Trying to Remember Shaun Marcum Objectively

Marcum

As strange as it seems, Shaun Marcum has most likely thrown his last pitch with the Brewers. The right-hander made his last scheduled start of the season Monday night, allowing a pair of runs in six innings and striking out two. A couple weeks after the end of the World Series, he will become a free agent, and the Brewers – at least publicly – have shown absolutely no interest in retaining his services.

Marcum will leave Milwaukee with two seasons and 325 innings accumulated there since he was traded from Toronto in December 2010. To refer to his “legacy” might be a charitable use of the term, but mentioning Marcum’s name in the years to come should be an easy way to spark a spirited debate – the sharp dichotomy of the opinions surrounding him is almost bizarre.

On one hand, Marcum has been a good midrotation starter for the past two years, and was absolutely vital to their success over that time. As a Brewer, Marcum has averaged over 160 innings per year with an ERA of 3.61. He contributed 200.1 innings and 2.9 WAR to the NL Central-winning 2011 squad, and was a huge part of the retooled pitching rotation that made the playoff run possible. Any slight of Marcum’s performance can effectively be crushed by the fact that the major difference between the Brewers’ recent foray into contention and the abyss of 2009-2010 is the addition of two quality starting pitchers: Zack Greinke and Marcum.

That’s not the whole story, though, and is certainly not the side that gets remembered by a lot of people. Marcum infamously ran out of gas down the stretch in 2011, putting up a 5.17 ERA in September before being shelled in three postseason starts, including a three-out, four-run performance in Game 6 of the NLCS that crushed out the Brewers World Series hopes. A winter of rest and mechanical tweaks didn’t seem to help, as he was sidelined for three months in 2012 with a vague arm injury, only to suffer through another ugly September (5.06 ERA). By the end of both seasons, watching one of his starts was often an exercise in frustration.

As is the case with many members of that team, people tend to remember Marcum mainly by what he did in 2011. However, with Marcum, the selectivity actually runs both ways – many folks still hate him because of one game last October, but there definitely also people who cling to the excitement surrounding his acquisition, trying hard to remember his excellent 2011 regular season and constantly reminding themselves that Game 6 was just one start (I often end up in this camp myself). If we want a clear and objective look back at Marcum’s time in Milwaukee, we’re going to have to toss away our memories and just look at the numbers.

Year Age Tm ERA G GS IP ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2011 29 MIL 3.54 33 33 200.2 111 1.156 7.8 1.0 2.6 7.1 2.77
2012 30 MIL 3.74 20 20 118.0 111 1.246 8.4 1.1 2.8 8.2 2.89
7 Yrs 3.77 173 148 910.2 112 1.221 8.2 1.2 2.7 7.4 2.68

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/2/2012.

There’s not much to say here. In two years, Marcum has thrown 324.2 innings and allowed runs at a rate about 10% better than the league average. That’s obviously a lot better than whatever Milwaukee’s alternative would have been, but how do those numbers look in context?

There are 76 pitchers who have thrown at least 300 innings in the last two years. This is why I’ve generally given Marcum credit for two full seasons in spite of his DL stint – only half of the starting pitchers in the majors were healthy and/or effective enough to maintain a similar workload over the past two years. Among them, Marcum’s 3.87 FIP ranks 43rd, slightly worse than Josh Beckett and slightly better than Paul Maholm. Two of his teammates, Yovani Gallardo and Zack 
Greinke, rank ahead of him on this list, but he rates better than any member of the Astros’ or Cubs’ front five.

Per the standard scouting definition (there are somewhere around 5 “number-one” starters in the majors at any given time), Marcum is probably a 3 or 4. That’s a darn good player, but not an irreplaceable one, which seems to be what the Brewers are thinking. However, that shouldn’t be a slight to what he’s done over the past two seasons.

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