Marcum Gives Brewers Change of Pace

There’s a lot to like about the trade that brought Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee, but one thing I haven’t mentioned before (at least in blog form) is just how much of a change of pace Marcum represents compared to the man he’s following in the rotation, Yovani Gallardo.

I mentioned it on Twitter last night, but of Gallardo’s 101 pitches on Opening Day, 67 were fastballs — in other words, roughly 2 out of every 3 pitches were fastballs. Since it’s early in the year and he may not quite have a feel for his breaking stuff yet, that’s a bit more than usual. For his career, Gallardo has thrown his fastball 61.1% of the time.

It’s safe to say the Reds will be getting quite a different look against Marcum.

Last season, Marcum only threw his fastball 45.1% of the time, and that number drops to 44.2% when you look at his entire career. If you want to compare this to the rest of the Brewers’ rotation, Zack Greinke throws his fastball 60.9% of the time, and Randy Wolf throws it nearly as much — 60.3% for his career. Only Chris Narveson approaches that 50% mark — 50.2% for his career — but the fact that he only threw his fastball 45.8% of the time last year knocks down that career average significantly. Narveson threw his fastball over 63% of the time in 2009, but that’s likely due to the fact that most of his appearances came out of the bullpen.

Marcum relies more on his secondary pitches more than anyone else in the Brewers’ rotation, specifically his changeup. He threw his change 25.8% of the time last season, much higher than his career rate of 21.9%. He used it more last season for good reason — if you trust pitch type values, at 26.0 runs above average last season, it was the best changeup in baseball…by far.

The plus changeup actually makes Marcum more effective against left-handed batters, which is something most don’t expect to see. Against Cincinnati, it could mean more success against the two most dangerous (in my opinion) bats in that lineup — Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. Marcum is essentially a right-handed pitcher that pitches like a left-hander (which is why I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Marcum potentially “splitting the lefties” between Wolf and Narveson — it doesn’t really matter if he’s third or fourth, and truly splitting the lefties would require moving Gallardo down).

What the Brewers have in Marcum — other than a really good pitcher — is a guy who will give teams a completely different look than the one they got the day before, assuming he continues to follow Gallardo in the rotation.

Gallardo will go after you with mostly fastballs and sliders, sprinkling in some curveballs and even a changeup. Marcum likely won’t give you a fastball until you’re least expecting it, instead choosing to throw just about anything else — outside of the fastball, he has four other pitches he throws at least 5% of the time. Gallardo will throw hard, touching the mid-90s if he has to. Marcum will probably top out at 90, and if he’s throwing that hard consistently, we should probably start to worry. Gallardo will work deep into counts by trying to get guys to chase, Marcum works quickly and efficiently around the strike zone.

It’s basically the same idea as throwing an offspeed specialist in the middle of a bunch of flamethrowers in a bullpen, although it could be argued that it’s less likely to be effective considering the opponent has more time to prepare. Still, it’s a nice concept and one that’s nice to think about, even if it’s only happening by accident.