For batters, there must be no less comfortable feeling in baseball than to step into the box against Cubs right-handed reliever Carlos Marmol.
With a low three-quarter arm slot and a vicious Frisbee slider, Marmol can be as tough on right-handed hitters as Randy Johnson once was on left-handed ones. With the violent disorganization of his elbows-and-knees delivery, meanwhile, and given his tendency to fall far off the mound to his left, Marmol calls to mind the early days of Luis Tiant.
In some respects, Marmol's numbers bear out these lofty comparisons. In three seasons of work as a reliever, Marmol has compiled 303 strikeouts, or 11.8 for every nine innings pitched. Last season, he surrendered just 43 hits, and only two home runs, in 74 innings. 21 percent of all fly balls against him were infield pop-ups, and only 16 percent of total batted balls were line drives.
Both figures are substantially better than league average.
With Marmol, however, there is always the great, looming problem: control.
The Dominican hurler's control can be, and often is, as erratic as his delivery. That led to 65 walks and 12 hit batsmen in his 74 innings of work last year. The number of battered batters ranked third in the National League, and all other top-ten finishers in the category were starters.
That lack of control made Marmol a constant source of frustration for Chicago in 2009. He will enter 2010 as the team's closer, after converting all 11 save opportunities when handed the job in August. To retain that job, however, and to perform it successfully, Marmol will need to harness that wildness in a significant degree.
He should work on throwing his slider for strikes: even if that leads to fewer strikeouts, it will result in ground balls the Cubs' defense is more than able to field. Erasing 25 or more of the free passes he handed out in 2009 would be so valuable that losing 15 strikeouts would hardly be noticed.
Here are my projected statistics for Marmol in 2010:
—70 1/3 innings
Those are not sparkling statistics, and I hope I am clear in my assertion that Marmol is not a sparkling pitcher. As a part of a very deep and sufficiently talented bullpen, however, he will be a valuable cog for Chicago in 2010.
Watch for the rest of my 2010 Cubs profiles, which I'll continue to do throughout the rest of the offseason. Here is a selection of those already done, and a few on the way soon.