The redemption of "The Automatic" Carlos Marmol
About a month ago, a large number of Cub fans were prepared to toss Carlos Marmol to the wind. At one point earlier in the year, he'd lowered his ERA to 1.54, he'd had 53 strikeouts in 35 innings of work, and the Cubs looked as though they would never lose a lead after the 7th inning.
Then, on May 31st, Marmol made an appearance that would herald the beginning of his end. After getting the first 2 outs of the inning, including one by strikeout, Marmol surrendered a homerun to - of all people - Scott Podsednik, before striking out Willy Tavaras to get the save and end the game. At the time, it didn't seem too concerning, apart from the fact that the best strikeout pitcher in the Cubs bullpen had surrendered a homerun to a guy who, minus his shot against Marmol, has hit exactly zero homers in his last 201 at bats. With that unlikely homerun, the wheels came off. In his next appearance on June 2nd, Marmol surrendered a 3-run homerun in the 9th to Adrian Gonzalez. Suddenly, his ERA went from 1.54 to 2.43. It'd get worse before the end of the month - in 11 innings pitched in June, Marmol would walk 9 and he'd give up 5 hits, but all of them at inopportune times. Opponents ripped him that month for 9 earned runs, putting his monthly ERA at 7.36.
July would start out at much the same. Marmol got hammered again for 3 against San Francisco on July 2nd - a game the Cubs would still win. He'd give up a homerun the very next night and exit without having gotten a single out. His worst outing came on the 12th, when he'd turn a Cubs route into a narrow victory after surrendering 5 runs on 4 hits and 1 walk in 1 inning of work. (Later, a scoring change would remove all but 1 of them from his Earned Run total.) And with that, Marmol entered the All Star break having seen his ERA rise from 1.54 to 4.30 - pre scoring change - and all in the span of a month in a half.
On this blog and elsewhere, Cub fans were asking why. What had happened to this fiercely dominating pitcher? Clearly, the biggest issue was his control. Over that 1.5 month span, Marmol threw 342 pitches, 197 for strikes. That's a 58% strike ratio, which isn't exactly the stuff of legends. He walked 13 in 15.1 innings, as well, having thrown a number of passed balls, hit 4 batters, and he threw at least 1 wild pitch.
It wasn't concerning that Marmol was used by Lou even during his struggles. Piniella has to believe that the best way to get a pitcher out of a funk is by showing that he has confidence in that pitcher, and he sure did demonstrate a whole hell of a lot of confidence in Carlos Marmol. The things that were concerning to fans and bloggers everywhere, though, was how and how often. Did Marmol really need to be pitched on 3 consecutive days against Arizona and Colorado and Pittsburgh/Houston? Did he need to be used consecutively on April 30-May 1, May 24-25, June 4-5, June 14-15, June 24-25, July 2-3, July 5-6, and July 8-9? Did Piniella really need to turn to Marmol during the games in which the Cubs held a decisive lead?
Somehow, Carlos Marmol has rediscovered his compass since that point in the season. He's pitching with direction again, and that direction appears to often exist within the confines of the strike zone. There are perhaps two reasons why he's managed to turn things around - 1. between July 12 and July 20, he only pitched once, and 2. the injury to Kerry Wood.
With Kerry Wood nursing his blister, Lou was forced to turn to Marmol to close. Closing with Marmol meant that he could no longer put him out there in one-sided games, nor was he able to pitch him consecutively quite as often. In the time before the break, since he lost his effectiveness, Marmol pitched on consecutive days 14 times. In the month since he's become effective again, Marmol has been used on 4 consecutive dates. More importantly, he's been used in "only" a handful of blowouts.
Regardless of the reasons, Marmol's effectiveness has been incredibly important to the success of the Cubs. It's probably no coincidence that the team's worst period of the season came at a time in which its ace pitcher was on the disabled list, its closer was inactive due to a blister, its top-slugging outfielder was recovering from a broken hand, and its premier set-up man lost himself for a little while. The Cubs are now well on their way to their best regular-reason record of most of our live times, and Marmol is a big reason why. He's been more than effective, he's been better than dominant. Let's just call him what he is: automatic, and the Cubs are a better team - if not the best team - because of him.