(The following post is rated S for SABR, and the statistical measures used in this post are courtesy of Fangraphs.com, with data cited for pitchers with at least 50 IP as of the morning of 6/15/13. You have been warned.)
In 10 games with the New York Mets, Shaun Marcum is 0-8 with a 5.43 ERA.
On the surface, most would say, "hey, that's bad," or something similar.
So, how is it that Marcum has already put up a 1.4 WAR in just 54.2 IP with the Mets, after his 7-4, 3.70 ERA 2012 season was only worth 1.3 WAR in 124.0 IP?
The answer is that sometimes, win-loss record and earned run average lie. Or at the very least, it does not tell the full story. In the case of Shaun Marcum's strange 2013 season, the win-loss record and ERA do not reflect his performance accurately at all.
Marcum has done a pretty darn good job of controlling the things he can control, such as generating swings-and-misses, getting strikeouts and keeping walks down. But a lot of the damage has been done with balls put in play against him, matters that the SABR community might argue that a pitcher has less control over.
So let's look at some of these advanced stats, shall we?
Firstly we have FIP, fielding independent pitching, a more accurate way of trying to measure how well a pitcher controls the things he can control. As we look at the NL FIP leaderboard, something sticks out:
That's right. Shaun Marcum, he of the 0-8 record and the 5.43 ERA, finds himself in the top ten among all NL pitchers with a 3.06 FIP. But surely that's just a mistake, right? A pitcher couldn't magically put up a FIP almost two and a half runs below his ERA, right?
How, oh how, could that be? Well...
Marcum, like many Mets pitchers, has been plagued with BABIP problems, as the porous Mets defense fails to turn batted balls into outs when Marcum (or Dillon Gee, or Jon Niese) are on the mound.
Marcum's .329 BABIP is not only 6th-highest in the NL (behind Gee's league-leading .353), but it's also 55 points higher than Marcum's career .274 BABIP. 55 points is a heck of a leap, and it's not as if his batted ball numbers have changed much from last year, when he had a .280 BABIP for the Brewers.
What's really hurt Marcum this year have been struggles with stranding baserunners, something that hadn't been a problem for him most of his MLB career. Marcum's 57.2% left on base percentage is the worst LOB% in the NL, which is unusual for a pitcher with a career 75.1% LOB% who had a 75.0% LOB% last year.
So if Marcum's FIP has been awesome, and his ERA hasn't, what exactly is Marcum so good at that makes him worth every penny of his $4 million one-year contact? This year, it's been his propensity to make hitters swing-and-miss, and his overall command of the strike zone.
Marcum's ability to generate his fair share of swings-and-misses, as well as getting hitters to chase, has put him in pretty good company on these charts, and combined with his command, his K/BB ratio has skyrocketed.
For a guy with a career 2.71 K/BB ratio, Marcum's 4.27 K/BB in 2013 has been a bit of a revelation. Unfortunately, it hasn't translated to the win-loss column.
So in conclusion, maybe Shaun Marcum's 0-8 record and 5.43 ERA have been a bit of a mirage, because a 3.06 FIP is hiding in there somewhere.
For a team that struggles to score runs or prevent them, every small mistake a Mets pitcher makes can really go a long way towards undermining an otherwise solid performance. Marcum's 2013 season has been an unfortunate example of what the worst case scenario can be when bad luck and bad teammates collide.