Carlos Marmol, poor control, and unhittable relievers

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My entry this morning about the Cubs’ closer switch included a comment about how, despite 52 walks and 11 hit batters in 56.1 innings, Carlos Marmol “remains extremely difficult to hit” and is “the Cubs’ best bet for a shutdown guy.” That drew a few e-mails from Cubs fans, most of which basically noted that someone with such horrible control can’t be counted on in save situations.
I’m not necessarily disagreeing with that notion and did write in the same entry that Marmol “will obviously need to stop walking a batter per inning to have success” in the role. However, it seems as though people are focusing on Marmol’s control issues while overlooking just how unhittable he’s been. He’s the complete list of relievers from the past 50 years who’ve allowed fewer than 5.0 hits per nine innings while facing at least 250 batters:

                    YEAR      H/9
Eric Gagne          2003     4.04
CARLOS MARMOL       2008     4.12
Jeff Nelson         2001     4.13
Billy Wagner        1999     4.22
Troy Percival       1995     4.50
Armando Benitez     2000     4.62
Armando Benitez     1999     4.62
Troy Percival       1996     4.62
J.J. Putz           2007     4.65
Armando Benitez     2004     4.65
Vicente Romo        1968     4.70
Jim Brewer          1972     4.71
Ugueth Urbina       1998     4.80
Andy Messersmith    1968     4.87
CARLOS MARMOL       2009     4.95

Marmol, Troy Percival, and Armando Benitez are the only relievers to allow fewer than 5.0 hits per nine innings in multiple seasons. Last season Marmol held batters to 4.12 hits per nine innings on a .135 batting average and this season he’s held batters to 4.95 hits per nine innings on a .163 batting average. Oh, and Marmol narrowly missed cracking the above list for a third time with 5.32 hits per nine innings in 2007.
Yes, throwing the ball over the plate will be very important for his chances of emerging as an elite closer, but you can often get away with poor control when you’re giving up one hit every two innings. Since becoming a full-time reliever three years ago, he has a 2.49 ERA and 277 strikeouts in 213 frames while allowing 4.7 hits per nine innings. He’s allowed more walks (128) than hits (112) during that time.

The Cubs have been baseball’s unluckiest team

1908 Cubs
Library of Congress
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If you throw the word “luck” into a sports conversation you’re gonna anger some people because people don’t like to ever chalk up their own success or their team’s success to anything apart from their own skill, worthiness and merit. What we usually refer to as “luck,” however, is not meant to detract from one’s merit. It’s more about outcomes that were not necessarily predictable or expected given all of the known variables.

Thing is, we really don’t have a concise and compact word that captures the notion of “unreasonably underperforming or unreasonably outperforming one’s statistical expectations,” so the word “luck” is about as good as we can do. Sorry if that offends, but focus more on what we’re getting at when we talk about sports luck and less about how you feel about the concept of luck in general, OK?

With that in mind, know that, according to Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight, the Cubs have been the unluckiest franchise in baseball history in terms of turning success into championships. Given how much they’ve won over the years, they should have had six or seven championships and not the two they have (with none for 108 years, of course).

The luckiest? The Yankees. While they have obviously been immensely talented throughout their history, the numbers suggest that they should “only” have 19 or 20 World Series titles. They have 27. They’d still have the most if everyone performed at their level of statistical expectations, but their 16-title lead over the next most successful World Series team — the Cardinals — should not be as great as it is.


Kyle Schwarber is in The Best Shape of His Life

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 16:  Injured player Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs is seen in the dugout before a game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field on August 16, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Kyle Schwarber made a quicker-than-expected recovery from ACL surgery and then, after an Arizona Fall League rehab assignment, was shuttled up to Cleveland for the World Series. But that’s not all he has done.

Schwarber is now the latest ever Best Shape of His Life All-Star. Or so says Kris Bryant, talking to Patrick Mooney of

“We’ve seen first-hand the work that he’s putting in and how hard he’s been going . . . Honestly, I saw him out — maybe a couple weeks after his surgery — and he’s moving around, walking. And I’m like: ‘Dang, this guy’s not human. How? I saw your leg bend in half, and you’re walking around. This is unbelievable . . .(It’s) watching him dripping with sweat every single day. Every single day, this guy is drenched. I feel like he’s in the best shape of his life (now). There was no doubt in my mind that he could do it. It was just a matter of if they let him.”

May as well just forfeit now, Indians. No way you can deal with an October BSOHL guy.