Carlos Marmol: Should He Stay or Should He Close?

Neil FinnellCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2009

One of the few decisions left for Lou Piniella to make this spring is...who will be the Cubs' closer when the season starts? Kevin Gregg emphatically stated he wants the job on Saturday, while Carlos Marmol said he would do whatever is best for the team.

The Cubs' bullpen arguably has the biggest questions for Lou Piniella and Larry Rothschild to find answers to over the next three weeks. Luis Vizcaino, Kevin Hart, and Angel Guzman are among those who have struggled, while the likes of Jason Waddell, David Patton, Randy Wells, and, until Sunday, Jose Ascanio have helped their causes.

The arguments have begun on who should be the Cubs' closer. Many think it should be Carlos Marmol, while others feel Marmol should remain in his familiar setup role and continue to make big outs in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings.

Kevin Gregg wants the job, but should Carlos Marmol be the Cubs' closer?

The last nine outs of a ballgame are the most difficult to make. With today's game having so many specialized roles, the days of the closer that enters the game in the seventh inning are long gone...and the term fireman has been removed from baseball's vocabulary.

Teams now hope to get six innings from their starters, or 100 pitches, and go from there. With the defined roles, it is more important than ever for a team to have a dominant arm in the pen, and most use those pitchers as their closer.

However, so many games are saved before the ninth inning and many closers are able to pad their stats with one-inning saves that may begin with the seventh hitter in the lineup.

Carlos Marmol has been the go-to-guy for Lou Piniella the past two seasons. Marmol has pitched in 141 of the Cubs 323 games and has become one of the most dominant setup men in the game.

Marmol and his trademark slider have saved more games than Ryan Dempster (28) in 2007 and Kerry Wood (34) last year. Marmol has recorded 46 holds the past two seasons and retired the opponents' big bats before Dempster and Wood had to ever take the mound.

Lou Piniella must once again decide what he thinks is best, but on most days the game is decided well before the ninth inning.

As they say, numbers do not lie, and a closer look at Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg's stats from last season tell a lot...especially in BABIP (batting average on balls in play) with runners on base and runners in scoring position, not to mention strikeouts per nine innings.

Carlos Marmol has the ability to get his team out of messes, while Kevin Gregg appears to pitch better at the beginning of innings with the bases empty.

Carlos Marmol 2008 Stats

Kevin Gregg 2008 Stats

Carlos Marmol - Kevin Gregg 2008 Stats

(click on images to enlarge)
Glossary: WHIP - Walks plus Hits per innings pitched; BAA - Opponents Batting Average; BABIP - Batting Average on Balls in Play; STR - Strand Rate - Percentage of batters that reach base but do not score; LOB% - Percentage of runners left on base; G/F - Groundball out/ fly ball out ratio

Carlos Marmol might want to be the team's closer, but as long as he's the best pitcher in Lou Piniella's pen, his value to club is clearly as a setup man. Marmol's day as a closer will come...