Last time we checked in with Shaun Marcum he was really, really struggling. After a regular season that can only be described as excellent, he started getting lit up in mid-September and was really beaten up in the postseason, with a 14.9 ERA in 3 starts, and 5 walks and 5 strikeouts, not that you needed reminding.
Anyways, I looked at some data back after his second unsuccessful playoff start and tried to break down his season into parts. I noted then that it wasn't a decline in fastball velocity that seemed to hurt him, his fastball was right around 86.5-87 all season. What I did see, however, was a slight uptick in his changeup velocity, and more reliance on his cutter/slider pitch because he really seemed to lose confidence in the changeup, his best pitch. He threw it 28% of the time from the start of the season until September 8th, and then threw less than 15% of the time in his playoff starts. Things seemed to compound when Marcum threw his 83 mph cutter more, as the small difference between the velocity of that pitch and his 80 mph changeup did not fool hitters.
Marcum, at his best, is going to be primarily throwing an 87 mph fastball and a 79-80 mph changeup, and he's going to use his breaking balls and cutter to just keep batters off balance. If there's one thing to watch for today, it's his confidence in and reliance on the change.
I'm really, really skeptical to even throw spring training data into the mix because Marcum may have just gone out in his final start with a plan to work on his fastball or something, but if a person were to take a cynical view, it probably wouldn't be good news. According to the pitch f/x algorithm, out of 74 pitches, he only threw 10 changeups (much lower than his career rate) and an above-normal rate of cutters and sliders. Those changeups averaged 81 mph. His fastball averaged 86.8 and topped out at 88.7. Again, we will have a much better idea after today if Marcum is going to be able to regain confidence in his best pitch and be the effective pitcher he was for the vast majority of 2011. If he gets the changeup back under control we can look for a good performance tonight, and we'll check back on this issue once we have some solid data from the 2012 regular season.
*Once again, data from TexasLeaguers.com, an excellent pitch f/x tool.