Last week there was a rumor that the Cubs would send Carlos Marmol to the Angels for Dan Haren. The deal fell apart, but for the purposes of this article that doesn't matter. Both players still seem likely to end up with new teams in 2013 so I thought it would be beneficial, or at least I hope it will, for me to give my thoughts on each righty hurler (Haren is a free agent now, so he can sign with any team he would like, whereas Marmol is still under contract with the Cubs).
Haren is a 32 year old righty coming off his worst full season. Back woes held him to 30 starts, his lowest total since 2004, and his 176.2 innings pitched is the first time since 2004 that he failed to reach at least 216 innings pitched. Was this merely a fluke or have all the innings worn down Haren and his body to the point that he can no longer be looked at as a 200-inning arm? That's certainly a fair point to bring up, but the truth is we just don't know for certain. The preponderance of evidence would suggest that Haren is more likely to be a 180-200 IP guy than a 210-230 guy in 2013, but that's no lock. It's also not a guarantee that he will make 30 starts yet again, but given that he did each of the past eight years it seems to be a fair bet that he will (only two other hurlers have made 30 starts each of the past eight years Bronson Arroyo and Mark Buehrle). Because of all the innings Haren always wins games. In each of the past eight years, including 2012, Haren has won at least 12 games. The only other hurler who has won 12 games each of the past eight years is CC Sabathia. So with innings comes success, who knew right?
Looking at 2012 one will notice that Haren had a 4.33 ERA, the worst mark of his eight years as a full time starter. Ditto for his 1.29 WHIP. So why were his ratios so bad? Let's examine.
Haren struck out 7.23 batters per nine innings, just off his 7.25 mark from 2011. That is slightly below his 7.60 carer rate, but it's not at all unusual to see a pitcher's K-rate slowly recede as the years tick on. It's still a solid mark. Augment that K/9 with his BB/9 rate, and you still have a very high level hurler. Haren walked 1.94 batters per nine innings, right on his career 1.89 mark. It was also his fifth straight season with a mark under 2.10. When you don't beat yourself we'll see how that can be a problem with Marmol in a few moments you can still have success even if you are dealing with a few other issues in your pitching line. Moreover, Haren's 3.74 K/BB ratio was the 17th best mark in baseball last season, slightly ahead of guys like Zack Greinke (3.70) and Clayton Kershaw (3.63), so maybe talk of Haren's demise is a bit premature? Now it is fair to point out that the 3.74 mark is a 5-year low, but it's also not at all far from his 4.01 career mark. This news makes me think a Haren rebound in 2013 is possible.
Another situation that leads me to think that Haren isn't finished as a mixed league contributor is his 1.43 HR/9 mark. What the hell are you talking about Ray, that's a horrible number. My response is exactly, it is a horrible number. Huh? Haren has only had two seasons in his career over 1.20, and the other was one was 1.25 in 2006. He's always been a league average performer according to this measure with a 1.05 career rate. It doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense that the mark would take such a huge uptick in 2012, especially when we note that his 40 percent fly ball rate isn't that far removed from his 37 percent career rate. So why all the homers if the fly ball rate was pretty stable? Look no further than his 12.8 percent HR/F rate, a career worst (10.5 for his career). Pay attention to where Haren ends up. If it's a pitcher friendly park that helps to limit homers that would be another feather in Haren's cap.
So let me wrap this up. Haren is coming off a down season, one that included some poor efforts as well as injury. Given his mileage, and age, it is fair to wonder if there is a true bounce back effort in the cards for Haren. That said, there is still enough skill here, as well as a couple of things that seem likely to regress to the norm a wee bit, that Haren should be looked at as a hurler primed for a better season in 2013. It's hard to know at this point if were talking about a return to 3.50 ERA, 15 wins and 200 Ks, but it would surprise me if Haren didn't rebound at least somewhat for his new club in the coming season.
