The worst kept secret in baseball is that teams need an abundance of starting pitching. Like crack, you can never have enough.
Also, pitching, like crack, can be an expensive endeavor – particularly when you need a lot of it. And this is exactly the position the Twins are in so said the team’s general manager, Terry Ryan, during his offseason apology tour.
In a recent interview with Twins Daily’s John Bonnes
, Ryan admitted that his financial resources may keep the team from chasing the Zack Greinke’s of the world
(shocker), but the team will be scouring the market for top of the rotation help.
(The interview’s entirety can be found the Offseason Handbook in which Ryan expands on this topic and many more.)
If the team is looking to maximize the return on a smaller investment, one such arm Ryan should be zeroing in on in the free agent market is the 30-year-old Shaun Marcum.
If you were looking just at the radar gun, you would likely be nonplussed at Marcum’s fastball. Indeed, his 87.2-mph fastball over his career would incite plenty to label him yet another soft-tossing pitcher. After all, he shares the same career fastball velocity as one flame-thrower Bruce Chen.
Recognizing his weakness Marcum uses his fastball extremely sparingly. Dating back to 2007, outside of the knuckleballers, only Roy Halladay (33.8%) has used his fastball less frequently than Marcum (38.2%). Once he gets ahead in the count – which we has more often than not – hitters have a better odds of seeing Halley’s Comet than his fastball.
And it is his plethora of off-speed and breaking pitches that makes him so impossible to make contact against. Again, since 2007, Marcum has registered the sixth-highest swinging strike rate in baseball behind such luminaries as Cole Hamels, Johan Santana, CC Sabathia, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Dempster and Max Scherzer. That’s right: He missed more bats than Justin Verlander. Now, this has not translated into a ton of strikeouts but it shows that he is consistently confounding opponents.
What makes Marcum so effective in spite of the town ball-level velocity is his ability to keep the fastball away off the plate while mixing in a variety of pitches and speeds that make hitters’ heads’ spin. Take a look at this year’s heat map of his pitch location:
To both sides, he served every down and away. The reason this is noteworthy is because this area is perhaps the most difficult for a hitter to square up and certainly one of the hardest areas to pull consistently. Furthermore, Marcum’s ability to change speeds to the mid-70s to 80 back to the upper 80s on almost any pitch keeps opponents from cheating on the outer-half. As we have seen at Target Field, it can reward hitters who can yank pitches into the right and left field stands thus having someone who keeps the ball away from those looking to do heavy damage is in the Twins’ best interest.
In short, his ability to miss bats and keep hitters from pulling the ball with lethal intent would play very favorably as a potentially number two starter in Minnesota. So, what are the odds the Twins could end up with him?
The Royals, Cubs and Blue Jays all may be landing places for Marcum. In fact, in an interview with a Toronto radio station
, Marcum expressed interest in returning to the Blue Jays where he had been a member of the organization from when he was drafted in 2003 until being traded to the Brewers after the 2010 season. Marcum said that he would welcome a homecoming to his original team in part because of the coaching and training staff which he had a strong relationship.
Presumably, Marcum’s past injury history (Tommy John in 2008) and recent flare up in Milwaukee this year (right elbow tenderness with required a trip to the 60-day DL) will likely drop his stock among all suitors. Even the Brewers, who have seen him up close and are just a year removed from a 200-inning season, have maintained radio silence with him and his agent
. This probably does not bode well for his immediate financial future. As a result, his price range is likely going to fall towards more of a one-year plus incentives in order to rebuild his value while still in his early 30s (he’ll be 31 in December), at which point he can explore a longer, more lucrative deal on the market.
The Twins have plenty of holes to fill and, sad to admit, a finite budget, therefore a one-year deal for a pitcher of Shaun Marcum’s caliber would be in Terry Ryan’s best interest.