Milwaukee Brewers: Shaun Marcum's First Outing Cause for Concern?

Alec Dopp@alecdoppCorrespondent IApril 10, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 20: Starting pitcher Shaun Marcum #18 of the Milwaukee Brewers delivers the ball against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on September 20, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Coming off a disappointment of an opening-weekend, the Milwaukee Brewers took to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field against arguably their most hated rival, the Chicago Cubs, on Monday night, for the start of a four-game series against Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s young bunch.

Milwaukee took the opening game of the four-game set against Chicago by a 7-5 mark thanks to timely hitting from Ryan Braun, Alex Gonzalez, Mat Gamel and Rickie Weeks.  On the bump for Ron Roenicke was Shaun Marcum, who in his first outing of the young 2012 season tossed six solid innings of five-hit ball, striking out six while walking none.  He looked a bit shaky early on, allowing three runs to cross home on two home runs.

While it’s true Marcum provided more than enough reason to believe he’s capable of returning to the road-warrior Brewers fans witnessed last season—in 16 away-from-home starts, he went 8-3 with a 2.21 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, .202 BAA and 3.57 K/BB ratio—it’s also true that Milwaukee’s 30-year-old tried-and-true right-hander seemed a bit out of sorts in his first start of 2012.

Maybe it was the fact Marcum missed virtually all of spring training with a seasonally sore right shoulder.  Maybe it was the fact he was pitching in sub-freezing temperatures in the windiest city in North America.  Maybe it was the lingering negativity from his abysmal 2011 postseason performance.  Whatever the case, it’s clear Marcum wasn’t his normal self Monday night at Wrigley Field.

Among other things, Marcum struggled to find his rhythm early on and he paid a hefty toll for it, allowing two home runs to Cubs hitters; he allowed just eight home runs to the opposition in 16 of his road starts last season.

A big reason—probably the biggest reason—for Marcum’s masked deficiencies on the mound Monday night, in front of a national television audience no less, was his unambiguous inconsistencies in pounding the strike zone.  Normally, this is one of the strongest facets to his game, but that was hardly the case last night.

The chart below shows Marcum’s strike-zone plot against Chicago hitters.

Based on this chart along, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible to predict what Marcum’s plan of attack could have been to get Chicago hitters out.  Hardly ever will you hear of a major league pitcher who comes into a start without a specific scheme to try and retire hitters. This chart alone tells us Marcum was clearly not his normal self last night.

Compare the above chart with a start he made last season against Chicago hitters at Wrigley Field on Sept. 20. That game, he tossed eight complete innings of five-hit ball, fanning seven batters, walking none while allowing just one earned run to cross home.

The plot below reveals Marcum’s strike-zone plot from that game.

As you can see, his pitch location is much more condensed and the number of pitches labeled as “called strikes” remain much more centralized in the strike zone than that from Monday night’s performance. His pitches labeled as “swinging strikes” are much lower in the zone and that portends that he was definitely on his game that night, a stark contrast from his first outing of the 2012 season.

It would be a bit over the top to label Marcum’s first start of the season as one with much cause for concern, so we’ll hold off on pushing the panic button for now. However, it’s clear Marcum has work to do from here on out with respect to his pitch location within the strike zone.

Once he gets that cleared up—as we all expect him to—he’ll be well on his way toward being the rock-solid anchor to Milwaukee’s rotation in 2012.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report.  Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.