Is Marcum an Option for Jays’ Rotation?

By: Aaron Percival

1 December 2012

Photo Credit: US PRESSWIRE

This is the second post in a series where I examine possible free agent candidates for the Jays’ rotation. I’m working under the assumption that the Jays won’t be in on the big names, but would be willing to add a modest amount of salary to bolster the last spot in the rotation (currently held by J.A. Happ). I’m using a personal smell test to select the pitchers. In the first post, I examined Brandon McCarthy and also laid out my thoughts on why the Jays needed to add another arm to the rotation. I’ll continue this series until the Jays make a move, or I get tired of writing it.

Alex Anthopoulos made some interesting comments this week (h/t to Stoeten over at DJF for breaking them down). Most notable was this Tweet from MLB Jays beat writer Gregor Chisholm:

AA doesn`t expect to be in the market for any FA position players. FA pitcher still a possibility (but I doubt it`d be a long-term contract)
— Gregor Chisholm (@gregorMLB) November 28, 2012

Winter Meetings do start on Monday. Maybe something is in the works?

In this post, I examine former Blue Jay, Shaun Marcum (aka. North of Steeles), who was drafted by the Jays in the 3rd round of the 2003 amateur draft, and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for Brett Lawrie in December 2010. In 2012, Marcum signed a one year $7.725MM contract with the Brewers to avoid arbitration.

Cost

FanGraph’s Contract Crowdsourcing tags Marcum to a 2.3 year deal with a $9.6MM AAV, which is very close to the same time and dollar commitment as McCarthy. Jack Moore of CBSSports compares Marcum’s free agent value to Ben Sheets and Rich Harden, figuring a one-year deal in the $7MM-$10MM range, with a second year being an added bonus for the righty. The Bleacher Report predicts two years and $16MM (to the Cubs). ESPN’s Jim Bowden (paywalled) predicts two years for $17MM, with the Jays, Red Sox, and Cubs as best fits.

During an interview on the Fan590 in mid-October, Marcum expressed interest in coming back to Toronto:

[The Blue Jays] are on my list, that’s for sure. I enjoyed my time there, I loved the city, loved the coaching staff, so it’s definitely a place that I would be interested in.

He also indicated that he wanted to pitch for a team that could make the playoffs. His statements were made before The Trade and The Signing, which could further increase Marcum’s interest in the Jays.

Most recently, the Padres were said to have interest in Marcum, as well as the Cubs. But since this time, the Cubs have added Scott Feldmen and Scott Baker.Bob Elliot of the Toronto Sun also reported that the Jays have inquired about Marcum.

Stats

I’ve assembled stats for all qualified SPs over the last three seasons (2010, 2011, 2012). I’ll admit that this is an arbitrary endpoint, but it will give an idea of how pitchers have performed in the recent past. I compare Marcum’s stats to the average of all pitchers (there were 127 in the dataset) in the following tables (all data from FanGraphs):

GS/3 IP/3 WHIP ERA FIP xFIP ERA- FIP- xFIP- K/9 K%
Marcum 28 173 1.18 3.62 3.82 3.90 91 96 98 7.48 20.1%
Average 26 161 1.30 4.00 3.98 3.96 100 100 100 6.96 18.3%
Rank (127) 52 51 19 32 47 57 36 53 54 47 42
BB/9 BB% K%-BB% HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB WAR Dollars
Marcum 2.44 6.6% 13.5% 1.07 0.272 74.2% 37.3% 9.5% 7.8 $33.4
Average 2.82 7.4% 11.0% 0.99 0.292 72.3% 44.9% 10.2% 7.1 $30.6
Rank (127) 39 38 33 80 13 91 115 82 50 52

A few takeaways: Marcum has, on average, started in 28 games and pitched 173 per season. These numbers are skewed because an injury last year (more below) kept him to just 124 innings over 21 starts. As you can see, Marcum performs well in many categories. Although, his BABIP was 20 points below league average and his LOB% was slightly above, which indicates that he benefitted from some luck. His WHIP is fantastic and his xFIP is just below league average. He also has a nice K%-BB%. The 7.8 WAR he produced was good for a $33.4MM estimated free agent value, or an AVV of about $11.2.

His Bill James projections look like this,

GS IP WHIP ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP
Bill James 32 196 1.22 3.63 4.01 7.39 2.66 1.15 0.286

Notice a slight uptick in his WHIP, FIP, BB/9 and HR/9, while James expects the K/9 to hold steady. James also expects Marcum to return to around the 200 IP (he had 195 IP in 2010 and 200 IP in 2011) giving him 32 starts.

Risks

Marcum had a bit of a meltdown at the end of the 2011 season where in 4 starts he allowed 32 hits and 4 home runs over 24 1/3 innings. This was followed by a disastrous post-season where in 3 starts he allowed 17 hits, 16 runs, and 3 home runs pitching only 9 2/3 innings.

