Questionable Strikezone, Nerves Cost Marcum

It’s safe to say that this wasn’t the debut many fans were hoping for when the Brewers got Shaun Marcum. In his first Milwaukee start, Marcum was only able to throw 4.2 innings before hitting his pitch count limit of 80-85, struggling with poor control and an inconsistent strike zone.

It will be easy to overreact to Marcum’s mediocre first start, but it’s important to remember that debuts rarely live up to the hype. Everyone remembers how dominant CC Sabathia was for the Brewers down the stretch in 2008, but not many remember that his first start wasn’t anything special — 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 5 K. Marcum’s line? 4.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 7 K. Had he been allowed to throw another inning, those lines would look pretty similar. Nerves played a role in Sabathia’s debut, and perhaps they did in Marcum’s as well. If we didn’t panic about Sabathia following his first start, we shouldn’t panic about Marcum.

There aren’t many pitchers in the league that would have looked good opposite Travis Wood tonight, either. For all the talk about Marcum pounding the strike zone, it was Wood that was relentless tonight — of his 83 pitches, 66 were strikes. He had two innings in which he only threw two balls. He also had two in which he only threw one. He was so impressive, Brian Anderson went temporarily insane and compared him to Cliff Lee.

Looking at the pitch f/x strikezone plot from Brooks Baseball, Wood was legitimately good, too — he didn’t need (or get) much help from home plate umpire Larry Vanover. Take a look at the plot for yourself, and you’ll see a few borderline called strikes on the right edge, but nothing egregious.

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It gets frustrating, though, when you look at Marcum’s plot. Take a look at how many of Marcum’s pitches were registered inside the pitch f/x strikezone but were called balls, especially down in the zone.

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Considering Marcum’s (legitimately) erratic control in the early going, it’s understandable that Vanover was in a less forgiving mood. Unlike Wood, Marcum was having trouble working around the zone, so he’s not going to get the benefit of the doubt most of the time. It’s just the sheer number of missed calls that’s somewhat baffling — by my count, Vanover missed 12 pitches that were at least close enough to be considered strikes (inside or touching the border of the strikezone)…including one right in the middle of the zone.

You can’t take those 12 missed strikes and just say Marcum would have three less walks, but it would have been nice to see Marcum get the same strikezone Wood got. Or any consistent strikezone, really. But that’s the human element everyone loves so much, right?