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Brewers' Shaun Marcum On Radar

Brewers starting pitcher Shaun Marcum will admit that he likes pitching under the radar, being the other guy to prominent pitchers like Zach Greinke.  Now with the Brewers losing Greinke to a rib injury for the first 2-4 weeks of the season, the spotlight will be on Marcum right out of the gate.

Along with a very good cutter, Marcum features an outstanding changeup.  Opposing batters whiffed on the pitch 44.7% of the time last season, putting him in the top 3% of the league (min. 200 changeups thrown), among company like Cole Hamels, Clay Buchholz, and Tim Lincecum. 

As expected, Marcum keeps the change low, and batters were simply unable to get the bat on it.

Shaun Marcum's Changeup, 2010

(click to enlarge)

Batters put up a .172/.197/.233 line versus his change in 2010, and a .188/.256/.298 expected line, which places a value on all changeups thrown in a plate appearance.  As the graphic above shows, Marcum's change stayed down and in to righties and down and away to lefties.  However, batters could not get good wood on the pitch, with most of the damage done on the rare change hung up in the zone.

To have a successful changeup, you need to have a decent enough fastball.  Marcum's one major issue last season came on his fastball versus right-handed batters. 

Shaun Marcum's Fastball, 2010

(click to enlarge)

Lefties hit .202/.260/.331 while righties hit .369/.422/.708.  A .207/.355 BABIP split might suggest he was a bit unlucky throwing the  fastball to RHB.  However, line drives fell in for hits 89.3% of the time while his HR/FB rate ballooned to 24%.  Usually this is a sign that batters are squaring up the pitch well, rather than a product of luck.  He'll need to find a way to make his fastball work against RHB this season in order to continue to be successful with that changeup.


Jose Valverde: Pitching to Contact

In 2009 with the Houston Astros, Jose Valverde held opposing batters to a 72.5% contact rate on his fastball with a K-rate of 20.4%.  In 2010 pitching for the Detroit Tigers, batters made contact on the pitch 83% of the time, and struck out only 12.9%.  So his fastball was obviously not as effective last season, right? 

While batters made better contact on the pitch and struck out less, Valverde's fastball was even more productive in his first season with the Tigers.  In 2009, batters had a .379 slugging percentage on his fastball;  this dropped to .284 in 2010.  Check out the change in where he located the pitch, accompanied by opposing batters' results.

Jose Valverde's Fastball

(click to enlarge)

So Valverde was locating his fastball further down in the zone last season, and while batters were making contact more, they weren't producing the same results as in 2009. One possible reason for this is Valverde's increased use of his splitter. In 2009, he relied heavily on his fastball, using his splitter sparingly. In 2010, he threw both pitches equally. A splitter is typically thrown low in the zone and resembles a regular fastball out of the hand. Batters would have found it even tougher to distinguish Valverde's splitter from his fastball given that he was locating both pitches similarly. And while the result was an increase in contact on his fastball, keeping batters guessing meant less well hit balls overall.


Wilson Works on Multiple Levels

Brian Wilson provides a great example of how pitchers keep hitters off balance by changing the level of their pitches.  Wilson likes to work up with his fastball:

Brian Wilson fastballs, 2008-2010.Note that Brian stays up on two levels.  He throws very few fastballs at the bottom of the zone, but the pitch also drops less than expected from the batter's point of view.  The pitches end high in the zone, but also higher than expected.

Wilson's slider does the opposite:

Brian Wilson sliders, 2008-2010.Very few sliders find the top of the strike zone, and they drop further than a batter expects.  The combination of fastballs and sliders working on multiple levels keeps hitters off balance.  They hit just .223 on the fastball, .229 on the slider.