The meaning of Carlos Mármol

Jamie Squire

Since 1969, there have been only 19 major-league pitchers who threw at least 500 innings and walked more than five hitters per nine innings; of those 19, only four walked at least six per nine innings.

One of those four just lost his job as Cubs closer.

7.1 Mitch Williams
6.3 John D'Acquisto
6.2 Mark Clear
6.1 Carlos Mármol
5.7 Kazuhisa Ishii

Hey, let's all pause for a moment of applause for Mitch Williams. Why would the Phillies have not wanted this guy as their closer in a World Series?*

* We kid Mitch Williams because we love Mitch Williams' broadcasting work.

The good news is that Mármol's issued only two walks this season. The bad news is that in his first two outings he gave up six hits (including two home runs) and five runs.

But he's been terrible before. Why yank him from the job now? Because it's the beginning of the season, and everything looks worse at the beginning of the season. Just ask John Axford, who's given up four home runs in his first three outings and has lost his job, too.

I'm not really interested in criticizing the Cubs or Brewers for being too quick to pull the plug on their erstwhile closers, but it does seem like teams are willing to actually lose games in April just to make some sort of a point.

Axford struggled for much of last season. You'd think that management would have seen enough of him, between last year and this March, to have a pretty good take on whether or not he's their best short man. Then again, he apparently was throwing as hard as ever in his first outing of the regular season, but wasn't throwing nearly as hard in his second appearance.

Axford did struggle last year, of course, and lost his job as closer at least twice. Just temporarily, though, and he finished the season with 35 saves despite his 4.67 ERA. You had to figure he'd be on a short leash this spring. Especially with 29-year-old rookie Jimmy Henderson pitching well in a setup role last year.

Similarly, last year Mármol got demoted to a secondary role in early May after a three-walk outing. He did resume his closing duties after six weeks, and actually pitched quite well from the middle of June through the end of the season, converting 18 of 19 save opportunities while giving up just two home runs in 38 innings and posting a 2.15 ERA.

That's the thing with Marmol: Usually he strikes out so many hitters that the walks are tolerable. But when the hits are falling or (worse) the flies are really flying, it looks really terrible. But the flies don't always fly. Yes, he's given up two home runs already. Last year he gave up four in what wasn't a particularly good year. In 2009, Mármol gave up two home runs in 74 innings, and in 2010 he gave up one home run in 78 innings.

Pitching seems like a hard job. You go through one whole year without giving up two homers, and then you give up two in one game? Oh, the cruel Fates. Or maybe it's the Hitters. Or the Hanging Sliders.

Steven Goldman argues that Mármol never should have been a closer at all, and I'm not going to argue that Steve is wrong. But Mármol was actually pretty good until 2011, when -- for no apparent reason -- his fastball seems to have gone south on him, in terms of effectiveness if not actual speed (last year he threw as hard as ever).

I don't really blame the Cubs for making Mármol a closer in the first place; after all, there are only so many lights-out relievers to go around, and some teams aren't able to find one. And while it's easy to mock the previous administration for saddling the current administration with Mármol's $9.8-million salary, this is the last year of a three-year, $20-million deal that didn't look terribly unreasonable at the time. If you think about Mármol's contract as $7 million per season, it doesn't look so bad at all.

The "problem" for Carlos Mármol is that when he looks bad, he looks really bad; worse, that is, than a less extreme sort of relief pitcher with the same general success. And when you look really bad, it's a big story, and thus a distraction. Which is why Goldman's probably right, and why Mármol shouldn't be a closer.

As long as he's healthy, though, he should be real tough on right-handed hitters and thrive in the major leagues.

For much more about Carlos Mármol and the Cubs, please visit SB Nation's Bleed Cubbie Blue.

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