Thursday, December 22, 2011

Twins close to signing Jason Marquis

Fox Sport’s Ken Rosenthal reported last night that the Twins were nearing an agreement with pitcher Jason Marquis to fill out the remaining open slot in the rotation.

Here’s what I wrote about him in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook:
“Jason Marquis’s one redeeming quality at this point is his ability to induce ground balls as his 54.5% worm-burning rate was in the top 12 among pitchers who threw a minimum of 120 innings. Outside of that, he offers very little except for maybe “veteran leadership.” After a midseason trade to the Diamondbacks, who wanted some of that sweet “VL” for their youthful rotation, Marquis fractured his fibula and was placed on the DL for the balance of the season. He’s likely staring down a “make good” type of contract in the face.”
To the first point – Marquis’s worm-killing abilities – he’s been very good in this department. Since 2008, while throwing a minimum of 500 innings, Marquis has induced the ninth-highest rate of groundballs:

Tim Hudson
Derek Lowe
Fausto Carmona
Aaron Cook
Justin Masterson
Ricky Romero
Joel Pineiro
Trevor Cahill
Jason Marquis

Now, in 2010, with a combination of JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson patrolling the middle of the diamond, this might have been significant “get” for the Twins. Comparatively, last year’s model was nowhere close to the ’10 version. The more recent model managed to convert 73.1% of all grounders into outs which wound up being the worst conversation rate in all of baseball. Yes, the Twins did bring in Jamey Carroll this winter to cut down on the amount of blatant mistakes made by the ’11 shortstops but at his age, his range is far from being someone able to elevate a ground-ball pitcher’s game. While singles through the hole are not the source of major damage, we’ve seen what it can do when a pitcher has to throw more pitches, with more runners on base and gives the other team opportunity to connect with a big blast.

What exacerbated this problem further is that the entire staff (with the exception of Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano) was all cut from the pitch-to-contact clothe. The Twins rotation only struck out 14.8% of batters faced – second-lowest only ahead of Pittsburgh in 2011. Because of this woeful ability to avoid contact, the presumption was that the rotation needed to inject someone with a power arm capable of registering strikeouts. Unfortunately, Marquis does not help fit this bill at all: Since 2008, he’s 12.4% strikeout percentage has been the eighth-lowest in baseball.

Likewise, the Twins have long favored control artists, those that eschew walks and force hitters to put the ball into play. While Marquis gets plenty of in-play results, he is actually a bit on the erratic side when it comes to not allowing walks -- issuing free passes in 8.6 percent of plate appearances. Combine this abnormally high walk rate (for a control-based pitcher anyways) with a low strikeout rate and Marquis owns the second-lowest strikeouts-to-walk rate dating back to ’08 (1.44 K/BB).

Many probably want to compare Marquis to Carl Pavano based on their similar styles, peripherals, contact rates and batted ball results. Judging solely on those traits, yes, Marquis and Pavano are quite similar. The significant difference is what kind of pitches the pair get hitters to put into play. Since 2008, Pavano has been the foremost expert at getting hitters to chase after his pitch out of the strike zone (he’s gotten 33.9% of all out-of-zone pitches) meaning opponents are putting more “bad pitches” into play. In that same time, Marquis has been the fifth-worst in baseball at getting opponents to stray after pitches (just 25.7% swing rate at all out-of-zone pitches). Only Livan Hernandez, Brad Penny, Trevor Cahill and Aaron Cook have been worse than Marquis. To summarize: When Pavano misses the zone, he gets hitters to chase. When Marquis misses the zone, hitters hold and frequently draw walks.

Those are the essential shortcomings for the Twins in signing a guy like Marquis – he doesn’t fit the defense personnel (one that might be better at catching flies), could bring down the strikeout rate and walks a high proportion of hitters. On the other hand, Marquis is fairly consistent when healthy and able to throw over 190+ innings. (His season-ending injury in 2011, a fractured fibula courtesy of an Angel Pegan grounder off the leg, does not suggest that he will have any problems staying healthy in 2012.) The Twins need some stability in the rotation and reduce the need for the bullpen (which already figures to be fairly weak in depth). That’s about the best thing you can say about Marquis – he can provide stability – outside of that, do not anticipate too much.

Addendum: The bone chips which required surgery in 2010 does raise a bit of a red flag. In 2010, then with the Washington Nationals, Marquis was experiencing discomfort in his elbow. He attempted to rest and rehab through it but during a rehab start bone chips in his pitching elbow flared up and he decided to move forward with surgery. Like Nathan, Baker and Blackburn before him, it is possible that Marquis might eventually run down the same path where the trio of Twins needed additional time on the DL or, in Nathan’s case, Tommy John surgery. However, his pain-free 2011 season may be an indication that the bone chip issue did not or possibly will not reoccur.