Cliche masculinity references aside, the more I look at Madson and Marshall, the more excited I am about the Reds bullpen. Because they are both very, very good. I know relief pitchers can be overvalued – and yes, from a strict cash/prospect perspective we probably are overpaying. But it also turned an important are of the team from below average to excellent.
Let’s start with Madson. We finally are looking at a pretty reliable contract figure of 1 year/$8.5 million, which is expensive, but not horrible. Last year, Madson threw about 60 innings, had an ERA of 2.37, 9.2 K/9 innings , 2.37 BB/9 innings, and only 0.3 HR/9 innings. If you weren’t sure: that’s good. (fangraphs link) Madson, like so many relief pitchers, began life as a starter, but improved every year from 2007, which he spent in the bullpen fulltime, to 2010, maintaining that level in 2011. One of the craziest things about Madson last year, especially as a closer, is that he allowed only 8 extra base hits. That’s 4 doubles and 2 home runs. In 60 innings. Yeah. He’s not an extremely groundball pitcher, but most of the hits he allows are only singles. In a closer, that’s a very good trait. You can imagine how many of our relievers allowed fewer than 8 extra base hits last year. I mean, the ones who pitched more than 10 innings. (Even then, it’s a close call).
How does he do it? Mostly, through a magical, magical changeup. This comes in on average at 10 mph slower than Madson’s mid-90s fastball, and last season, induced a 33% swing and miss rate in batters. (here’s the pitchfx data for last season) Essentially, 1 in every 3 pitches Madson throws is a changeup. 1 in every 3 changeups is a whiff. That’s pretty good. The MLB average FOR CHANGEUPS was around 12% swing-and-miss last year. From the data, Madson’s general approach is pretty easy to detect. If you’re an opposing batter, you’re more likely than not to see a fastball for your first pitch (65% in 2011). If you get behind in the count, he’s more likely to throw you a changeup. If you get ahead in the count, more likely a fastball. Simple, but deadly.
The worst thing you could say about Madson is that he has missed some time with injury, but neither were the repetitive motion injuries you worry about being chronic. In 2010, he missed a surprisingly large amount of time due to “bruised right hand” when a taking hit ball to the hand ended up worse than expected. Aaaand, in 2o11, he blew a save, threw a tantrum, kicked a chair, broke a toe, and earned another DL trip. Ok, I always think it’s hilarious when athletes injure themselves in dumb ways, but it’s really not against the code of conduct for a closer these days.
So basically, all the reasons why Madson is the best ever (may be slight hyperbole) are great, and all the reasons why he might not be the best ever are terrible. Awesome.
I’ll take a look at Sean Marshall after the jump
Marshall is a Red of a different color. (wait…). He doesn’t throw quite as fast as Madson, but by golly, he gets results. Although he’s a lefty, the Cubs never really used him as a LOOGY, because obviously, he’s much too good for that. So, while he isn’t as good versus righties, he’s used to facing a lot of them, and he’s still mighty good against them. The Cubs still used him as a starter through 2009, but as soon as he hit the pen fulltime in 2010, he was lights out. He’ll only be 29 in 2012 – 2011 was his best season yet. In 75 innings, he put up the line of a 2.26 ERA, 9.40 K/9 IP, 2.02 BB/9 IP, and just 0.12 HR/9 – he allowed one home run all season. (And he was pitching in Wrigley, so it’s not just park effect). In 2011, he also put up a pretty good ground ball rate (57%), which would serve him well in GABP.
It’s a little difficult to determine what Marshall’s pitch repertoire is, due to a little confusion in the data. Fangraphs’ pitch types data shows that Marshall is throwing about 20% cutters, which pitch/fx is almost entirely assigning to the slider category (~15%) or the four-seam fastball category (5%). Given that fangraphs finds that the cutter is perhaps Marshall’s most valuable pitch, this is a little problematic. In this video, Marshall himself doesn’t really seem to differentiate between the slider and cutter. So, probably we can just estimate that he throws a curve about 40% of the time, a slider/cutter around 35% of the time, and a fastball about 25% of the time.
Between these two, we’ve now got a lot less pressure on last year’s remaining bullpen members. Nick Masset as supplementary set up man, Sam LeCure as long relief, and Bill Bray as a LOOGY, etc. works much better with two excellent, reliable relievers heading up the pen. For a “win now” scenario, I couldn’t ask for better.