from start to finish in 2013?
Aroldis Chapman dominated in 2012, picking up 38 saves in 43 chances and striking out 122 batters in 71.2 innings, or 15.32 K/9. In 2010, Carlos Marmol did a similar thing, picking up 38 saves in 43 chances and striking out 138 in 77.2 innings, or 15.99 K/9. It's hard to remember now, and it sounds silly, but Marmol was once as dominant as Chapman.
Marmol tends to get a little wild, and by a little, I mean a lot. Even in his best year in 2010, Marmol issued 52 free passes in 77.2 innings, or 6.03 BB/9 (which also happens to be his career walk rate). In 2012 it was worse, as Marmol walked 45 batters in 55.1 innings, or 7.32 BB/9. While he still managed an OK-whatever 3.42 ERA with 20 saves and 11.71 K/9, Marmol's 1.54 WHIP (seventh worst among relievers) sunk him all the way down to the 59th most valuable relief pitcher, according to ESPN's Player Rater. 59! As a full-time closer!
Marmol comes in at No. 32 in the Fake Teams Consensus Relief Pitcher Rankings, and one writer, Jason, didn't even bother ranking the Cubs' erratic pitcher despite knowing he'd start the year as one of 30 major league players with a ninth-inning role. And I don't blame him.
As I write this, I'm beating myself up for volunteering to write a player profile on a player I don't expect to keep his job in 2013.
The job, eventually, is going to 32-year old Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa, who the Cubs signed back in December. While Marmol is the closer for now, Fujikawa is the team's closer of the future. And probably sooner rather than later. In 12 seasons in Japan, the right-hander totaled 220 saves, and in his last six seasons, according to Baseball Reference, Fujikawa had a 1.36 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP with 510 strikeouts in 369.2 innings, or 12.41 K/9.
There's going to be some writer out there pumping up Marmol's stock in 2013 after the Cubs' closer rediscovered his control in the second half of 2012, but that writer is not going to be me. The splits:
Pre All-Star Break (25.2 innings): 8 saves, 20 hits, 16 earned runs, 28 walks, 33 strikeouts
Post All-Star Break (29.2 innings): 12 saves, 20 hits, 5 earned runs, 17 walks, 39 strikeouts
While Marmol's post-All-Star break ERA of 1.52 destroys his pre-All-Star break ERA of 5.61, you have to remind yourself it's a relatively small sample size. If you add just four more runs to his post-All-Star break ERA, for example, it jumps more than one full point. And while the drops in walks is huge, it's still 5.16 BB/9.
An "impressive" feat for Marmol in 2012 was a stretch of 19 straight saves between between May 2 and Sept. 22, but even that's a little misleading. During his 19 straight saves, it's not like Marmol magically became a better pitcher. During the stretch, Marmol had a respectable 3.15 ERA and continued to strike out more than 11 batters per nine, but, compared to his season-ending numbers, Marmol actually walked more batters at this time. Walking 7.32 BB/9 and a mid 3.00s ERA doesn't add up, and his 3.98 FIP and 4.39 xFIP agree.
In 2013, the optimistic Bill James predicts a 3.63 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP with 32 saves and 80 strikeouts in 63 innings for Marmol. That would likely put him in the top 30 relievers on the ESPN Player Rater (John Axford finished No. 30 overall with 35 saves and a 1.44 WHIP in 2012), but what's there to suggest he'll move up 29 spots in 2013?
Marmol's swinging strike rate has dipped five percent in the last three years (9.1% in 2012; 14.4% in 2010) and is now below league average, his first-pitch strike percentage of 47.8% is off-the-charts bad (58.5% is league average), and his contact rates are trending in the wrong direction.
Depending on how you draft closers, you'll likely have the opportunity to secure Marmol as one of yours on draft day, but if you do, the chances of him sticking on your roster past the first month, in my opinion, aren't in your favor.
The Cubs almost dealt Marmol to the Angels for Dan Haren back in November, and if the Cubs were more confident in Haren's medicals, Marmol wouldn't even be their closer right now. Marmol's roller coaster reign as closer in Chicago is sure to end soon. Do yourself a favor and stay off the ride in 2013.
Follow me on Twitter at @akantecki.