No matter how much the Brewers’ management team and Shaun Marcum explained away his spring shoulder pain, I gather that most Brewers fans held their breath until they could see him in real game action. Behind the shoulder pain and the talk of a mechanical adjustment to his delivery, many Brewers fans also burned Marcum’s playoff starts into their minds, erasing memories of the Brewers’ most valuable starter during the 2011 regular season.
The reports prior to Monday night’s contest at Wrigley Field placed Marcum on an approximate 90-pitch limit. The righty worked nearly 80 pitches during his last spring training tune up, and he mentioned that he felt strong. Frankly, Marcum erased most fears I had about his shoulder when he mentioned his off-season conditioning campaign; the righty strengthened his arm with lots of long toss (which is one of the best ways to strengthen and condition an arm for throwing: more throwing).
If Marcum’s 3-run, 6-inning performance seems unremarkable, there are several aspects of his game that Brewers fans can be excited about:
(a) Marcum survived an extremely windy night at Wrigley Field with only 2-home runs surrendered (you think I’m joking, but Wrigley already encourages home runs more than most MLB parks. To escape that ballpark on a windy, L-to-R night with 3-runs allowed is not bad. Not great, not bad).
(b) Marcum corrected his pitch selection, and chose his change up as frequently as any other pitch in his arsenal.
One of the most interesting aspects of Marcum’s late season collapse in 2011 is that the righty nearly abandoned his change up, in favor of his cutter. As a result, his release points shifted, his velocity shifted, and he was a completely different pitcher. Everything sped up, and he released his change up from a higher angle, closer to his body.
(c) Marcum’s release point was consistently lower, and slightly further from his body, and he consistently released his change up from a lower angle.
According to TexasLeaguers, here is what Marcum’s release points looked like during his September and October starts in 2011. During those starts, he relied heavily on his cutter, selecting that pitch nearly 34% of the time (twice as frequently as his change up).
Last night, according to TexasLeaguers, Marcum threw 20 change-ups, 20 sliders, 18 cutters, 15 “rising” fastballs, 14 “moving” fastballs, and 2 curveballs. Notice that his release point is consistently lower, and further away from his body (especially for his change up).
Notice that his release points last night look more consistent with his spring-through-August starts last year. During those starts, he selected his change up nearly 29% of the time, against 23% “rising” fastballs and 18% cutters.
Alongside the Brewers’ 7-5 victory against the Cubs, the other grand victory is to see Marcum work that change up once again. Make no qualms about it, Marcum is a true junkballer — he is at his best when he throws his change up first and foremost, and he does not solely rely on his fastball for his success. (Even better, he threw his slider as frequently as his change up last night, which provides him a secondary “change of speeds” off his cutter).
By working his change up and slider last night, Marcum was able to consistently slow down his stuff as the game progressed. By my count, he relied heavily on his “rising” and “moving” fastballs during the first three innings, hardly throwing a pitch slower than 80 MPH. He threw approximately 17 fastballs and 6 cutters during those first three innings, against approximately 19 change ups and sliders.
When the bottom of the fourth rolled around, Marcum slowed down his off-speed pitches, throwing more pitches below 80 MPH during that inning than during his entire start to that point (furthermore, Marcum threw as many pitches above 85 MPH during the first inning than he did throughout the fourth-through-sixth innings). He selected his fastballs 12 times, and his cutter 12 times as well, during his last three innings, but he also threw a couple of slow curves, and selected approximately 20 sliders and change ups.
His late inning selections look deceptive because we think of a cutter as a harder pitch. However, last night, Marcum averaged less than 84.5 MPH on that cut fastball. As a result, during several late game plate appearances, Marcum’s top velocity might be 84 MPH, with his slider and change up dipping to 80 MPH, compared to his 81 MPH to 87 MPH range early in the game.
A few ticks here, a few ticks there — sure, it looks like those velocity ranges are close together, but Marcum effectively mixed his pitches, threw at least three distinct moving pitches, and let his change up out of the doghouse, liberally using his favorite pitch.
The Brewers need more than so-called “quality starts” from Marcum, and last night they saw the return of their beloved staff junkballer at Wrigley Field.
All TexasLeaguers charts and statistics: copyright to Trip Somers, 2009-2012. I supplanted data charts with my own count from MLB.com GameDay.