He bounced back from this horrible end to the 2011 season with a promising start to the 2012 season, and I personally don’t buy into the suggestion that Marcum can’t handle post-season pressure, because he pitched very well for the Brewers in the 2010 playoffs. However, in June Marcum suffered from tightness in his right elbow (the same elbow he had TJ surgery on which caused him to miss the entire 2009 season) and was forced to sit out 71 days. This is the only setback he’s had since the TJ surgery, as is shown by his injury history (all data from Baseball Prospectus):

Date On Date Off Trans Days Games Side Body Part Injury Severity Surgery Date Reagg.
30/08/2012 30/08/2012 DTD 0 0 Left Lower Leg Cramps Calf - -
15/06/2012 25/08/2012 60-DL 71 61 Right Elbow Tightness - -
06/03/2012 25/03/2012 Camp 19 0 Right Shoulder Inflammation - -
23/06/2011 29/06/2011 DTD 6 4 Left Hip Strain Hip Flexor - Yes
17/06/2011 17/06/2011 DTD 0 0 Left Hip Strain Hip Flexor - —-
12/03/2011 12/03/2011 Camp 0 0 Right Shoulder Tightness - —-
18/07/2010 24/07/2010 On-Alr 6 5 Fingers Blisters Middle Finger - —-
02/07/2010 18/07/2010 15-DL 16 11 Left Elbow Inflammation - —-
21/07/2009 21/07/2009 On-Alr 0 0 Low Back Strain - —-
27/03/2009 05/10/2009 60-DL 192 162 Right Elbow Recovery From Surgery Tommy John Surgery 30/09/2008 —-
17/09/2008 29/09/2008 DTD 12 11 Right Elbow Surgery Tommy John Surgery 30/09/2008 —-
19/06/2008 22/07/2008 15-DL 33 26 Right Elbow Strain - —-
23/09/2007 01/10/2007 DTD 8 8 Right Knee Surgery Meniscus 26/09/2007 —-
10/08/2007 10/08/2007 DTD 0 0 Lower Leg Cramps - —-
03/06/2007 03/06/2007 DTD 0 0 Low Back Spasms - —-

Although the elbow is a concern, it certainly doesn’t pose the same risk as McCarthy’s shoulder.

Here are Marcum’s pitch selections and velocity (all data from FanGraphs):

Season Team FB% SL% CT% CB% CH%
2005 Blue Jays 55.8% (89.4) 25.4% (83.1) 7.2% (75.7) 11.6% (83.5)
2006 Blue Jays 56.5% (88.1) 15.8% (81.6) 1.0% (84.9) 10.1% (75.2) 16.6% (82.1)
2007 Blue Jays 40.3% (87.8) 14.3% (80.8) 15.2% (85.4) 9.8% (74.2) 20.4% (81.5)
2008 Blue Jays 38.9% (86.8) 12.2% (81.4) 18.1% (84.7) 8.6% (74.7) 22.2% (81.1)
2010 Blue Jays 45.1% (87.1) 5.1% (80.6) 14.7% (85.2) 9.3% (74.0) 25.8% (80.9)
2011 Brewers 34.3% (86.9) 10.9% (80.1) 15.6% (84.7) 14.2% (71.7) 24.8% (79.3)
2012 Brewers 30.6% (86.5) 14.0% (80.2) 21.1% (84.6) 14.6% (73.0) 19.7% (80.1)
Total - – - 40.1% (87.2) 11.5% (80.7) 15.0% (84.9) 11.2% (73.3) 22.2% (80.6)

His fastball velocity has remained in the 87 mph range, but there was a slight downtick in 2012, which could be related to the injury he suffered and raises a slight concern. Also notice that he altered his pitch selection quite a bit in 2012: he relied more on his slider (again, could be an injury concern as the slider tends to be the hardest pitch on the elbow) and used a lot more cutters. The latter is interesting. More and more pitchers are throwing cutters, which seem to be developped over time. This spike could mean that Marcum feels more comfortable using the pitch, as it looks like he only started with it in 2007. This could perhaps lead to more GB.

Another concern is Marcum’s slightly above average tendency to give up home runs. However, this might be offset by his below average HR/FB rate. Furthermore, Miller Park tends to be very generous to the long ball. Compare the park factors for Miller Park and the Roger’s Centre:

(100 is average, 100+ favours hitters, 100- favours pitchers)
(LHB/RHB)
Toronto — HR: 100/118, R: 101/110
Milwaukee — HR: 142/130, R: 101/113

Miller Park tends to give up home runs are at a much higher rate than Roger’s Center, but the run scoring environments are about the same. Since Marcum tends to be a fly ball pitcher (note his low GB%), his ERA shouldn’t suffer from moving to Toronto, and might improve.

Conclusion

I have to admit that before writing this post, my impression was the McCarthy would be a better option. After I gather the data, I have a different opinion.

My premise for liking McCarthy was that I thought he had a lot of upside, offset by some serious risk concerns, which meant that there could be very good value. However, as I said in the previous post, the Jays are looking for a guy to cement the 4/5 spot in the rotation. Perhaps, this is best served by someone with less upside but more reliability. What became evident for the Jays last year, was that having someone who could reliably throw 200 innings was very valuable. The Jays got 187 IP from Alvarez and 181 IP from Romero last year. The next best was 124 IP out of Morrow.

In this case, I think that Marcum would be an excellent addition to the rotation. Given speculation that he’ll sign a 1-2 year deal with an AVV between $7MM-$10MM, he may sign for less than McCarthy.

Given AA’s comments about the winter meetings, we may see something happen next week.

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