Ask around and people will universally tell you that Marmol = disaster. While there certainly are reasons to think just that, it's not like the guy is bereft of talent. Did you realize that Marmol blew only three save chances all year, or that he had one blown save after April 25th? That's right, one blown save in five months. No matter whether he remains with the Cubs, or is moved to another club, what can his fantasy owners expect in 2013 (obviously his role is of utmost importance. As a middle reliever his value would be borderline roster-able even in deep mixed leagues, whereas if he's a closer, well, you know).
Bottom line, there are only a handful of pitchers in baseball who are harder to hit than Marmol. For his career Marmol has allowed a .182 batting average, and since his rookie year Marmol has held batters to a .205 mark or lower ever year (that's over six seasons). When he is on his slider is flat out unhittable. Period. Therefore it's a bit odd to see that he threw it a 4-year low 49 percent of the time in 2012 (that number was 54, 59 and 64 percent the previous three years). Batters know it's coming, but when Marmol gets ahead in the count they just can't stop themselves from swinging. But that's the rub of it isn't it? The fact is that Marmol often can't get ahead of batters. If you've ever watched him pitch you are acutely aware that Marmol, at times, simply cannot control where the ball is going. The big league average for walks per nine innings is usually somewhere around 3.10 per nine innings. Do you know what Marmol's career mark is? Try 6.03. He's almost DOUBLE the league average in issuing walks. In 2012, for the second time in four years, that mark was over seven. SEVEN. It's amazing he is as effective as he is given numbers like that. Think about it. For his career batters are hitting .182 off him and his WHIP is still a league average 1.31. Because of all those walks his WHIP has been under 1.38 only once in four years. It's actually pretty disgraceful that his WHIP is as high as it is given his skill set.
To offset his abysmal walk rate, Marmol is able to erase many of his mistakes with his strikeout rate. Last season's 11.71 K/9 mark was a three year low, but still a historically good mark and just 0.02 off his career rate. Among all the pitchers who have ever lived and thrown more than 500 innings in the big leagues, Marmol's 11.73 career rate is the third best mark (Billy Wagner 11.92 and Brad Lidge 11.92). Basically, Carlos Marmol is the Adam Dunn of pitchers.
Marmol has been doing something else well, and that is he is inducing more grounders than ever before. Entering 2011 he had never posted a ground ball rate of 36 percent. The last two years that mark has been 39.2 and 40.6 percent. Clearly, given all the walks he permits and the league average WHIP, Marmol is in the danger zone when it comes to home runs and big innings. Obviously, keeping the ball on the ground will help him to offset any dangers of the big fly. Truth be told though, the homer has never been something that Marmol has had to worry about as his career mark is 0.68. Batters just can't square up the ball effectively against his dominating stuff.
Can Marmol be more effective than he was in 2012? Absolutely. Can he be trusted to be more effective than he was in 2012? Absolutely not. Even when Marmol is rolling, and I mean when he's converted 9-straight saves while allowing five base runners, he's on the edge of disaster. At any point his control can leave him, not just for one outing, but potentially for three, four, five outings in a row. When that happens he cannot be trusted to work the 9th inning. If his manager has a quick trigger finger it's very possible that Marmol could be removed from 9th inning duties. Even worse, let's say he starts out the season that way. Will his manager banish him to 7th inning work for a week, a month, the rest of the season? It's certainly a concern, one that totally plays into Marmol's value in the fantasy game. Do you roster Marmol as your #1 closer in a mixed league given his otherworldly stuff? Heck no, you just can't because of the volatility. Do you make him your #2 closer in mixed leagues because of his dominance? You could, but if you do you would be advised to grab a third closer if at all possible given the uncertainty that Marmol brings. Remember, this is a guy who had a 1.54 WHIP last season and 138 Ks and 38 saves in 2010. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has nothing on this guy, though at the end of the day remember this: over the past three years Marmol has 92 saves, the 6th best mark in baseball (Jose Valverde of all people, leads the way with 110, one more than Heath Bell).
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Thursday at 7 PM EDT and Friday's at 9 PM EDT. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.