Shaun Marcum turned in his second solid start of the spring on Saturday, but the results — as good as they were — weren’t the story. It was the fact that he decided to start mixing in a few cutters this early in the spring.
Pitch f/x data says that Marcum threw his cutter 14.7% of the time in 2010, making it his third-most frequent pitch choice. Marcum typically throws five pitches, but it’s understandable that he hasn’t gotten around to using his curveball (9.3%) and slider (5.1%) yet. One of my favorite notes on Marcum — last year, not only did Marcum throw his fastball less than 50% of the time, but he barely broke 45%. Considering his aversion to walks and the quality of his changeup, it makes sense — he doesn’t have to use his fastball to get himself out of many 3-0 or 3-1 counts. That’s a good thing, since his fastball is actually his worst pitch (it was 9.6 runs below average last season).
Going back to Marcum’s cutter, while it’s typically been his second-best pitch over the course of his career, FanGraphs actually had it at 3.2 runs below average last season. It was much more effective before Marcum underwent Tommy John surgery, coming in at 2.9 runs above average in 2008 and 7.7 runs above average in 2007. We’ll likely figure out this year if Marcum just had a bad year with his cutter last season, or if this is going to be a post-surgery trend for him. It’s understandable that he’s trying to get a feel for the pitch early this spring.
As long as Marcum keeps fooling hitters with his changeup, though, he can probably get away with his cutter not quite being what it used to be. As has been mentioned multiple times here and elsewhere, Marcum’s changeup was the best in baseball last season, and it wasn’t even really close. It led to many batters chasing more pitches than league average — Marcum drew swings on 32.9% of his pitches out of the zone, more than 3% higher than the league average of 29.3% last season. Craig Counsell summed it up well in Adam McCalvy’s article:
“You hear it, but today you really saw why he’s so good,” said veteran infielder Craig Counsell. “When he misses, he just misses. He really tempts the hitters.”
In five total innings so far this spring, Marcum has struck out six batters while walking none. Zero. Zilch. That’s a K/BB ratio we can all get behind, no?