After 115 pedestrian innings by Chris Young in 2012, the Mets wanted to find an upgrade at starting pitcher for 2013. They ended up signing Shaun Marcum, formerly of the Brewers and Blue Jays, to a one-year, $4 million deal.
From 2010 to 2012, Marcum posted a 3.62 ERA/3.90 xFIP/3.83 SIERA in 520 innings, while recording 432 strikeouts (20.1 K%) and 141 walks (6.6 BB%).For $4 million, Marcum seemed like an excellent signing for the Mets, perhaps even a bargain. However, there were some red flags present.
The right-hander missed a good portion of 2012 with right elbow and shoulder problems. The low guarantee also gave pause as one would think a pitcher of Marcum's stature could get quite a bit more money on the market. Furthermore, determining how healthy Marcum is at any given moment is not easy. On Jeffrey Paternostro's AA Podcast back in January, he and Kyle Lobner of BrewCrewBall discussed Shaun Marcum. Lobner mentioned that Marcum, whose performance fell apart in the latter stages of 2011, refused to disclose anything about his health during that time. The same thing happened in 2012 according to Lobner:
"Marcum keeps his cards very close to his vest, in terms of what he'll tell people about injuries. He wasn't very open with the media when he was in Milwaukee. He actually refused to talk to the media after starts down the stretch this year. It's a bit of a challenge to know exactly what you've got with him."
Marcum's 2013 got off to a poor start. On March 20, he went to New York to have his shoulder examined due to an impingement. The next day, he waved off the injury. Four days later, Marcum started experiencing neck pain during a bullpen session, which had to be shut down. On April 1, it was announced that he had biceps tendinitis, but would be able to start the sixth game of the season for the Mets. A day later, Marcum again experienced neck pain during warmups. On April 4, he was diagnosed with nerve inflammation in his neck and shut down.
The right-hander finally made his season debut on April 27 against the Phillies. He allowed three earned runs in four innings, while recording three walks and four strikeouts. Marcum would not make it out of the fifth inning in either of his next two starts against the Braves and Pirates. He finally managed to have a decent outing against the Cardinals on May 15, allowing three runs (two earned) in 6 2/3 innings, a 4-2 loss. Marcum would struggle against the Reds, before putting up one of his best starts of the season against Atlanta on May 26. He allowed two runs in seven innings, while striking out 12 and walking none.
Marcum's season continued to be up and down (but mostly down). In the Mets' 20-inning loss to the Marlins on June 8, Marcum pitched eight innings of relief, allowing a run on four hits with seven strikeouts and no walks. His next two starts would see him give up six and five earned runs respectively. On June 26, Marcum threw eight shutout innings against the White Sox, albeit with just two strikeouts.
After a pedestrian start against the Diamondbacks on July 1, speculation arose that Marcum would need to go on the DL. He dismissed these claims, telling reporters "I don't have any concern." The next day, Marcum sounded off when asked again about his health.
"That's for me and the club, so I am not going to talk about it. I don't know why you guys think you need to know everything."
On July 6, Marcum made his final start of the season against the Brewers in Miller Park. He allowed six runs (five earned) on 11 hits in 5 innings. It was revealed after the game that Marcum had experienced numbness in right hand during the contest. The next day, Marcum was sent to St. Louis to get the hand examined. On July 9, the Mets announced Marcum was done for the season with thoracic outlet syndrome.
In 78.1 innings in 2013, Marcum posted a 5.29 ERA/4.22 xFIP/4.15 SIERA with 61 strikeouts (18 K%) and 20 walks (6.3 BB%). Marcum pitched six innings or more only seven times in his 13 starts and allowed at least four runs six times. Some Mets fans will point to Marcum's 3.64 FIP, suggesting he got very unlucky. There might be a degree of truth to that, but it's ignoring some underlying issues.
The first is Marcum's velocity. Marcum has never thrown particularly hard with his fastball ranging from 86-88 mph. Despite that, he always managed to get swings and misses, with a career 10.3% Swinging Strike rate. However, Marcum's fastball velocity took a tumble in 2013, going from 86.5 mph to 85.3. Only four starters in MLB had a lower fastball velocity in 2013 than Marcum.
The second were his issues with lefties. Righties posted just a .303 wOBA against Marcum. Left-handed batters treated him much worse, posting a .363 wOBA against. He struck out 21 lefties and walked to 16, while he struck out 39 righties and walked just six.
The third was his inability to pitch with runners on base. With no one on base, Marcum held batters to a .283 wOBA against. That number skyrocketed when a runner reached, with a .402 wOBA against. It got even worse when there runners in scoring position, as batters posted a .452 wOBA against Marcum in those situations. Given all of that, it's hard to say Marcum suffered much misfortune.
Desired 2014 Role: Not wearing a Mets uniform. For $4 million, Marcum was a risk worth taking, even if it's clear he was never healthy at any point during his Mets tenure. However, his refusal to be open about his health likely made him no friends in the Mets organization. It's unclear if Marcum is even healthy now or will be healthy for spring training. The Mets are in need of a starting pitcher but it's almost certain they will target someone with less health questions.
Expected 2014 Role: Wearing a different uniform. Marcum will likely head to a less hyper-focused media market, while the Mets will take their chances with someone who isn't Shaun Marcum.