Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 4/23/12

Doug Melvin and the Milwaukee Brewers orchestrated one of the more controversial trades last winter, sending stud prospect Brett Lawrie to Toronto in return for right-hander Shaun Marcum.

Lots of people spent the off-season lamenting the move, especially since Lawrie exploded onto the big league scene last season with a .293/.373/.580 line in his first 43 games and Marcum imploded during the postseason with an unsightly 14.90 ERA in three playoff starts. That regret has seeped into the regular season. Lawrie has avoided a sophomore slump thus far — despite a significant decrease in power production — and is hitting .281/.311/.386. Brewers fans are left to wonder what could have been, as they watch their $36 million man, Aramis Ramirez, struggle at the plate with a .151/.220/.245 line to begin the season.

While Lawrie would certainly look good in a Brewers uniform for the next six seasons, Marcum’s overall production has largely been overlooked. Despite his postseason struggles, he compiled a 3.54 ERA for the Brew Crew in 2011 and held the starting rotation together last April when Yovani Gallardo struggled and Zack Greinke was on the disabled list. Not only that, but the Brewers wouldn’t have been able to nab Greinke last December without Marcum’s transaction preceding it. Greinke turned down a deal to Washington that would have included a $100 million contract extension because he wanted to play for a winner. Marcum’s acquisition symbolized the chance to win in Milwaukee — or at least a strong desire to win now from the organization — which is why Greinke approved a move to Milwaukee.

Fast forward to this season, and we find Marcum cruising along with a 3.79 ERA. Although that level of production is no longer above average in this new, decreased run environment, the 30-year-old has shown signs that he will continue to churn out quality starts this year and anchor the middle of the Brewers’ starting rotation.

For example, the right-hander owns a 15.4% swinging strike rate thus far in 2012. The league average for starting pitchers is only 8.4%. In fact, Marcum has compiled the best swinging-strike rate among starting pitchers this season:

Pitcher SwStr% Shaun Marcum 15.4 Edwin Jackson 14.3 Daniel Bard 14.0 Cole Hamels 13.8 Gavin Floyd 13.7 Anthony Bass 13.4 Philip Humber 13.3

He has also enticed myriad swings outside the strike zone, as he has gotten opposing hitters to swing at 38.8% of his pitches that are outside the zone. Again, that vastly outperforms the league average from starting pitchers, which is only 28.9% through the first two-and-a-half weeks in 2012.

Those impressive numbers come on the strength of his offspeed pitches.

The changeup has always been Marcum’s best pitch. It handcuffs left-handed hitters and keeps them from sitting on his fringe-average fastball. Opposing lefties don’t have to guess at how Marcum will use his changeup. He has been relatively consistent with the low-and-away treatment to lefties. As illustrated in the following graphic, we can clearly see that Marcum has not deviated from that plan: His changeups to lefties are almost always low-and-away.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the above heat map is the fact that Marcum has not missed middle-in to a lefty with a changeup all season. That location has helped Marcum generate a bunch of swings-and-misses with his changeup. Harry Pavlidis, of The Hardball Times, put together some research on whiff rates on various pitches. Using that data, we can determine that the league-average swinging strike rate for changeups is 15.1%. Through three games in 2012, Marcum has 14 whiffs on 63 changeups, which calculates to an impressive 22% swinging strike rate. That’s a legitimate plus-pitch.

Marcum has also featured a slider much more frequently this season than in previous years. Last season, the right-hander only threw 10.9% sliders. That number has jumped to 22.2% in 2012. It is not difficult to see why Marcum has begun throwing his slider so often, either, as it has been extremely difficult for batters — particularly right-handers — to handle.

Once again, we find that Marcum has been remarkably consistent with the location of his sliders against right-handed batters. He has missed a couple of times this year, but he has largely been planting his sliders low-and-away with regularity. That has been a large reason why righties are hitting only .205 this season against him.

