An impassioned defense of Sean Marshall, Closer

He's the closer (EDIT: not anymore. Dang it.) and he's a good one, despite what you may think. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

EDIT: Looks like this is all for naught. Chapman is your new closer, at least, once he gets a day off.

Look, Sean Marshall didn't sign up for this. The past few years, he developed into one of the premiere setup men in baseball, and he was cool with that. The Reds traded for him with designs on keeping him as one of the premiere setup men in baseball, and he was cool with that. He and Ryan Madson were going to be a dynamic duo at the back end of the new-look Reds bullpen, and Sean Marshall was cool with that.

Then Madson got hurt. He shredded his elbow before even throwing a pitch for the Reds. So there was a change of plans. The Reds asked Marshall if he would take on the closer's mantle, and yeah, he was cool with that. There was really no reason to believe he couldn't handle it. Premiere setup men become premiere closers all the time (just ask Ryan Madson). But it hasn't been as smooth a transition as the Reds and Marshall would like. And now, less than two months into the season, the Reds are already contemplating taking the Marshall's badge and gun. But that is a really, really bad idea.

Admittedly, the results for Sean Marshall, Closer haven't been as good as we'd all like. In 16 appearances so far, he's only posted three clean 1-2-3 innings. He has seven saves and only one blown save, but he's also been pulled twice so one of his bullpen mates could clean up his mess. He also earned the loss when he entered a tie game in extra-innings in Washington. You can squint all you like, but those results do not look good.

The funny thing about pitchers though (and doubly funny for relief pitchers) is that results-oriented numbers like saves and losses and such just aren't very good at capturing value. I mean, we're only talking about 14.1 innings so far. But even setting the Small Sample Size argument aside, we can see that Marshall is pitching just as well - if not better - than he did when he was one of the premiere setup men in baseball while with the Cubs. Check it:

Marshall's #s K/9 BB/9 GB% FIP
2010

10.8

3.0 52.2% 2.28
2011 9.4 2.0 57.5% 1.86
2012 13.2 1.9 60.5% 2.48

He's striking out more batters, walking fewer, and inducing more ground balls this year than he has the past few years. So what the heck? Why are they talking about replacing him as closer? Uh, well, here are some more numbers:

More Marshall #s H/9 HR/9 HR/FB % BABIP
2010 7.0 0.4 6.5% .294
2011 7.9 0.1 2.0% .313
2012 13.8 1.3. 22.2% .488

Jiminy Crickets. Among pitchers who have thrown 10 or more innings so far this season, Marshall has the second-highest BABIP. He's only given up five extra-base hits, so it's not like opposing hitters are hitting him hard. But 17 singles have led to a lot of head-shaking and muttering curse words into gloves. That HR rate is astronomical as well. He's given up only nine fly balls so far this year. Yeah, that's right. Just nine times have opposing hitters lofted a Sean Marshall pitch into the air. Two of those left the yard, though. If you wanna talk unlucky, Sean Marshall is Franz Kafka with a wishbone C.

So basically, this is all to say that his results so far are utterly unsustainable. His shaky results so far are totally a function of luck, which as we all know can be incredibly influential over small sample sizes. Marshall has been our second-best relief pitcher thus far. Which leads me to most important reason why he needs to remain the closer.

If the Reds do decide to demote Marshall, it will be Aroldis Chapman - the Reds best relief pitcher thus far - who will inherit the crown. And that idea gives me the willikers. Walt Jocketty and Dusty Baker keep saying they see him as a starter long-term, but I fear that if he becomes the closer it will only entrench him deeper in the 'pen. The argument most-often sited for why Chapman hasn't moved to the rotation yet is that he's been needed in the 'pen. When they were gunning for the pennant in 2010 the 'pen needed another good arm. Then, the rotation in 2011 had seven or eight decent candidates and the 'pen did not. This year, Madson, Masset, and Bray were all injured, so again the 'pen needed Chapman. The problem I see with this justification is that there will always be a need in the bullpen for a guy like Aroldis Chapman. There isn't a team in baseball that doesn't need a guy like him in the late innings. And until the Reds have six guys better than Chapman for the bullpen, they will need him there.

Setting my Chapman concerns aside, let's refocus on the main point here. Sean Marshall has been great so far, just unlucky. He's going to be great and there is no reason to overreact to a few innings of BABIP and HR/FB bad luck.

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