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Swinging for the Fences: Third time's a charm on veteran starters

Is Marcum the answer in the Indians' search for another workhorse?

Swinging for the Fences: Third time's a charm on veteran starters
February 4, 2014
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After what may have been the most disappointing Superbowl I've ever watched, I'm ready for baseball season.

Alright, maybe I'm just disappointed because I picked the Broncos and Peyton Manning to easily knock off Seattle. But then again, I was someone who picked the Angels to beat the Reds in the World Series last year.

Nevertheless, congrats to the Seahawks on a dominant performance and if the Rangers were hoping  Russell Wilson would be the next big two-sport superstar, I don't think he's leaving Seattle anytime soon

So let's go ahead and shift to baseball mode and preview spring training, which by the way is only a week away from getting underway for the Indians as pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Goodyear next Tuesday.

One of those pitchers who was brought here on a minor league deal with a spring training invite will be 32-year-old veteran right-hander Shaun Marcum.

First off, I love that Marcum was brought in on a minor league deal. I was hoping the Tribe would pick him up last offseason, but of course in hindsight with his struggles and injury issues with the Mets, I can't say I'm disappointed that they waited on him.

Maybe it's just my conservative nature, but I wouldn't give an all-guaranteed contract to any veteran player. I, like many others, wasn't to thrilled with the Indians' decision to give Brett Myers a guaranteed $7 million to be a starter last season or when they gave Grady Sizemore a guaranteed contract a couple years back. But then you get into what constitutes a veteran player that is not worth making a major committment to, which is a whole other discussion.

Over the last few seasons, the Indians have been searching for an arm with some milage on it to insert either in the middle or at the back end of the rotation to take some of the pressure off the younger starters and the big boys up front.

Back in the 2011-12 offseason when the Indians were looking to build off their 80-82 run in 2012, the Tribe traded for veteran sinkerballer Derek Lowe of the Braves. And for the first two months of the season, it seemed like the Indians may have had something as he went 7-3 with a 3.06 ERA, including a complete-game shutout against the Twins in May.

After June 1st, however, Lowe not only celebrated his 39th birthday, but also took a sharp dive in effectiveness as he only had a a 2-8 record with an 8.77 ERA before being released by the Indians in late July.

Perhaps it was bound to happen considering that his batting average against was .297 during his 11-start hot streak to start the year, which then spiked to .350 during his last 10 starts with the Tribe.

And for the more sabermetric-minded folks, his FIP back during his hot start was 4.07, or right around average, and his overall FIP with the Tribe a much less impressive 4.49, according to Fangraphs. (Yes, I'm studying more about baseball analytics.)

And while Lowe may have had a groundball rate of 60% with the Tribe, his defense could only do so much for him for so long, especially when he averaged only 3.1 strikeouts and nearly 12 hits per nine innings during his tenure in C-Town. 

Moving onto 2013, the Indians took another stab at bringing in a journeyman starter to anchor the rotation. On the tail end of an exciting and busy offseason for the Tribe, Chris Antonetti & Co. agreed to a 1-year/$7 million deal with Brett Myers, who finished in the top ten in the Cy Young voting in 2010.

Myers had the appeal of being an innings-eater as well as being 7 years younger than Derek Lowe, but since the Astros and White Sox both had him pitching out of the bullpen in 2012, there was question as to whether he would be able to transition back to the role of a starter with minimal difficulty.

Now what happened when he took the mound for the Tribe is anyone's guess. Whether he showed up at camp with an ailment or it gradually developed throughout spring training and into the regular season, there's no doubt that something wasn't right.

Obviously four games isn't much to go on, but a decrease of around 3 mph on all of Myers's pitches and increases of 11% in fly ball rate and three in home runs per nine innings over his career averages are just a few of the ways to lay out Myers' brief but horrific stint in Cleveland on a stat sheet.

So what do these guys have to do with Shaun Marcum? Lowe and (believe it or not) Myers were both more groundball-oriented while Marcum gets more pitches lofted into the air. Marcum also has the best strikeout rate of the group at 7.29 per nine innings. 

The question shouldn't be what does he have in common with them, but rather does he have a better outlook and is he more likely to live up to it?

I say quite possibly.

