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At first glance, a pitcher who has a lifetime ERA of 4.24 and a record of 42 wins and 30 losses in 109 games shouldn’t attract much attention. Of course, if we add that said pitcher plays at a home park colloquially known as “The pitcher’s graveyard”, Coors Field, well, we take it as a mitigating factor and evaluate it from another perspective.
For example, Germán Márquez has in his career a line of FIP 3.85, xFIP 3.61 and SIERA of 3.85. Also, when we look at his ERA- (the park and league adjusted ERA, where 100 is the average and each point below is one percentage point better than the average) is 87; all these indicative numbers that despite the circumstances that he cannot control (park, defense, etc), Germán has had a pretty good performance.
Now, how does he do it? It all starts with the curveball.
Let’s see the mix of Márquez’s pitches:
In his 2020 repertoire, he used up to five different types of pitches, four of them more than 15% of the time: the 4-seamer (FF), the curveball (KC), the Slider (SL), and the Sinker (SI). He also used the change a little more than 5% of the time.
Among the most used pitches, the fastball was the most punished with a wOBA against .394, as well as an SLG of .505; He pitched it 37.8% of the time, in line with other great curveball pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw (41.1%), Ryan Pressly (37.1%), and Charlie Morton (35.5%), and of those, only Kershaw was hit for less than .345 of wOBA, with .286. This is expected because, of course, batters generally hit the fastballs better.
Now, from this group of great curveball pitchers, Márquez was the king limiting damage with that throw as the opponents could only achieve a ridiculous .124 wOBA against it, good for having the 12th best place for any throw during 2020, in wOBA terms, and the sixth-best curveball under that premise as well (min. 50 specific pitches and 750 total pitches), a highly effective pitch. It should not surprise us then that, since 2018, his use of it has been progressively increasing, as we will see below:
Understandably, it is the pitch that has been in constant use and on the rise but the rest of them, their use has risen and fallen year after year. What in my view is somewhat strange is that the use of the slider has decreased, when it is his second-best pitch behind the curveball, even in times when its use has increased throughout the league. I propose that he should increase its use and why.
«Take things as they are. Hit when you have to hit. Kick when you have to kick».
Drawing the analogy with what Lee said, Márquez is hitting when he should: he uses his curveball to achieve a Whiff% of almost 44%, and it is the pitch with which he manages to get strikeouts almost 25% of the time when the batters are in 2 strikes. And this is achieved, as we said, using the curveball for 25% of the total pitches.
He is also hitting with his slider: it is a pitch with which he gets 46% of Whiff% and it works to strike out 31.3% of the hitters who reach 2 strikes. But Germán should also kick, and that means using his slider more than 17% of the time. And exchange the use of the 4-seamer for his sinker and changeup.
Why should Marquez do that? Because of a sequence issue, of course.
Before getting to the point of the sequence, it is important to add that his slider went from position 348 (among 356 qualified) in Statcast’s Run Value to position 76 among 190, from 2019 to 2020. And if we evaluate it by Linear Weights of the Type of Pitch (Pitch Values) from FanGraphs, that slider went from positions 49 and 43 in wSL and wSL/C in 2019 to positions 9 and 5 respectively in 2020. A weapon ready to be used more.
By way of comparison, the curveball (which is a Knuckle Curve, KC), went in Pitch Values from places 7 in wCB and 5 in wCB/C in 2019 to 3rd and 4th in 2020; this means he has a couple of pitches within the elite (at least looking at 2020 numbers).
During the 2020 season, Márquez managed to get swinging strikes from batters 95 times as a result of a sequence of two pitches within the same at-bat. These were distributed as follows:
We can see that the combination that Márquez used the most for this was Curveball – Curveball (KC-KC), as in this AB against Yuli Gurriel:
This type of combination served Marquez 18 times during the year to get hitters to swing & miss, the most for any combo he threw. This combo is so good for Márquez that it makes us question the old advice of “do not repeat curveballs or batters will wait for you”.
After that mix, the next more effective combos were: FF-FF 11 times, SI-FF 3 times, and SI-SI once.
We can better visualize the effective use of all possible combinations as follows:
Once again it is clear to us how important the proper use of the curveball and slider combinations is in Márquez’s repertoire.
In particular, the two combinations that I would like to see Márquez use more frequently are Slider-Curveball and Slider-Slider; that first combination was the one he used in this AB against Starling Marte:
Going deeper into the use of these combinations that ended in a strike swing (whiff), let’s see their distribution according to the side of which the opponents batted:
There are a couple of interesting trends here: first, the curveball is used effectively regardless of whether the hitter is left-handed or right-handed, and second, the slider is little used for left-handed hitters. The first thing is explained in that the right-handers hit .097 and the left-handers .144 of wOBA respectively, for a combined of .147 in 2020 against it; almost untouchable for both types of hitter.
In the second case, with the slider, the story is different: together, the hitters of either hand managed to connect for .219 of wOBA against that type of pitch, being .163 from the righties. Now, the left-handers were something different, as we can see in the following table, which compares what was achieved with the slider by all right-handed pitchers in the league against left-handed hitters and what Márquez achieved against the same type of hitter, breaking down by each type of pitch he used, during 2020:
Lefties murdered Marquez’s slider, shown with a .447 wOBA. No other of his pitches, to any batter, left or right handed, was so well connected.
For reasons on how this type of pitch breaks against left-handed hitters when it is thrown by a right-hander, if it is not well executed and used at the appropriate times, the slider is prone to be punished as was the case against Marquez in 2020.
However, I have the following theory: Márquez has an incredible curveball, he uses it a lot BUT he must use it more, something in the style of James Karinchak, about 50% of the time, and complete with 30% of sliders and the rest with Changeups and 4-Seamers. Perhaps this seems a bit risky because of the issue of batters adjusting to the pattern of so many curveballs, but the counterexample is Dinelson Lamet who only has his awesome slider and it is so good that it is very effective; Marquez has the unbeatable curveball, a very decent slider (that I believe will be more effective under the shadow of a profusely used curveball), and an underused changeup; an interesting arsenal that can take him one step further into the pitching elite.