Baseball BeatFebruary 09, 2010
The Curious Case of Carlos Marmol
By Rich Lederer

After watching my nephew Brett make his PGA Tour debut in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club last Thursday, my wife and I headed to Palm Desert to hang out for a couple of days while our house was being fumigated for termites.

I woke up on Friday morning, checked my emails, and read the following news in Lee Sinins' daily ATM Report.

The Cubs re-signed P Carlos Marmol to a 1 year, $2.125 million contract, to avoid salary arbitration.
YEAR AGE RSAA  ERA     G  GS   IP    SO   SO/9 BR/9   W   L   SV  NW  NL  TEAM
2007 24   26   1.43   59   0   69.1   96 12.46 10.38   5   1   1   5   1  Cubs         
2008 25   17   2.68   82   0   87.1  114 11.75  8.97   2   4   7   4   2  Cubs         
2009 26    9   3.41   79   0   74     93 11.31 14.59   2   4  15   4   2  Cubs         
CAREER    40   3.42  239  13  307.2  362 10.59 12.34  14  16  23  18  12  
LG AVG     0   4.35           307.2  235  6.88 12.90  17  17

I glanced at Marmol's three-year stat line and noticed that he struck out 11.31 batters per nine innings last season. Not too shabby, I thought. I had been under the impression that he didn't have a particularly good year. Despite his stellar SO/9 rate (or more commonly referred to as K/9), Marmol did indeed struggle as noted in the column next to it on the right. BR/9 stands for "base runners per 9," which is essentially WHIP expressed over nine innings rather than one (although HBP are included in the former and not the latter).

In Marmol's case, hit by pitch is not a trivial statistic. He hit 12 batters last season, good bad enough to rank third in the majors. The 28-year-old righthander, in fact, was the only reliever to reach double digits in this category.

A BR/9 of 14.59 means Marmol allowed 1.62 base runners per inning. That's a horrific rate for any pitcher, much less a closer/setup man. Marmol got there in a strange manner. Carlos allowed 43 hits, 65 walks, and 12 hit batters in 74 innings.

Nolan Ryan, one of the most famous high walks/low hits pitchers of all time, only had two seasons when he allowed more walks than hits. Unlike Marmol, Ryan never approached a BB/H ratio of 1.5:1. His worst ratio was 1.13 in 1970 when he was a 23-year-old part-time starter for the New York Mets. Marmol's BB/H ratio was 1.51 last year. Ryan's career ratio was 0.71. Marmol's ratio over his first four seasons? A stunning 1.03.

Among pitchers with 50 or more games, Marmol had the second-best batting average against (.171 vs. .170 for Jonathan Broxton) and the third-best HR/9 (0.24) and HR/TBF (0.60%) even though he is an extreme flyball pitcher. However, Marmol also had the worst BB/9 (7.91), BB/TBF (19.40%), HBP/9 (0.16), and HBP/TBF (3.58%).

You might say that Marmol missed the strike zone and a lot of bats. If so, you would be right. He struck out, walked, or hit a batter more than half the time! Yup, Carlos had a combined 170 SO, BB, and HBP while facing 335 batters in 2009.

What should we make of Marmol? His K/9, BAA, and HR/9 suggest he is one of the best relievers in the game. On the other hand, his BB and HBP rates indicate that he is a wild man and far from a polished product. Like my house, you can throw a tent over Marmol. While I wouldn't want to exterminate him if I were Jim Hendry or Lou Piniella, I might be inclined to sell tickets to his circus act if I were new Cubs' owner Tom Ricketts.

By the way, Brett and former major winners Padraig Harrington, Davis Love III, Corey Pavin, Vijay Singh, and Mike Weir all missed the cut last week as Steve Stricker won his fourth tournament in less than a year to pass Phil Mickelson as the No. 2 player in the World Golf Rankings.


Missing the cut at the PGA is not an embarassment. Being in the field is a major accomplishment. Congrats to Brett.

"After watching my nephew Brett make his PGA Tour debut in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on Thursday, my wife and I headed to Palm Desert to hang out for a couple of days while our house was being fumigated for termites."

That's the best lead ever.

It sounds like Marmol is basically Mitch Williams Redux. I can't think of anyone else who permitted more walks than hits over an entire career. Marmol strikes out more guys, but take a look at Williams' first four seasons (to match the career line given above). Lots of hit batsmen, similar BR/9, very similar ERA, and in one year, Mitch actually approaches that 1.5:1 BB:H ratio (it's 1987, the ratio is 1.49:1).

If Vernon Wells is jumping around the bases sometime in October after tagging Marmol with a three-run dinger, we all know why.

Thanks, Stan and nightfly. With respect to the latter, I like your Marmol and Williams comparison. And the Wells equals Joe Carter is pretty good, too.

So you're saying he's a TTO pitcher...

Yes. K, BB, and HBP (as opposed to K, BB, and HR for hitters). Marmol whiffs 28% of the batters 28% and walks or hits them in 23% of the plate appearances. Therefore, batters don't make contact more than half the time, which means he has incredible stuff but lacks polish.

These true outcome totals seem unbelievably high. Any idea as to how they rank on a historic level?

I'd be interested to see his 2009 numbers broken down into appearances as a closer vs. set-up. If I recall, he was much more consistent after he took the role over from Kevin Gregg.

Bad things happen when you walk the first batter you face half of the time.