I'm still a scouting-first guy when it comes to baseball, but I've never had any objection to analytics. It's nice to put a number next to what you see (and sometimes even what you don't see). Hence, why I'm learning more about the calculations and formulas behind the various new-age statistical acronyms that are becoming more and more commonplace in the world of baseball analysis.

In doing so, I stumbled upon one interesting tidbit of information regarding Marcum. Despite his ugly 1-10 record and 5.29 ERA with the Mets last season, his FIP was actually as low as 3.64. Now I may still be relatively new in the world of sabermetrics, but I know enough to say that's pretty darn good despite the previous stats. 

Nothing is for certain in this, but comparitively speaking, there may be more reason to be optimistic about Marcum than, say, Derek Lowe because he may have experienced health issues and bad luck last season whereas when Lowe was pitching well at the start of 2012, he may have been overachieving and thriving on good luck.

The one major concern with Marcum is his health, though. The Indians do fully expect him to be healthy by spring training and the right-hander himself has claimed that he feels better than he has in years.

Still, that's not to say he shouldn't be cautious when making his way back to the mound after recovering from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS).

After reading up on the symptoms of TOS, I realized it could end up being tricky for a pitcher to regain his command and effectiveness. One of the ways TOS can manifest itself is in the decrease of circulation and dexterity in the hands and fingers. Of course, surgery can alleviate most of those problems, but if the nerves haven't fully or properly regenerated, then we could have some problems.

And with Marcum being a guy who throws a good mixture of pitches, including several breaking pitches (cutter, slider, curveball and changeup), a slight difference in grip on any of them could make a huge difference.

If he does have full strength back in his pitching hand, though, he suddenly becomes a very intriguing option for the starting rotation. He doesn't give up too many hits or baserunners (1.23 career WHIP), he can give you a chance to win every five days and most importantly, he can give you innings.

Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir left over 340 innings behind that have yet to be claimed for this season. The hope is the young, electric arm of Danny Salazar can account for a good portion of them, but someone will still have to take on the lion's share of the workload.

Maybe Marcum is that guy.

I know the team continues to campaign for Carlos Carrasco, but I still say he ends up in the bullpen to continue to build up his confidence again.

As far as the veteran starters the Tribe has brought in the last few years, though, I think, if healthy, Shaun Marcum may be the pick of the litter.

Quick Thoughts

Nick Hagadone wins grievance against Indians... Back in 2012, the Indians placed left-hander Nick Hagadone on the minor league restricted list after he suffered a self-inflicted hand injury after an appearance against the Rays. In a joint effort with the MLB Players Association, Hagadone filed a grievance against the Tribe in order to earn compensation for the time he spent on the disqualified list.

According to Indians beat writer for MLB.com Jordan Bastian, Hagadone has reportedly won his grievance and will recieve compensation for that period and will have his length of big league service time adjusted accordingly.

Even though the decision is supposed to be in favor of Hagadone, this could actually benefit both the pitcher and the team as the Indians will also have the option they used on him back in 2012 to send him down to the minors and put him on the disqualified list will be nullified and be able to be exercised again. So Hagadone can be sent back to AAA if he doesn't make the bullpen out of spring training, which with the more-experienced Josh Outman and Marc Rzepzcynski in the fold was a bit of a long shot to begin with.

Tom Verducci's 'State of the Game'... With the State of the Union last week, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated penned a compelling piece on the current state of Major League Baseball and even made suggestions of ways to improve the game. If you want to read the article, here's the link, but I just want to give my thoughts on a few of his ideas that I found most interesting: Baseball's State of the Union: Some ways to improve the game - MLB - Tom Verducci - SI.com

