Monday, February 20, 2012

Marmol and cut fastballs

The revelation yesterday from Dale Sveum that Carlos Marmol was throwing a cut fastball last year has surprised people quite a bit over the last couple days.

Most people are coming out today and stating that they had no idea that Marmol was actually trying to throw a cut-fastball last year.  Why?  Well, because of Marmol's arm angle, a cut fast ball would look very much like a faster, flatter slider.

Do the facts support this?  Well, Fangraphs has Marmol's velocity on his slider, overall, to be a fraction bit lower than it was in 2010. In fact, Marmol's slider was the slowest it has been since the 2008 season.  At the same time, Marmol's pitches did flatten out and Fangraphs does show some support to that, but the number really aren't the far off his career averages.

Overall, I don't think we can say that his slider was being confused, at least by Fangraphs, with a cut fastball.  However, if we look at his fastball, he did lose significant velocity last year.  Marmol was down almost 2.5 mph on his fastball last year.  That's pretty substantial and is far below his career numbers.

Marmol may have had some problems with his elbow (which has been hinted at by some) or maybe he was throwing a cut fastball occasionally, which tends to be 2 to 5 mph slower than a straight fastball. If cut fastballs were mixed in, we should see a high range of velocity on his fastball last year.  Stats don't really show that.  Marmols overall velocity range on his fastball didn't really change, and the upper limit on his fastball velocity appears to be down about the same amount as his average...2.5 mph.

His fastball, unlike his slider, also showed a little more movement, but that might just be accounted for by the loss of velocity.

To see the charts...go to Fangraphs:

People have been surprised to hear about Marmol's cutter and I heard Len Kasper today say that it seemed more that Marmol was trying to overthrow his slider.  Evidence shows differently.  To overthrow, you would have expected his slider velocity to have increased.  It didn't.  He lost some movement on this slider and he lost velocity on his fastball.  It's as simple as that.

Overall, I don't see much of any evidence that Marmol was throwing a cut fastball with any regularity.  He very well may have been toying with it, and occasionally used it in a game, but the evidence suggests that he simply wasn't as good last year due to some other issue.

I've said for a while that I felt that Marmol, who has always been a bit of a sidearmer, was throwing at a slightly lower arm angle last year.  That tends to flatten out his pitches, which is what we saw on his slider.  Overall, I don't know the technical details on how it would affect fastball velocity, but the lower arm slot could also have affected that as well.

Marmol simply wasn't the lights out closer we expected him to be last year.  Mentally he might not have been right as he may have been trying to add another pitch.  Physically he might not have been right as some of us believe he will eventually have some elbow problems with all the sliders he throws.

So, it would appear to me that Marmol, at least in games, didn't throw a cut fastball with any regularity.  So what is this all about?

It's about the disaster that was the 2011 Cubs coaching staff.   Marmol was obviously toying this cut-fastball idea.  Dale Sveum didn't just decide to make this up.  We'll probably never know if this was done with or without the blessing of former pitching coach Mark Riggins or not, but there obviously was some toying with Marmol.  If it was from Marmol himself, that means that the clueless coaching staff from last season really didn't have much control over its players.  If it was Mark Riggins who was pushing this, then you have to wonder why he thought Marmol needed to add that third pitch.  Marmol didn't need any help and will, for at least a next several years, only need a fastball/slider combination to be effective as a closer.

Overall, the Marmol cut fastball doesn't affect anything.  It tells us something that we probably already knew...the coaching staff last year was not very good.  Hopefully, Chris Bosio and Dale Sveum will be better, and so far, with just a few words, they seem to be.