When the Twins signed 33-year old right-hander Jason Marquis, most responses seemed to fall into one of two categories. People were either nonplussed by the move, or felt like it was okay money for the kind of production you could expect from Marquis on a one-year contract. Or your response was something different; don't let me put you in a box.
This morning's focus isn't to determine whether or not it was a good signing, simply because one-year contracts for this amount of money aren't worth grinding any teeth over. It's a decent contract because it's not too much money to swallow if Marquis collapses, and it could look like a pretty good deal if he goes 200 innings with a sub-4.50 ERA.
Instead, I want to show how Marquis' game has changed. Because who he is now, is not who he used to be.
When Marquis first came up with the Braves he had a pretty good arm. His fastball averaged right around 93mph, and he complimented it with a slider and changeup. The fastball was straight-forward and was by far his primary pitch, throwing it more than two thirds of the time. He was consistently in the strike zone, trending around the Major League average, and deception just wasn't a part of his game. Marquis was rarely able to get hitters to expand the strike zone, but he was able to miss just enough bats to keep hitters guessing.
As he's gotten older, Marquis' pitch selection has changed. He experimented with a curveball for a few years before re-committing himself to his slider. His fastball velocity has slowly ticked away, and now sits in the upper 80s. No longer capable of dialing up enough velocity to get past anyone, his fastball has begun to develop sink. He's begun to use his off-speed offerings far more often, and instead of throwing that straight fastball it's the sinker that batters see on roughly half of his offerings.
While Marquis will still lead hitters off with that sinking fastball, after that it's impossible for a guy to sit on a fastball and know he'll see it again. Overall against right-handed pitchers, Marquis will sometimes show a change but the ratio of fastballs to sliders is nearly 1-to-1 overall. Against left-handed hitters the ratio of fastballs won't change, but mixes in the changeup more often. He no longer challenges hitters up in the zone, aiming for the low and in, low and away, and out of the zone down.
Courtesy of Inside Edge, here's the scouting report on Marquis' pitch locations in 2011.
Marquis still begins at-bats with strikes on a consistent basis, but due to his increased usage of his off-speed pitches he's not in the zone nearly as often as he used to be. Over the last two seasons his pitches have been in the zone roughly 40% of the time, which has led to hitters expanding their strike zone and chasing more pitches and encouraged him to play with those expanded zones in return. Through his 20s, Marquis would get chase swings around 17 to 18% of the time. With his new approach his chase rates have jumped, reaching a career-high in 2011 when batters swung at 29% of pitches that were outside the zone.
When we watch our new starting pitcher take the mound in 2012, we will see a few things that are going to remind us of Carl Pavano. Sinking fastballs, changing locations, the use of guile and deception to induce weak contact. Marquis' strikeout rates are likely to drop below 5 K/9, which means a strikeout to walk ratio of 2-to-1 would be fantastic.
It's interesting to think that Jason Marquis' career started near the end of the Greg Maddux - Tom Glavine - John Smoltz era (as a trio of starters). When he was a rookie, Smoltz was actually coming back from Tommy John surgery and was in transition to the bullpen, where he became a shut-down closer the following year. Marquis was actually called up to the Majors because John Rocker threatened a reporter. Over the next couple years, the Braves coveted Marquis. Those were the days. Good times.
Times change, and so has the approach taken by Marquis on the mound. Here's hoping for a smooth transition to the American League after 12 seasons and six teams in the senior circuit.