  • A pitch clock: The idea may sound radical to baseball purists, but all it would really do is better enforce an already-existing rule in baseball about a pitcher having only 12 seconds to make a pitch with the bases empty. Right now, pitchers take an average of 19 seconds to pitch with the bases empty and 27 seconds with runners on. Penalties for late pitches would result in an automatic ball or an automatic strike if the batter isn't in the box in time. In my opinion, it doesn't drastically affect the integrity of the game since as a whole, it still wouldn't be governed by a clock. It would just help increase the pace of the game pitch by pitch.
  • Reduce LCS back to best-of-five: From 1969 to 1984, this was how the playoff format worked with the World Series being the only best-of-seven series, so it's not really a new innovation. The reason why I would be for it is if they also agreed to lengthen the Wild Card Game to a best-of-three series. That would leave the same amount of playoff games as there are right now, but would give all teams that earn a playoff berth a chance at a full series. I liked having the extra wild card team when it was introduced, but was never a big fan of the sudden death playoff game.
  • Neutral site to start World Series: Okay, this sounds like a good idea in theory. Have a predetermined site for either game one or games one and two of the World Series and have Superbowl-like festivities in the city leading up to the start of the Fall Classic. Obviously with the success of the NFL and their marketing of the Superbowl, I'm sure Major League Baseball would love to have a similar opportunity. The problem is with the championship in baseball being a series played in the host cities of each team, things are a little more complicated, especially with home field advantage on the line. Hosting game one at a neutral site negates home field advantage and doing it with games one and two runs the risk of depriving the lower-seed club of any home games.
  • A bracket-style home run derby: I love this idea because I love watching the home run derby each year. But I agree with Verducci that the current format of low-score-elimination rounds can get too long and boring. With 'bracketology' now a popular sports-related activity for fans, particularly with March Madness, having similar head-to-head matchups between some of the game's premier sluggers would make the derby more appealing and interactive for fans. Perhaps even offer prizes for correctly filled out brackets.

Michael Young announces retirement... Boy, we're losing a lot of key figures in the game this offseason to retirement. Of course, Mariano Rivera being the biggest loss, but also Andy PettitteTodd HeltonVladimir GuerreroRoy HalladayLance Berkman and now Michael Young have decided to hang it up. What's interesting in Young's case, however, is that he did have legitimate offers on the table to play again in 2014, but instead chose to return home to his family. Hard not to respect a guy like that.

In Young's 14-year career, he became known as one of the more versatile starting players in the game playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at almost every infield position. Hall-of-famer? Borderline, in my opinion, but not playing consistently at any one position may not help his case. He'll still be remembered and missed in the game, regardless.

In conclusion...

Between Tribe Fest, internship interviews and preparing my trip to Goodyear in March, I almost forgot about my one-year anniversary here at Indians Baseball Insider. I'd just like to say thank you to Tony Lastoria, Jim Pete and all the other writers and contributors who have helped my along the way thus far. I know I still have a lot to learn in this business, but you guys have made the journey so far infomative and enjoyable. I hope readers realize what hard work these folks put into this site.

Speaking of which, thanks to the readers who have supported me and everyone else on this site. You guys are the reason why this site is as popular as it is today. I know I'm spewing clichés right now, but I truly do appreciate the opportunity I've been given here and can't wait for what lies ahead.

Follow me on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake for all the latest Cleveland Indians news and baseball chat.

User Comments

yourtribe
February 4, 2014 - 9:28 PM EST
Agree on trying to speed up pitchers by calling a ball if they take too long. Likewise, I'm tired of batters touring around the box and fixing their gloves etc after each pitch. Call a strike on them.
Jake D.
February 4, 2014 - 6:43 PM EST
Rich, I completely understand where you're coming from and I can tell you watch out for Danny Salazar. Durability is still a concern for him, but speaking in terms of pitchers dominating lineups, I'm pretty confident he can do just that. Yes, he scuffled a bit in the Wild Card game, but he's a guy who will learn and make adjustments. He's the pitcher I'm most excited to watch as a full-time starter next season.

Also, don't sleep on Corey Kluber becoming a dominant #3 in the rotation. Remember he was pretty much lights-out in the starts leading up to his injury giving the Tribe 6-8 innings per game. If there are no lingering finger issues, I wouldn't be surprised to see him pick up where he left off.

Of course, I would feel better if we brought back Ubaldo, but I like the potential of Masterson, Salazar and Kluber as a 1-2-3 if you're looking for dominance.

That's why the innings are a primary concern for me because outside of Masterson, I'm not sure if I'm as confident in the rest of the rotation accounting for the innings left behind by Jimenez and Kazmir.
Rich
February 4, 2014 - 6:14 PM EST
If Marcum's surgery was fully successful he could indeed be the pick of the litter. From 2010-2012 he was 33-19 with ERA's between 3.54 and 3.70 - the model of consistency.

