Poor Shaun Marcum

Look at poor Shaun Marcum, gripping his change-up like it means something.

Shaun Marcum is catching a fair amount of hell in the aftermath of his rather piss-poor playoff performances. He wasn’t good. More to the point – Shaun Marcum was not himself.

The Shaun Marcum of the 2011 National League playoffs is not the Shaun Marcum the Milwaukee Brewers acquired in exchange for their best prospect. He was not even the Shaun Marcum of early 2011. Marcum came to the National League and did Shaun Marcum-things.

He changed speeds. He missed bats. He didn’t walk anybody. People hit an enormous amount of fly balls against him and, as is their wont, a bunch of them went for home runs.

He threw his cutter to right-handers and his change-up to lefties. He missed bats with both – his change-up is one of the league’s best. Was, I should say.

Once the calender turned to October, Marcum’s change-up fell completely apart. During the season, Marcum’s change-up earned a nearly 20% whiff rate – one of five changes he threw provoked a swing and miss. Against lefties his regular season whiff rate was 18.5% with the change. In the playoffs? Zero.

Shaun Marcum did not miss a single left-handed bat in three playoff starts. The change-up is his main weapon against lefties and it completely deserted him. Recall what our friend Jack Moore said about Marcum just one week ago:

Marcum’s changeup will be the key pitch to watch tonight — if it’s flat and at too similar a speed to the fastball, we could be in for a repeat of Game Three in Arizona. If it’s back to the slower, diving pitch that gave him success early in the year, then Marcum has a chance to right the wrongs of the past month.

According to Texas Leaguers, Marcum’s change-up looked like this in the post-season: 80.8 mph, 3.26 vertical movement, -4.26 horizontal movement. Marcum threw the change 14% of the time when the games really mattered. Compare that to his regular season averages: 79.3 mph, 2.90 vertical movement, -5.28 horizontal movement.

A faster pitch with 20% less arm-side run (away from left-handed hitters) ends up looking more like a crappy fastball than a legitimate change of pace. The drop in usage owes largely to an inability to throw strikes and get ahead in the count.

There are several possible reasons for Marcum’s struggles could be fatigue or even injury, the truth figures to surface as the offseason progresses. Was Roenicke wrong in handing Marcum the ball for Game Six? Of course not, the lack of a viable alternative ensured it was Marcum’s start to make.

Marcum remains under Brewers team control for another season. If fatigue is to blame, the Brewers are well-served to institute a better conditioning program for a player well “known” for his fondness for “flu-like symptom” causing activities. Marcum is a better pitcher than he showed during his debut on the playoff stage, the Brewers need of their right-hander to return to form in 2012 if they expect a repeat playoff trip.