Coming off a disappointment of an opening-weekend, the 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 three-game series against Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s young bunch.
Milwaukee took the opening game of their 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 that 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 that Marcum missed virtually all of spring training with a seasonally sore right shoulder. Maybe it was the fact that 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 that 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 that Marcum was clearly not his full-sell last night.
Compare the above chart with a start he made last season against Chicago hitters — at Wrigley Field — on September 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 plainly 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 season Monday night.
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 that 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.
The Milwaukee Brewers have reportedly agreed to terms with right-handed pitcher Shaun Marcum on a one-year deal worth approximately $7.725 Million, sources say, avoiding arbitration by near hours of their scheduled hearing in St. Petersburg, Florida.
According to numerous reports, Marcum had applied for a $8.7 Million salary for the upcoming season, and the Brewers submitted a price of $6.75 Million last month. Consequently, Marcum’s 2012 salary will be the midpoint of both figures.
Last season, Marcum went 13-7 with a 3.54 ERA but was arguably the best road pitcher in the big leagues, holding true to a 2.21 ERA and .202 BAA while going 8-3.
Only newly acquired reliever Jose Veras remains in arbitration with the Brewers.
When the Milwaukee Brewers dealt top prospect Brett Lawrie in return for former Toronto Blue Jays starter Shaun Marcum last offseason, they envisioned a steadfast starter that would eventually become an anchor in their starting rotation.
For the most part, they were able to get a considerable return-on-investment. The 29-year-old Marcum went 13-7 with a 3.54 ERA and a .232 BAA, including an MLB
-best 2.21 ERA on the road over the course of his sumptuous 2011 regular season.
However, the month of September proved to be a bit disappointing. In five total starts in the regular season’s regular month, the righty went 2-2 with a 5.17 ERA, and actually allowed opposing hitters to bat an appalling .273 in 31.1 total innings of work.
In turn, his late season struggles would proceed into Milwaukee’s postseason competition, with much disgust to Brewers fans across the country.
In just three postseason starts — totaling a whopping 9.2 innings collectively — Marcum posted a disheartening 14.90 ERA, allowing more earned runs (16) than innings pitched, leading to a Milwaukee loss in each game Marcum appeared in the playoffs.
After such a widely successful 2011 campaign, amassing countless accolades on his way to becoming Ron Roenicke’s primary go-to starter on the road, could the Brewers actually contemplate trading away Marcum? At this stage, it seems like such a fabrication that most Brewers fans would simply toss the issue aside completely, but a trade may be on the horizon.
Many teams would be interested in Marcum’s services for 2012 and the foreseeable future. The Cubs, Rays, Orioles and, yes, even the Yankees could all be vying for his services in the near future, seen as how he’s set to become an unrestricted free-agent after next season.
Surely, the Brewers will neither be interested nor able to pay the going-rate for Marcum next offseason, so why not get their own return-on-investment by trading Marcum this offseason?
Rumors are sure to surface this offseason, folks. Only time will tell.
by Adam McClavy
There was Zack Greinke’s first Brewers start, then his first home start and his first Brewers win. Now comes another first for the home fans: Greinke and Yovani Gallardo pitching in the same series at Miller Park.
Gallardo will go first on Friday night against the Pirates, the Brewers’ favorite punching bags since 2007. Left-hander Chris Narveson is slated to pitch Saturday, and Greinke will finish the series on Sunday afternoon.
The bolstered staff has general manager Doug Melvin dealing with a new problem.
“This is the first time in 15 years as a GM that I’ve gone around town and now heard, ‘We need some hitting!'” said Melvin. “It’s the first time people haven’t been getting on me about our pitching.”
He’ll take it, considering where the Brewers have been.
Melvin made pitching, particularly starting pitching, a high priority after two seasons lost to pitching problems. After the sensational CC Sabathia carried the Brewers to the 2008 National League Wild Card and then departed via free agency along with longtime Brewer Ben Sheets, Milwaukee tied for last in the Majors with a 5.37 starters’ ERA in ’09. The Brewers invested just shy of $30 million in free agent Randy Wolf the following winter, but they improved only to 27th of the 30 teams in ’10, with a 4.65 starters’ ERA.
After a strong start in 2011 — Brewers starting pitchers led the NL in ERA through April 21, even while Greinke recovered on the disabled list from his cracked left rib — they are back in the bottom half of baseball. Including back-to-back tough starts for Shaun Marcum and Wolf this week, Milwaukee has fallen to 21st, with a 4.25 starters’ ERA.
If Gallardo’s no-hit bid on Saturday in St. Louis is a sign he’s back on track after a string of five subpar starts, that would help. So should Greinke’s arrival.
But some Brewers wonder if hopes are still running a bit too high.
“He was pretty good, but I still think people have sort of unrealistic expectations,” Ryan Braun said of Greinke’s Miller Park debut on Monday. “He’s not going to throw a no-hitter every time. He’s not going to be perfect.
“I think people expect him to do what CC did. That’s just not realistic.”
Greinke was sharp through his first four innings on Monday against the Padres, but he lost some zip on his fastball and command of all of his pitches in the fifth and the sixth. Those areas should improve as he builds arm strength after missing most of Spring Training. He’s thrown only 86 and 89 pitches in his two Brewers starts.
Greinke has already been compared often to Sabathia, who was otherworldly after joining the Brewers in a July 2008 trade. Both are former American League Cy Young Award winners, Sabathia in ’07 and Greinke in ’09, and joined a Brewers club with postseason aspirations.
But they’re not the same, Melvin argues.
“They’re two different stories,” Melvin said. “CC was July and in a pennant race. We had never won before.”
Greinke was over the winter, with the Brewers trying to climb back into contention.
“The similarities are that we were surprised we got them,” Melvin said. “But as far as the expectations go, the team is altogether different.
“It’s always hard to put the expectations on one pitcher. They’re 30-some games of 162. That’s not even 20 percent of your schedule.”
The Brewers are actually excited about 60-some starts, between Greinke and fellow newcomer Marcum. With Gallardo, a 2010 All-Star, that’s a relatively formidable 1-2-3, and all three pitchers are under contract at least through the end of 2012.
“With three starters like that who can go out and beat anybody in the league … we have some great weapons,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “I consider [myself] to be pretty blessed to catch guys of this quality, for sure.”
Now, the challenge will be getting all phases of the team working together. The Brewers’ usually-potent offense is just coming out of a deep funk, the defense has been unsteady, the baserunning mistake-filled and the bullpen injury-struck.
That combination means the Brewers took a day off Thursday with a 16-21 record, in fifth place in the NL Central and five games behind first-place St. Louis.
“I wish we had been playing a bit better coming into [Greinke’s return],” Melvin said, “but we all know that if we get good pitching, we can stay in this thing.
“I understand the excitement. I’ve been around here, and I get why the fans are excited, because they’ve never seen [Greinke] pitch before. Our offseas