After completely missing all of 2009 thanks to Tommy John surgery, Shaun Marcum returned to the Blue Jays rotation in 2010 with mixed expectations. Many pitchers have successfully come back from TJ surgery in the past but that success is far from guaranteed. Marcum didn’t just get back to his old self, he turned in the best season of his career.

For just the second time in his career, all of Marcum’s appearances were starts. He first became a full-time starter in 2008 turning in 25 starts in 25 appearances. In 2010, Marcum took the ball from the start 31 times and hurled a career high 195 1/3 innings. He compiled a 3.64 ERA and was worth a career best 3.5 WAR. Marcum only had one real injury concern in 2010 missing a few weeks in July with elbow inflammation. It’ll be interesting to see how his arm reacts next season going from almost no work in ’09 to nearly 200 innings at the big league level in 2010.

Despite coming back from injury, Marcum finished the season strong with a 3.31 FIP in 38 1/3 September innings. Marcum only turned in one bad month all season in August when both his ERA and FIP were north of five and he gave up eight homers in just 32 innings of work for the month. The homers have always been a nuisance for Marcum in his career as he consistently posts worse than average HR/9 innings marks. His 1.11 HR/9 IP in 2010 was the best of his career but still on the wrong side of the league average .96 HR/9 IP.

He may have staved off homers at a better rate than in year’s past but how much he had to do with it, isn’t clear. Marcum had generated groundballs on more than 40 percent of his balls in play in both 2007 and 2008 but failed to do so in 2010 with a meager 38.4 percent groundball rate. His 43 percent flyball rate was the second highest of his career. He’s not going to become an extreme groundball pitcher and may be hurt by long balls again in the future. But for 2010 anyways, it wasn’t a major roadblock to success.

Marcum’s 3.74 FIP was far away the best of his career, never before putting up a FIP under 4.46. That’s what tends to happen when you strike out a career high 7.60 batters per nine and walk a scant 1.98 per nine. The strikeout rate wasn’t drastically higher than his career average of 7.28 and it was the third time he’s had an above average strikeout rate. The career high in Ks was supported by a solidly above average, and career high, 10.9 swinging strike percentage.

The biggest contributor to his excellent FIP, and season as a whole, was the walk rate. In 2007 and 2008 Marcum displayed walk rates of 2.77 and 2.97 across 159 and 151 innings, respectively. That control was taken to a whole new level in 2010 with the AL’s fourth best walk rate and third best strikeout to walk ratio among qualified starters.

Marcum is primarily a fastball-change pitcher, with those two pitches accounting for 70 percent of his pitches thrown last season. He also mixed in cutters, curveballs and some occasional sliders. The fastball averaged just 87 MPH, with the change-up zipping across at about 80 MPH. The change was so effective that Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Madden tried to neutralize it by having his switch hitters bat right handed against the right handed Marcum. FanGraphs rated Marcum’s change as the second best change among all AL starters narrowly behind Felix Hernandez’s change-up.

Marcum was pitching in his first of three arbitration seasons at age 28 and turned in a bargain of a season for the Jays who only had to layout 850,000 dollars for his services. That number is going to rise by quite a bit for Marcum’s age 29 season but Marcum figures to be worth the expense. Even with some regression in his home run and walk rates, if healthy, Marcum will continue to be a solid top to mid rotation pitcher. After “out-pitching” his FIP with markedly lower ERAs for a few seasons, Marcum had a season that impressed both new and old stat heads alike. 

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