The 10 Brewers Critical to 2011 Success: #6, Shaun Marcum

In the time leading up to the start of spring training, I’ve decided to make a countdown of the 10 Brewers that I believe are most critical to their success in the 2011 season. It continues today with number 6.

Shaun Marcum. Underrated.

Hello folks. Coming in at number 6 in the countdown, we encounter the first of Milwaukee’s two big offseason upgrades to the pitching rotation, Shaun Marcum. Shaun Marcum is a 29 year old righty from Kansas City, and he has spent the last seven years with the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization. He arrived in an early December trade in which the Brewers sent top prospect Brett Lawrie to Toronto.  He has a nice beard. So how about his pitching? Let’s play a little game of guess the pitcher – check out the lines from 2010 from the Brewers’ new top of the rotation, without their names:

  • A. 14-7, 3.84 ERA, 103 ERA+, 1.368 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.6 BB/9
  • B. 10-14, 4.17 ERA, 100 ERA+, 1.245 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
  • C. 13-8, 3.64 ERA, 114 ERA+, 1.147 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.0 BB/9

Who do you think is who? Who do you think led that group in everything other than K/9 and wins? If you said Shaun Marcum, you were right. Marcum (C) was the best of the trio last year at preventing baserunners, had the lowest walk rate, and had the best ERA, all while playing in the American League East. He had more K/9 than Zack Greinke (B) and significantly fewer walks than both Yovani Gallardo (A) and Greinke. And, I’ll repeat, he was in the AL East with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays. Here’s a little bit of trivia: 3 teams in all of baseball scored more than 800 runs last season. Those three teams? You guessed it – Boston, Tampa Bay, and the Yankees.

So my question is, why aren’t people more excited about this guy? Judging by the stat lines provided above, it looks like Marcum, who started opening day for Toronto last year, had the best year of all of three, but the Brewers’ trade for Marcum was mostly shrugged off with a “good move Doug, but what else?” sentiment.  When the Greinke trade went down, Marcum was almost entirely forgotten about. I concede that the season that Greinke put together in 2009 and his potential to maybe do it again is reason to perhaps be more excited about him than Marcum, but Marcum presents his own reasons to be excited.

Is it injury trouble that people are worried about? Sure, Marcum missed all of 2009 after having Tommy John surgery. However, the successful recovery rate for Tommy John is historically very high, and Marcum clearly showed he was back on track last year. In fact, he improved in most areas over his successful 2008 campaign, in which he went 9-7 with a 3.39 ERA, 1.163 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, and 3 BB/9. There was a slight jump in ERA, but all of his peripheral stats improved. I can honestly say right now that I am no more worried about Marcum having injury trouble than I am Gallardo, or Greinke, or Randy Wolf. There is always an injury risk with pitchers, but there is no reason to suspect Marcum more than anyone else.

Personally, I think that the reason Marcum has been overlooked has simply been because, playing for the relatively unknown Blue Jays, he has received far less exposure than Greinke, who won the 2009 Cy Young. In addition, Greinke’s struggles with mental health issues have made him a popular story in the national media – everyone love’s an underdog. If Marcum were pitching for the Yankees, Red Sox, or Cubs last season, this trade would have been a huge story. Indeed, Marcum and Matt Garza, who the Cubs recently traded for, are fairly comparable pitchers – with a pretty clear edge given to Marcum.

Marcum has just moved from the toughest division in baseball to the relatively soft NL Central – I honestly don’t believe that 17 wins with an ERA around 3.00 are out of the question. Marcum boasts one of the best changeups in all of baseball, rated at a ridiculous 26 runs above average by FanGraphs. In addition, he boasts very solid control with the 2.0 BB/9 he put up last year – compare that to the 2.5 BB/9 put up by AL Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez in 2010. Looking at the Brewers rotation, you have to feel good about putting Shaun Marcum in the third slot where many people expect him to go. Outside of Roy Oswalt, there may not be a better number 3 starter in all of baseball next season.

I’ve always liked Marcum, perhaps due in part to the fact that he was an excellent free agent pick-up for me in fantasy baseball in 2008 AND 2010, but I expect big things out of him. Hopefully Marcum, along with Gallardo and Greinke, can keep improving. If he performs like I expect him to, the Brewers will be well on their way to winning 90 games.

Also, Go Packers.

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2 Responses

  1. looking at those stats, one would be more concerned about greinke than marcum. its not that i don’t have confidence in greinke, but due to his mental health, i hope he plays well in milwaukee.

    as far as marcum goes, i don’t know much about him. its pretty convincing that the guy can pitch (AL East…..WHOOOF). again, i hope he plays well so i can say that my reservations were useless.

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