Red Sox Spring Training Sleeper: Carlos Marmol

Apr 29, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins relief pitcher Carlos Marmol (49) throws against the Atlanta Braves during the ninth inning at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 29, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins relief pitcher Carlos Marmol (49) throws against the Atlanta Braves during the ninth inning at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The Red Sox hope to turn around former Cubs closer with the help of their newest pitching guru.

The first big story out of Boston Red Sox Spring Training was the invitation this week of former Cubs closer, the spectacularly wild Carlos Marmol. No matter where Marmol has gone it seems he has been unable to get the ball over the plate.

Giving up a lot of walks is sort of the equivalent of striking out a lot as a batter. It can be tolerated if it is also accompanied by a lot of power. A guy who strikes out a bunch but isn’t slugging anything is not long for the league. This analogy applies to Marmol, who while walking 6.2 batters per nine innings for his 577 inning career, also was striking out 11.6 batters per nine innings as well as giving up just six hits per nine innings. This is a mind-boggling .188 batting average against, which is not affected by which side of the plate the batter is on.

It appears the Cubs were the only ones able to tolerate his wildness for any length of time. When he was dispatched from the Cubs to the Dodgers for journeyman Matt Guerrier in July 2013 (who had the odd distinction of notching exactly one save for six straight seasons, 2006-11), he was allowed to depart after the season. He entered free agency likely thinking he was about to get paid like someone who had 117 career saves (he had made $9.8 million in his last arbitration year). Marmol’s wildness cost him as he had to settle for a $1.25 million deal with the Marlins in February 2014, who then cut him on May 19 after just 13.1 innings on the team.  He caught on with Cincinnati  but lasted only 3.2 innings there in the minors as he left the team without permission and was cut.

The Brian Bannister Factor

One thing these other teams that tried to cure Marmol’s wildness didn’t have is Brian Bannister, the Red Sox director of pitching analysis and development, hired in August 2015. Bannister immediately paid dividends last September for the team as the Red Sox played out the string. Rich Hill, plucked from the independent leagues, finished spectacularly last season under the newly hired Bannister’s guidance. Hill posted a 1.55 ERA over his last four starts, earning a one year deal, six million dollar deal from Oakland this offseason.

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The issue seems to be Marmol’s arm slot, the position his arm is in when he releases his pitch. The Red Sox will work with Marmol to get it back to where it was when he was mowing down hitters for the Cubs, but possibly walking less of them this time around. Marmol has been down this road before, however. The same sort of arm slot adjustment was supposedly evident when the Cleveland Indians signed him a year ago after a Dominican showcase. He didn’t manage to get out of Triple-A, walking 27 in 31 innings, though posting a 2.03 ERA and striking out 48 batters and saving 13 games.  This offseason, Marmol walked 12 in just seven Dominican Winter League innings.

Considering the magic that Brian Bannister worked with Rich Hill at the end of last season, there is a hope that Marmol will be able to find his Cubs magic. It is a worthwhile flier on a 33 year old former closer in camp on just a minor league deal. This is Marmol’s fifth organization in three years, so expectations will be tempered appropriately.

Imagine a successful Marmol. This would give the Red Sox four pitchers with closing experience, Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Carson Smith and Marmol.  Marmol may be down to his last chance, but Red Sox fans are hoping Bannister will find that elusive arm slot to strengthen an already beefed up bullpen, leading them back to the postseason.

Next: Brock Holt getting at-bats a good or bad sign?

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