It should also be noted that Marcum’s slider is very similar to his cutter. He plays with the velocity a bit — and can get a bit more downward movement on his slider — but the two can be interchangeable pitches at times. Again employing the data that Pavlidis compiled, we can determine that opposing batters swing and miss at sliders and cutters 13.6% of the time. Marcum has generated 24 swings-and-misses this season on 125 sliders and cutters. That equates to an impressive 19.2% swinging-strike rate. Again, that’s well above average.

The Achilles’ heel for Marcum has been the home-run ball. He is a flyball pitcher and he has already given up three home runs this year. That will ultimately limit his chances of becoming an elite pitcher in the major leagues, though his 4.25 K/BB ratio and well-above-average offspeed pitches will allow him to remain effective on the mound. The Brewers need him to produce, too, because left-hander Chris Narveson just landed on the 15-day disabled list with a torn rotator cuff and could be lost for the season.

Shaun Marcum averages only 87 mph with his fastball, yet he has a career 7.25 K/9. He does so on the strength of an advanced feel for pitching and his quality offspeed pitches. In previous seasons, he relied on a plus-changeup to do most of the heavy lifting. This season, though, he has employed a devastating slider-cutter mix that has helped him compile the league’s best swinging-strike rate for a starting pitcher.

It’s difficult to assume that Marcum will continue to whiff opposing batters at this rate throughout the remainder of the season. After all, the highest SwStr% from a starting pitcher in 2011 (min. 100 IP) was only 11.8%. If he can continue to locate his offspeed stuff, however, he still should still find success through a combination of swings-and-misses and weak contact. The real question lies in whether or not Shaun Marcum can limit his home runs. If the home runs become rare and the offspeed offerings continue to be placed on (or just off) the corners, Brewers fans may not ultimately feel so sour about losing Brett Lawrie to Toronto.

Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Drug dealers adding Olympic rings to cocaine wrappers in Rio

Report: Cowboys have ‘no interest’ in Freeney, Hardy

Report: Bradham was defending girlfriend during alleged assault

Elliott domestic violence case being taken to city prosecutor

Belichick: Brady is not going to lose his starting job


Report: Brown 'confident' Steelers will rework his contract

Report: J.T. Barrett lost full scholarship over summer for DWI

Police escort helped Joey Gallo get to ballpark on time

Agent: Bryant ‘heartbroken that he’s not allowed to play’

Report: Trent Baalke could lose job if 49ers don’t show progress

Lawsuit: Baylor players gang raped student, school knew

Rams sent emails hawking hats to old ticket holders in St. Louis

Reds 'picking up the pace' on Jay Bruce trade talks

Miami Marlins unveil logo for 2017 MLB All-Star Game

Enes Kanter blasts writer over Russell Westbrook bashing

WATCH: Rick Sutcliffe cuts up tie during Cubs-White Sox game

Kirk Cousins has excellent take on franchise tag

Broncos DB during DUI arrest: I can't wait to tell Obama

NBA champ Cavs honored with 2,000-pound butter sculptures

John Daly dons super-patriotic outfit for Champions Dinner

Aaron Rodgers not inclined to talk about brother Jordan

Astros fan starts GoFundMe page to buy out Gomez contract

Durant told Westbrook he was returning to Thunder?

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

WATCH: Inside the Nike SNKRS BOX in SF for Golden Air Celebration

WATCH: Five other uniforms Chris Sale should cut up

QUIZ: Name every Olympic event in which the USA has never won a gold medal

Five U.S. Olympians favored to win multiple gold medals

WATCH: What teams should join the Big 12?

One Gotta Go: Do NBA players really love NBA2K?

One Gotta Go: NBA players hate Facebook too

One Gotta Go: NBA players settle the fast food beef

One Gotta Go: NBA players make tough choices on their favorite rappers

One Gotta Go: NBA Summer League is not about that Game of Thrones life

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Follow Yardbarker