It’s been a long off-season for baseball fans, made to feel somewhat longer here in the Midwest by mild temperatures that we normally don’t feel until the regular season is well underway.
The Brewers made their first League Championship Series since appearing in American League’s version back in the 1980s. That means the off-season is officially shorter for Brewers fans and players, but after falling two wins shy of the National League pennant and an appearance in the World Series it’s been a painful shortened time.
There isn’t anyone among us in Brewer Nation who can claim a longer or more painful off-season than that of Brewers starting pitcher, and subject of today’s profile:
Acquired during the preceding off-season for top prospect Brett Lawrie, plenty was expected of Shaun Michal Marcum before he ever put on a Milwaukee Brewers jersey.
After missing the entire 2009 season while a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, Marcum rebounded in 2010 and seemed healthy and effective enough in doing so.
Milwaukee was in desperate need of an upgrade to its rotation after suffering for years with the likes of Jeff Suppan, Braden Looper, Dave Bush and even a stunted comeback attempt by Doug Davis. Sure, Yovani Gallardo was doing well and free-agent pickup Randy Wolf was fine enough, though overmatched by trying to be the number two, but they needed more front-end talent.
The Toronto Blue Jays made Marcum available and Doug Melvin pulled the trigger on the straight-up swap. The reason for the cost was because Marcum is talented and showed himself to be healthy. This is the same guy that pitched Opening Day for the Blue Jays in 2010.
It was immediately apparent that the Brewers had acquired a new number two…well, at least until the Zack Greinke deal went down.
Marcum’s 2011 campaign almost didn’t start off with the team. He suffered through a bout of shoulder stiffness (the same as he’s going through right now in 2012) that nearly took him to the disabled list. He was able to get up to enough of a pitch count to be deemed ready-to-go out of the gate. With fellow import Greinke on the DL with a cracked rib, Marcum was even more necessary to start the season on the right foot.
He began the year with very good results and was arguably the team’s best pitcher for the first two months of the season. Who knows how long that level of play would have kept up and what kind of season numbers he could have posted if not for a hip injury suffered during interleague play prior to a start at Fenway Park on June 17.
It’s my opinion that Marcum wasn’t the same all season after that injury.
His numbers prior to the injury look like this:
14 GS, 7-2 record, 90.2 IP, 69 H, 29 R (27 ER), 2.68 ERA, 23 BB, 83 K, 7 HR, 1.02 WHIP
And his number post-injury (regular season only) were:
19 GS, 6-5 record, 110.0 IP, 106 H, 55 R (52 ER), 4.26 ERA, 34 BB, 75 K, 15 HR, 1.27 WHIP
Still, Marcum managed to start 33 games in 2011 (winning 13 of them), but the season caught up to him eventually.
Despite all his overtures to the contrary, it was pretty apparent that something was wrong with Shaun Marcum this past October. He says he wasn’t injured, and while that must be true, he certainly wasn’t effective.
Now, all players go through certain periods of worse success than “usual”. Marcum is no exception and he and his coaches claim that all the 2011 postseason struggles were a result of one of those periods of ineffectiveness.
Those postseason numbers were:
3 GS, 0-3 record, 9.2 IP, 17 H, 16 R (all earned), 14.90 ERA, 5 BB, 5 K, 3 HR, 2.28 WHIP
I’m no pro scout or manager or baseball coach, but my educated eye saw some things that just lended themselves to the idea that Marcum was worn down. It wasn’t like the if the season lasted another two months that Marcum was going to pull out of that funk along the way.
His innings total (200.2) in just the regular season was the highest of his career. He had pitched through a couple of injuries during the regular season, not to mention the shoulder stiffness that he opened the spring with. The aforementioned hip injury was bad enough, but exactly one month late, on July 17, during a spectacular defensive play on a ball bunted to his right, Marcum bounded off the mound and spun while underhanding a throw to first base. That resulted in an official neck strain and likely an unofficial sore shoulder.
All of those things added up to a pitcher being put through a lot over 33 starts. To me, all signs pointed to physical exhaustion which coupled with a resultant mental exhaustion in the playoffs leading to the results on the field which we all remember far too vividly.
Much of that will fade with time, helped especially by Opening Day which of course is 18 days away from the day I’m writing this.
What will really help Brewers fans get over it, though, would be a duplication of last year’s early success out of Marcum.
As of this writing, that’s currently in mild jeopardy as Marcum has not yet appeared in a Cactus League game. There is still enough time to get him a handful of starts, but he needs to be to a certain pitch-count-based level of endurance before being ready to pitch in a regular season game.
That notwithstanding, the path in 2012 for the 6’0”, 195 pound, 30-year-old right-hander from Kansas City, Missouri is a relatively clear one. When healthy, be that on Opening Day or shortly at a point thereafter, he’ll be in the starting rotation. He’ll look to make 30+ starts and help lead the Milwaukee Brewers on a successful defense of their National League Central Division title, complete with a return trip to the postseason. It’s just that when Marcum last takes the mound in 2012, he’ll be anticipating much different results.
Let’s hope that by then, as fans, we’ll be able to anticipate a positive outcome as well instead of being haunted by the memories of opportunities squandered.