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Sean Marshall, an Out of the Box Idea

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The Cubs have made it known that they are willing to trade anyone on their roster. While I would love Matt Garza, he’d require a very large bounty, beginning with Jacob Turner. However, the Cubs do have someone who could provide a lot of value for the Tigers: Sean Marshall. Marshall came into the league as a starter in 2006. He was young, and honestly, got hit pretty hard. His first season in the bigs, he had a 5.59 ERA, 5.57 FIP, and barely over a 1 K/BB ratio. Then, in 2008 and 2009, he started to be used as predominantly a reliever, and saw his ERA sit around 4 as a long guy and occasional spot starter. Finally, starting in 2010, he became a main cog in the Cubs bullpen, and has posted two outstanding seasons in a row, with ERA’s of 2.65 and 2.26, with FIP of 2.28 and 1.86 respectively. My question is, can he be a starter again? That’s where he has the most value, if he can log some innings.

What he was

When Sean Marshall first came into the big leagues, he featured a fastball 52% of the time, the occasional slider/cutter at ~10%, 17% curves, and 21% changeups. According to fangraphs, all of these pitches were below average as well. Then, after switching to the bullpen, he started to change his pitching pattern, throw less fastballs and changeups, and more breaking stuff. In the first few years in the league, he had a K rate around 6 as a starter, with a BB rate somewhere north of 3. This isn’t exceptionally good, but at the time, it was passable for around a 4 era.

What he is now

The last two years, Marshall has posted 5 WAR combined from the pen, compiling 150 IP. During that period, he’s been striking out around 10 per 9, while walking around 2.5. He is a completely different pitcher now than he used to be. Let’s look at the differences in Marshall from last year, compared to who he was at the beginning of his career:

2006:
K/9: 5.51
BB/9: 4.24
HR/9 1.43
GB% 46.8
ERA: 5.59
FIP: 5.57
OPS vs. lefties: .785
OPS vs. righties: .875

FB%: 52.2
Cutter%:6.7
CB%: 17.7
SWSTR%:6.5

2011:
K/9: 9.4
BB/9: 2.02
HR/9: .12
GB% 57.5
ERA: 2.26
FIP: 1.86
OPS vs. lefties: .503
OPS vs. righties: .599

FB%: 25
Cutter%: 19.3
CB%: 40.3
STSTR%: 11.5

It’s extremely apparent his numbers are all up across the board. He has a completely different pitching style as a reliever than he did as a younger starter. This may be true for a lot of relievers. However, if Marshall can provide 175 innings at around a 4 ERA/FIP, which it seems like he can do with his new found command and swing & miss pitches, that shouldn’t be too difficult of a task. If he can take some of what he learned as a reliever into a starting role, he could be extremely effective. Honestly, I’m a bit confused why Chicago isn’t attempting to use him as a starter, they really have nothing to lose at this point.

As far as his contract situation goes, Marshall is in the second year of a 2 year contract that bought out his second and third arbitration years, and pays him only 3.1 MM for this season. Even if the Tigers only wanted to use him as a reliever, it’d still be a good deal for that much money. However, he is eligible for free agency after this season, and depending on the new CBA, he could be worth a draft pick as a type A free agent. It’d actually work more in the Tigers’ favor in terms of a trade if Marshall’s not worth a draft pick, because Epstein would rather hold onto him, and collect the pick at the end of the season. Plus, he’d require that whomever he’d get back would be as great as the value of that type A pick. For that type of money though, and with the available starting pitching options available, a trade for Marshall could net the Tigers a big gain. Of course, this all depends on who the Cubs want back.