That being said, my belief is that the Indians don't need an "innings eater". They need what every team needs - three dominant starters that can shut down an elite offense like that of Detroit and Boston in a seven-game series and give your team a chance to win.
Hermie13
February 4, 2014 - 5:20 PM EST
I like his bracket-style HR derby idea....

I actually think something similar should be put into place for the game itself. Get rid of the stupid homefield advantage to the winner thing and go back to how it used to be....play 9 innings, if tied after 10 the game is over. But instead of that being the end and a tie being declared, have a HR "shootout" to determine the winner.

Each team (NL and AL) picks 3 players from the roster, don't have to be from the final lineup either (can be guys pulled early). 1st set of guys face off....each gets 3 swings, team with the most HRs gets a point...tie they both do. Move on to the next set...same thing, then the 3rd....if tied after the 3rd you go sudden death with the last guy from each team.

Allows managers to manage the game as the exhibition game that is really is. Fans can see all the players on the team play instead of certain guys getting held back in case of a tie. And in the event of a "tie" fans get treated to a fun little game after the game. Seems like a win-win to me....o, and did I mention no more Home Field decided by the All-Star game? lol
Jake D.
February 4, 2014 - 4:09 PM EST
Right Hermie13, that's why I said it sounded good in theory because it would be a good marketing opportunity for MLB, but when you start thinking about all the details, you realize it becomes more complex than the simple Superbowl weekend. And good point about a possibly diminished fan turnout at the neutral site because the series would eventually return to the team's home cities.

And regarding extending the WS to 9 games, he also brought up that possibility when discussing the neutral site game(s) for the series. Doing that would keep home field advantage in play.

Tom Verducci really made me think with that article. Lots of interesting ideas.
Tony
February 4, 2014 - 4:04 PM EST
Glad to have you aboard Jake!

Anyway, I am not a fan of a neutral World Series site. Just doesn't work for me to have a neutral site for a series. For one game? Yeah, it works in the NFL and college football. And it works in college basketball because you only play a team once. But it just wouldn't work in MLB or the NBA or NHL where teams have 5 or 7 game series'. Plus, teams RAKE in HUGE money for those playoff games....especially a championship series.
GSon
February 4, 2014 - 3:52 PM EST
Jake.. just remember when you're writing the column that

-you write them with your best word processor.. and the good lord willing things will work out...

-you have to write them one day at a time..

-you're just happy to write them..

You have to do what best for the site...

One whole year.. hmm.. seems like it was just yesterday...
Hermie13
February 4, 2014 - 3:45 PM EST
I don't know about the neutral site for the World Series. Part of me would be on board with it if it was just the first game. Gives each team potentially 3 games at their home park. I'm fine with that actually as each league plays by different rules so saying one team is definitely better than the other is really impossible to say for certain heading into the series. And using the All-Star game as the decider is just ridiculous.


I just don't think the desired effect will happen. With the Super Bowl you have fans of both teams that are more than willing to travel and see it....I highly doubt you'll get the same demand with the World Series when the fans of each team knows they will get a chance to see games in their home city. Why waste money to travel? Sure some will put out the money for it, but I highly doubt the demand will be like what we see in the Super Bowl.

Plus unless you pick a city that has a retractable roof...you're just adding a 3rd city and increasing your risk of a rain out. And what cities are on this list of choices to host the neutral site? Are cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, KC, Cincy or other small markets? Or are we gonna see LA, NY, Boston, and your big markets monopolizing that game?

And adding another travel day can be a pain if the neutral site is no where near the two teams playing. If Boston and Philly are in the playoffs, but LA is hosting the 1st game, kind of an annoying detour for both teams.

At the end, I just say leave the World Series alone. It's not the Super Bowl, but it's better the the NBA or NHL finals....be happy with that.


I'm not a fan of reducing the LCS series to 5 games. IF anything, I'd like to see the World Series extended to 9 games like in 1919 and 1920. I do hate the 1-game Wild Card playoff (though I hate the Wild Card in general), but there are ways to fix that situation without taking away other games from fans.

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