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« Catching Grind Leading to Grounders for Avila? | Main | Dutch Oven's Fastball Heating Up »
Tuesday
Oct112011

Marcum: Cursed, or Just Getting Crushed?

Shaun Marcum's first postseason hasn't been a pleasant experience. The 29-year-old righty, acquired from the Jays last winter for Brett Lawrie, has coughed up 12 runs and 14 hits in 8.2 innings spread over a pair of starts. After last night's beating at the hands of Albert Pujols and the Cardinals, Marcum wondered why the hardball powers-that-be continue to smite him:

Once again, it's seven hits, and three of them were hit hard. It's back to the same old [stuff] that has been going on the past six weeks. There's nothing you can do about it. You just have to keep moving on. ... I guess I get [irritated] with the baseball gods or something.

Marcum seemingly did have some bad breaks in September, as a low rate of stranding runners on base led to a big difference between his ERA (5.17) and his xFIP (3.86), which estimates ERA based on Ks, walks and a normalized home run per fly ball percentage. But can Marcum justifiably curse the Baseball Gods for his playoff woes?

He does have a whopping .387 batting average on balls in play, which isn't sustainable short of an army of scowling Ty Cobb clones coming to the plate. Looking at Marcum's postseason hit chart, there are a number of shallow singles in the outfield:

 

 

Catcher Jonathan Lucroy, however, isn't convinced that Marcum's stinker starts are due to bad luck:

Catcher Jonathan Lucroy pinpointed the problem as fastball command.

"He's not as sharp as he was earlier in the year, and hopefully we can fix that and get him back down in the zone," Lucroy said. "Usually, he 'paints' down in the zone, and if you look back at the fastballs that Pujols hit, they're up. They're belt high. That's a pretty good pitch to hit."

While the fastball Pujols pummeled for a home run was high in the zone, Marcum hasn't missed high often with the pitch in the playoffs:

Marcum's fastball location in the 2011 playoffs

Marcum threw 22 percent of his seldom-used fastballs high in the zone during the regular season. In the playoffs, he has thrown 21 percent of them high in the zone.

Perhaps more interestingly, Marcum hasn't used his typically top-notch changeup much at all in the playoffs.  While he tossed a changeup 27 percent of the time during the regular season, he has gone to his off-speed stuff just 12 percent in the postseason. He's also throwing fewer curveballs (eight percent, compared to 15 percent in the regular season), instead relying more heavily upon his cutter.

There's no easy answer to Marcum's postseason problems. He likely has gotten a few bad breaks on balls in play, but he also has been more predictable by being a fastball/cutter pitcher instead of a guy who can toss five pitches in any count. Marcum's velocity hasn't changed greatly, but maybe the Tommy John survivor, who topped 200 innings for the first time in his career, is tired.

Whatever the cause, the Brewers need the command-and-control changeup artist to re-emerge if they're going to advance to the World Series. Maybe Marcum can make a sacrifice to those Baseball Gods -- a racing Brat or Chorizo, perhaps?

 

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