A Cubs announcer -- I believe it was Pat Hughes, my honorary twin (we're both born on the same May 27 during the Eisenhower Administration, but I won't say which year), recently proclaimed that Carlos Marmol's strikeout prowess, the best of any reliever, bails him out of jams of his own making in the ninth.
That's flawed logic no matter who expressed it. You're not supposed to create your own mess in the first place -- particularly if it's by walks, hit batsmen and other examples of errant control. Marmol stuffed the worst of his portfolio into one inning Saturday and the result was the most spectacular Cubs collapse of a season worth of them.
Catcher Geovany Soto took the blame for reacting a second prematurely in trying to handle Tyler Colvin's near-perfect throw that attempted to gun down baserunner Brian Schneider to end the game. Soto even said Marmol got the save, but he personally messed it up by letting the ball squirt out of his glove as it got there with plenty of time to tag Schneider.
Marmol took the blame, too. But I'd rather he'd have done one or both of two things: not walked Schneider and fellow pinch hitter Ross Gload in the first place, and then picked up his catcher by not issuing two more unintentional walks (one with the bases loaded) and casting a wild pitch after Soto's misplay at home.
Marmol has an incredible number -- 82 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings, more than 17 per nine innings, a figure that far outpaces every other big-league reliever. That's nearly unprecedented. His 385 strikeouts and .156 opponent average since the start of the 2007 season also leads all relievers.
But the strikeouts are a hollow figure when Marmol's walk totals are factored in. Although he has improved modestly since a control-challenged 2009 season, he still has walked 33 and hit five batters this year. One of baseball's axioms is that walks kill in the ninth. By that standard of measurement, Marmol risks putting a stake in his own team's heart too many times.
The solution while Marmol is still relatively young is either smoothing out his herky-jerky mechanics or employing his 95 mph-plus fastball more. He said he had a poor grip on his slider Saturday. OK, ensure you can overpower hitters with a fastball that isn't dipping and darting all over the place like the slider. Like many other pitchers, Marmol has fallen in love with a spectacularly deceptive offering and thus often pitches "backward" -- the slider before the fastball.
Most managers and closers would rather see homers served up in the ninth than walks issued. Here's hoping Marmol develops this attitude. Teams are emboldened when they don't have to earn their way on in the ninth. Time to go back to the drawing board, Carlos.