Should Sean Marshall Be Closing Games For Reds?

BOSTON, MA: Sean Marshall #45 of the Chicago Cubs delivers a pitch in the sixth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. Tonight the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox are wearing replica uniforms from 1918. Before this series, the two teams haven't played at Fenway Park since the 1918 World Series. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

With the loss of closer Ryan Madson -- out of action for the whole season before throwing a single pitch for his new team -- the Cincinnati Reds and manager Dusty Baker are compelled to devise a Plan B.

It took them more than a week to make anything official, but now we know what Plan B is. From AJ Cassavell (via MLB.com):

Lefty Sean Marshall will officially open the 2012 season as the Reds' closer, manager Dusty Baker announced after his team's final Spring Training game on Monday.

--snip--

It will be the first time Marshall has been designated as the closer. In six seasons with the Cubs, he had seven saves while posting a 3.96 ERA. He made 78 appearances last season and notched a 2.26 ERA, the lowest of his career.

"He can throw that breaking ball any time, which is tough to do in Arizona with this light air here," Baker said. "He's basically unfazed by situations and things. He's been around a while and he's a veteran guy that's had good success."

When the Reds traded for Marshall last winter -- and then signed him to a three-year contract -- they didn't have this in mind, exactly. If they had, they wouldn't have signed Madson. Teams like closers who have been closers, and teams like closers who throw right-handed. Marshall qualifies on neither count.

Doesn't mean the dude can't pitch, though. Over the last two seasons, he's got a 2.45 ERA.

Which actually understates how well he's pitched, if you can believe that. Marshall struck out four times as many batters as he's walked, in those two seasons, which of course is outstanding. But that's not even the most impressive thing about him. In 150 innings, many of which came at Wrigley Field, Marshall allowed only four home runs.

That is beyond outstanding. Among all major-league pitchers with at least 100 innings over the last two seasons, Marshall's home-run rate is third lowest.*

* The champion here is Jonny Venters, he of The Amazing Slider, who has given up only three homers in his last 171 innings.

Which should play quite well for the Reds, considering that Great American Ballpark is a wonderfully friendly place for power hitters.

"But wait!" (you might be yelling) "Why just two seasons? Why not three, or more? After all, 150 innings is not a huge number of innings!"

True enough. But there's a clear dividing line here. Before 2010, Sean Marshall started and reliefed. It's only in the last two seasons that he worked exclusively as a reliefer. Probably not coincidentally, it's only in the last two seasons that his fastball has averaged in the low 90s; before, he averaged in the 87-88 range. Might that help explain why his pre-2010 strikeout-to-walk ratio was just 1.8, but 4.0 since?

I think it might. I also think that Marshall might have been the Reds' best relief pitcher, even if Ryan Madson hadn't blown out his elbow.

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