... and there was much rejoicing. -- Monty Python and the Holy Grail
That's what probably came first to your mind when you heard that Carlos Marmol had been designated for assignment by the Cubs Tuesday morning. And yes, it is a good thing that he's no longer on the team. It appears that even his teammates had tired of his high-wire act on the mound, and Dale Sveum was surely tired of answering questions about when Marmol would pitch.
Let's not forget the good things that we had with Marmol, though. The intention of this article is to praise Carlos, not to bury him.
First, a look at the numbers. Only Charlie Root, in a different time and way of pitcher use, appeared in more games in a Cubs uniform than Carlos Marmol (605 to 483). Marmol ranks third on the all-time Cubs save list with 117, behind only Bruce Sutter and Lee Smith (for perspective, Marmol's save total ranks 106th on the all-time list, tied with B.J. Ryan). Smith, Sutter, Randy Myers and Marmol are the only pitchers to have more than one 30-save season in a Cubs uniform. Marmol has struck out 11.67 batters per nine innings in his career; only two pitchers in major-league history with as many career innings as Marmol (542⅓) have had more -- Brad Lidge and Billy Wagner. If only Marmol could have had as much success as those guys.
Marmol is a converted catcher. When he came to the major leagues with the Cubs in 2006, manager Dusty Baker gave him 13 starts; it was clear to any of us who watched those starts that Marmol didn't have the stamina to be a starter (he went six innings only five times, never more), but that his stuff would be well-suited to the bullpen. That was proved out in 2007, when new manager Lou Piniella moved Marmol to a setup role behind then-closer Ryan Dempster. Marmol posted a 1.34 ERA and 1.096 WHIP, struck out 12.5 per nine innings, and many days was unhittable.
This, unfortunately, was his and the team's downfall. Marmol was so dominant that Lou pulled Carlos Zambrano out of Game 1 of the division series against the Diamondbacks, where he was cruising, after six innings. That was supposed to save Big Z for Game 4... which never got played, in part because Marmol chose that day to get hit hard.
Still, in 2008, now setting up for Kerry Wood, he posted an even better WHIP -- 0.927 -- and gave up just 40 hits in 87⅓ innings, although 10 of those hits were home runs, perhaps a foreboding. When Wood left via free agency in 2009, the logical choice would have been to give Marmol the closer's role; instead, the team traded for Kevin Gregg, and you know how that wound up. (It's very weird to have had Marmol setting up Gregg and having that actually work on a few occasions, four years later.)
In August 2009, after several Gregg blown saves, Marmol was installed as closer. He posted 11 saves without a blown save from August 23 through season's end, and the closer's job was his in 2010. The 2010 Cubs weren't very good, but that wasn't Marmol's fault -- he was dominant. Beyond breaking Sutter's team record for most K's by a relief pitcher (shattering it, really, with 138 in 77⅔ innings), he allowed just 40 hits and had a 1.185 WHIP in those innings. Hitters just couldn't get around on Marmol's fastball or hit his slider -- he faced 332 batters in 2010, and just 134 of them even managed to put the ball in play. He gave up just one home run that year and posted 38 saves, with just five blown saves (and only two of those after the All-Star break).
The rest, I won't bother you with, as it's recent history -- the slider stopped sliding and the fastball wasn't quite as crisp; hitters laid off Marmol's pitches and either drew walks -- 114 in 157 innings since the beginning of 2011 -- or waited for a fastball in the zone and crushed it (15 home runs in those 157 innings). These tweets tell you that Marmol was giving up things that even veteran starting pitchers weren't doing:
Carlos Marmol has thrown more wild pitches than Mark Buehrle— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBP) June 25, 2013
Carlos Marmol has hit more batters than Bartolo Colon— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBP) June 25, 2013
Carlos Marmol has walked more batters than Jered Weaver— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBP) June 25, 2013
It was time for him to go. Marmol is just 30; maybe someone can fix him. No one with the Cubs could; he clearly needs a change of scenery, and there are some teams that need relief help so badly (I'm looking at you, Tigers) that they might send the Cubs a low-level prospect in trade.
Marmol, to his credit, never made excuses for his bad performances and always seemed like a standup guy. For a year and a half he was very close to the best, if not the best, relief pitcher in the major leagues. For the Cubs' sake, it's a shame he couldn't continue doing that. The Cubs will move on, a bit poorer financially, but better off in relief choices. I wish you well, Carlos, and thanks for the memories.