Is Carlos Marmol’s Role Secure?


When the Chicago Cubs take the field for their first Spring Training Practice next Saturday in Mesa, Arizona the participants will consist of mainly pitchers and catchers. After all, Saturday is when pitchers and catchers are due to report to Spring Training. For the most part, there will be a drastic turnover from the Cubs’ 2011 pitching staff to their 2012 pitching staff. With starting pitchers Paul Maholm, Travis Wood, and Chris Volstad being among the new additions to the staff.

One position that has remained from the 2011 season is the team’s closer position. Despite rumors that suggested the Cubs may trade Carlos Marmol this winter, Marmol is still in place as the team’s closer. But the question is for how long?

While there were a handful of reasons why the Cubs’ were dismal in 2011, perhaps the biggest factor that contributed to the Cubs’ inept season in 2011 was Marmol’s inability to close out games. In 2011, Marmol had 34 saves to go along with an ERA of 4.01. The problem is that Marmol had 44 save opportunities, and his ten blown saves was tied with Los Angeles Angels closer Jordan Walden for most by any Major League closer last season. On top of that, Marmol’s velocity on his fastball was down by nearly 3 MPH.

There has always been a concern that Marmol’s delivery would be a pre-cursor to an injury. But up to this point, Marmol has been able to allude any significant injury. Some have questioned if Marmol’s delivery puts has an impact on the effectiveness of his slider and fastball. Whatever the case is, there is no question that Marmol needs to be better in 2012. After all, general manager Jed Hoyer told “The Carmen, Jurko, and Harry Show” of ESPN 1000 that Marmol’s 2011 season was unacceptable.

"“I don’t think what happened last year is acceptable,” Hoyer said Thursday on “The Carmen, Jurko & Harry Show” on ESPN 1000. “I think there’s nothing more demoralizing to a baseball team than to win for 2:45 and then lose in the last 10. I think that happened a lot last year.“If you look back, this guy has had some dominant years. … Everyone said the slider wasn’t quite the same last. Hopefully there are some mechanical things we can do to get that back. Blowing 10 saves isn’t acceptable, but we’re not wiling to say he can’t get back to where he was before.” ESPN Chicago"

If you ask me, there is only one cure to Marmol and his ineffectiveness. The cure has nothing to do with Marmol’s delivery or mechanics. The problem is that Marmol’s best role is not as a closer. Rather, Marmol’s value will be at it’s highest point if or when he is used as a set-up man. To prove my point, we will take a look at Marmol’s 2008 season–when he was used primarily as a set-up man–and compare it his first season as the full-time closer in 2010.

In 2008, Marmol made 82 appearances while posting an ERA of 2.68 with a strikeout ratio of 11.75 and a BB ratio of 4.23. In addition, in 2008 Marmol had a BABIP of .169. In 2010, Marmol made 77 appearance saving 38 games while posting an ERA of 2.55 to go along with a strikeout ratio of 15.99 and a BB ratio of 6.03. So there does appear to be some pros and cons to Marmol being a set-up man as well as Marmol being a closer. It is worth mentioning that Marmol’s WAR in 2010 of 3.0 was higher than the 1.3 WAR he had in 2008. Marmol’s FIP(2.01) and xFIP(2.83) was also improved as opposed to 2008.

Despite all the new implementation of sabermetrics, Marmol’s struggles between being a closer and being set-up man comes down to his ability to throw strikes. Marmol’s BB/9 ratio of 4.23 in 2008 is the lower than the ratios that posted in the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons. It should be noted that Marmol began the 2009 season as the team’s set-up man to Kevin Gregg, but as Gregg faltered, Marmol began to get more and more save opportunities. Marmol finished the 2009 season with 19 save opportunities. Nonetheless, it is no question that Marmol’s biggest issue is his ability to throw strikes. For that reason, one could suggest that if the Cubs’ front office wants to trade Marmol at some point this season, his value as a set-up man may be higher than his value as a closer. Although barring Marmol falling completely off the map in 2012, the Cubs stand to gain from a potential trade, as many teams over-value closers as the season approaches the trade deadline.