The Cubs have had a terrible season by all accounts. Yes there have been some bright spots: Castro, Colvin, Soriano. But one name that doesn't get enough credit is Sean Marshall. The tall left hander would be the cubs best bullpen option if it wasn't for Carlos Marmol. He's had some rough outings lately but that doesn't take from the truly fantastic season he's having.
Marshall was always a nice looking prospect. The tall lanky pitcher had a great 12-6 curve and good location. Marshall was forced into the starting rotation in 06 and was terrible. He had a K rate of 5 and a walk rate of 4.
Marshall would continually bounce between the rotation and the bullpen, never finding a comfortable home. But that was before this year. To say Sean Marshall has been good is an understatement.
Sean has a 1.7WAR. This is truly amazing because of the fact that he's only thrown about 50 innings. He has a 2.65 ERA that is backed up by his 2.63xFIP. Marshall has a Carlos Marmol like 10k/9. Marshall is only walking about 3 batters per game. His home run rate is at 0.17. So what has changed in Marshall?
Take a look at the fastball% (green) compared in 07-08 to now. Marshall has decreased the amount of times he throws his fastball. This season Marshall only throws his fastball 22.7% of the time compare that to Carlos Marmol who throws his fastball about 40% of the time. Now take a look at the purple (CU) Marshall is using his very effective 12-6 Curveball a lot more. This year he's using his curveball about 40% of the time which is a lot for one pitch. Compare that to 09(33%), 08(25%),, and 07(18).
The main thing that stands out is Marshall's willingness to throw his curveball. He now throws that pitch about 38% of the time. But maybe the increase in the K rate is due to Marshall's fastball velocity being up to 90. Take a look
His fastball velocity didn't even touch 90 during his first two years in the bigs.
I think the key to the high strikeout rate is that he's willing to throw the curve more and the fact that his velocity has increased. The increase of the fastball could be because Marshall knows he can crank it up for one inning while when he was a starter he had to pace himself.
Marshall has always had great command of the strike zone. This was a scouting report from baseball fever:
"This kid could hit a dime from 60 feet away. His highest BB/9 was this season between Daytona and West Tenn with 2.96 which is still extremely good. Not only can he pinpoint his sinker but he can lock in his curve and change whenever need be. He needs to keep that control in order to be an effective future major leaguer. With his solid mechanics, he shouldn't have to worry about his control faultering that much though."
That's been the one thing about Sean Marshall that you can count on. But this year he's stepped up the strikeouts.
But Marshall has always had the ability to strike people out because of his great curveball. And even this season Marshall's curveball has a velocity of about 76 which is up about 3MPH than last year. Take a look:
Now you may think that 73-76MPH is not a big difference but when you're throwing a 12-6 Curveball it makes it just more effective. Kind of Like Barry Zito's:
Obviously you'll never know if the velocity and the willingness to throw the curve is in part because he's coming out of the bullpen. But it would be really interesting to see what would happen if he got a meaningless September start. But then again if a guy is throwing harder out of the bullpen then maybe you should just keep him there.
The thing is Marshall isn't getting particular luck. HIs 2.63xFIP backs up that Marshall really is this good. Probably not an ERA in the that good but still a very good pitcher. Another factor is that Marshall's BABIP is only at about .290. Obviously you'll see regression (Colorado the last few days) but he should be a very good reliever
Along with Andrew Cashner (who really shouldn't be in the bullpen but that's another story) and Carlos Marmol the Cubs look like they have a great young trio in the bullpen. After all the years of bullpen failure it looks like the Cubs won't have to worry about the end of games (if they're ever ahead) for a long time.