Carlos Marmol & The Dodgers: Can they fix him? Is it worth finding out?

CarlosMarmol

The rumors swirling around in recent days have Cubs right-handed reliever Carlos Marmol being dealt to the Dodgers for basically nothing.

The once closer of the future for the Cubs is now 30 and struggling, but Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago and Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times both say that a deal is in the works, seemingly in the advanced stages.

The deal would essentially be to dump Marmol, as Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com points out.

If LA gets Carlos Marmol, the Cubs would pay most, if not all, of $5M salary owed and might get back player recently removed from LA roster.

If Marmol approves the deal — and he’ll need to since he has a no-trade clause to the Dodgers — it would probably be Marmol and cash for either Matt Guerrier or Luis Cruz. One team’s trash for another’s, basically.

There doesn’t appear to be much downside to this, as he’ll make the league minimum, but opportunity cost and a roster spot can be valuable, as Brandon League, Guerrier, Cruz, and friends have been busy proving in 2013.

So … is this adventure worth it? Well, it depends on whether one thinks Marmol is fixable or not.

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Carlos Marmol has always been a volatile reliever. As recently as 2010, he posted a 2.55 ERA and a 2.01 FIP, but his career numbers include a 3.55 ERA and 3.89 FIP over 542.1 IP. That includes his disastrous 2013, in which he has a 5.86 ERA and a 6.16 FIP, both of which are well below replacement level. It absolutely indicates a pitcher that isn’t worthy of rostering.

When Marmol is right, he’s generally in the 93-96 MPH range, but in 2013 he’s down in the 91-94 area. That would be cause for concern, but over his last three appearances, he’s been in the 93-96 range again, averaging 94.8 MPH, which suggests that it’s not his arm strength or arm health that’s the problem.

But I don’t think his velocity was ever truly a concern, as it’s been his command that was always problematic. Even at his best, he would walk batters at around his career rate of 15.5%, or almost twice as much as league average. To counteract that, he’s struckout batters at an amazing rate (29.8%) and controlled homers (0.75 HR/9), but all of these factors have trended in the wrong direction over the last few seasons for Marmol, culminating in this disastrous 2013 that would make Murphy’s Law proud.

But still, why?

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Simply put, his release points are all over the place.

Here are the ever-changing, month-by-month horizontal and vertical release points for Marmol from 2010 to now.

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Even excluding outliers, Marmol has a variation of 9-10 inches on his horizontal release points and 14-15 inches on his vertical release points.

In pitching mechanics, inches matter. Heck, wrist positioning, grip, and feel for the ball off your fingers matter, so variation of literal feet is ridiculous.

To put that in perspective, take a look at Mariano Rivera and the release point of his cutter.

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Note: Before you say they look the same, note the scale on the left.

Over the same time span, the release point of Rivera’s cutter has varied month-by-month two to three inches at most.

Needless to say, Marmol’s command issues likely stem from his lack of ability to ever find a consistent release point. Generally that’s a mechanical issue, and one wonders if the Dodgers are taking a flier on Marmol because they think they can fix him, either in mop-up duty in the majors or if he’s willing to accept a minor-league assignment.

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But what could they fix, right? Well, everything.

Marmol’s mechanics are not something I would wish on any kid. While there’s something to be said for the deception in his motion, it’s been more inefficient and hurtful to his career than otherwise.

That said, I doubt the team is going to completely retool his mechanics, but they can make minor changes that would hopefully help him develop at least the consistency he found in 2010.

The following are caps from 2010 and 2013, intended to compare what has changed:

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Right off the bat, we can see that his leg kick used to be shorter before, which ends up being important.

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As he breaks with his glove in 2013, you can see he’s on his backside and tilting upward. Whereas in 2010 his short initial leg kick seems to allow his momentum to continue forward, in 2013 his raised leg kick is the catalyst for him to use this awkward loading mechanism where he stops forward momentum to lean towards second base.

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Given that he’s on his heels in 2013 instead of driving forward like in 2010, it should be unsurprising that his posture has taken a significant step backward.

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At release, you can identify why his release point has slowly elevated over the years. His left shoulder is now diving away from the plate, and the increased tilt has the opposite effect on his throwing arm, which has flattened out.

Most importantly, when you watch the video, he seems more in control of his violent mechanics in 2010. His command will likely never be even close to average, but there was intent in 2010 to locate and go after the hitter. In 2013, every pitch seems like an adventure in searching for a way to throw a strike.

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Oddly enough, the 2010 follow-through is the more violent one, but that’s actually better for him. Yes, it’s unbalanced and he falls off to the left severely, but that’s a product of his mechanics and his intent to throw hard. In 2013, he’ll frequently fight his own momentum and hold his finish like he’s balancing on the mound more than powering through.

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So those are potential fixes that perhaps the Dodgers and the coaching staff identified as fixable issues with Marmol, because I can’t see any other reason the team would take a flier on him. His issues are multiple and they are likely deeply ingrained, so I’m not sure how much confidence fans should have, if any, that he can right the ship with the Dodgers.

That said, unless Don Mattingly throws him out there in high leverage situations, it’s hard to imagine regretting the loss of Guerrier or Cruz, and a fixed Marmol would fit perfectly with the new Dodger bullpen attitude of “we don’t know exactly where it’s going, but we’re gonna generate swings and misses”. It’s a refreshing take for a pen that’s been saddled with pitch-to-contact veterans.

Is this a good idea? Who knows?

Honestly, I’ve written all this and I still don’t know whether this is a good or bad idea, but I found the team’s interest in him alone worth investigating. If nothing else, it should make for an increasingly exciting pen, but I’ll gladly take boring and excellent if they want.

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