Will the Cleveland Indians Regret Losing Shaun Marcum?


Is the veteran right-hander the Cleveland Indians’ next Aaron Harang?

The Cleveland Indians announced on Tuesday that Shaun Marcum would not make the major league roster out of Spring Training, giving him the option to head to Columbus (AAA) or find a major league deal elsewhere. 

The 33-year-old was hoping to win a spot on Cleveland’s pitching staff but, with the Tribe’s excellent rotation, it was always a long shot. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer head a group of starters that also includes Danny Salazar, T.J. House, Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin — a young staff that has been hailed all winter as a candidate for the best rotation in baseball.

Last season, the Tribe made a similar choice when they gave Aaron Harang the option to head to Columbus or be granted his unconditional release. Harang opted to pack his bags and move to Atlanta, where he played a reliable and important role in the Braves’ rotation. At 36 years old, he had the best season of his career, finishing with a 3.57 ERA and, perhaps more impressively, a 3.57 FIP. FIP takes fielding into account, meaning the Braves’ stellar defense played less of a role in Harang’s success than would have been expected.

Will the release of Marcum end in a similar story?

Jun 26, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Shaun Marcum (38) throws a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The two pitchers are remarkably similar. Over 13 seasons, Harang has a career strikeout rate of 18.8 percent and a walk rate of 7.2 percent. Marcum has averaged a 19.4 percent strikeout rate and a 7.3 walk rate during his eight-year career. His 3.88 ERA is superior to Harang’s 4.21 ERA, but Harang’s 4.13 FIP is better than Marcum’s 4.20 FIP. In short, they’ve both become back-end starters with a lot of experience in the league.

If Marcum chooses to take a major league job with another team this year, it’s always possible that he could also have a career-year, worthy of the Tribe’s envy and regret. However, not every back-of-the-rotation arm experiences the kind of renaissance that Harang did and, based on the facts, it seems unlikely that Marcum is a candidate to suddenly produce different results than he has in the past.

Before missing all of 2014 with an injury, Marcum made 12 starts and two relief appearances for the Mets in 2013, going 1-10 with a 5.29 ERA. Playing on a terrible Mets team was certainly a major factor in that – his FIP was only 3.64. However, that was the second best FIP of his career, and he hasn’t played in a major league game for over a year since then.

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Harang had a similarly bad 2013 before his redemption last season. With a 5.40 ERA and a 4.79 FIP, he had a terrible season from all perspectives. The difference in his 2013 and 2014 seasons was a much higher ground ball rate, thanks in part to the addition of a cutter. Unless Marcum has a similar change in repertoire, the Indians should not have any regrets over their potential loss.

While there is something to be said for having a veteran arm in the rotation, the better option is to go with the best possible combination of pitchers without using experience as part of the criteria. Kluber, Carrasco and Bauer are obvious choices, but even the other candidates are just as valuable as Marcum could have been.

If he takes the option to go to Columbus, the Tribe will surely appreciate having a reliable veteran waiting in the wings, but Marcum wasn’t worth the gamble that keeping him on the major league roster entailed.

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