Milwaukee and Chicago Have Closers that Can’t Seal the Deal

201304032236813640091-p2From 2010 through 2011 John Axford and Carlos Marmol were two of the most effective closers the National League had to offer. Axford was a huge part of the Brewers 2011 run to the NLCS, leading the National League in saves while rocking the meanest foo-man-chu and one of the nastiest sliders in baseball. Despite struggling a bit with control issues, Carlos Marmol was also an extremely effective closer. He struck out a whopping 70 more hitters than any other NL closer between the 2010 and 2011 seasons and piled up a tidy 72 saves.

But since that high water mark in 2011 neither pitcher has been anywhere close to replicating that type of production. In Milwaukee a year ago the bullpen anchored by Axford was an absolute disaster and more than likely cost the team a shot at the playoffs. Marmol had similar struggles a year ago, walking a little over 7 batters per 9 innings of work during his roller coaster season. Both pitchers were up to their devious tricks again over the weekend. On Saturday night Carlos Marmol let both Upton bros. go deep, snatching another Cubbie defeat from the jaws of victory. Not to be outdone, on Sunday afternoon John Axford gave up a 2-run, 11th inning moonshot to Eric Hinske to put the Brewers down 8-6. Milwaukee tried their best to bail Axford out but they came up just short, losing 8-7 to complete the sweep at the hands of the Diamondbacks.

John Axford

For the time being Axford is still the closer in Milwaukee but his leash has to be getting shorter by the day. He threw a 1-2-3 top of the 10th inning against the Brewers and he was toted back out for the 11th and that’s when things got ugly. He left a breaking ball up in the zone to Cliff Pennington on an 0-2 count and got his just desserts, giving up a lead-off double. Axford then doubled down on his mistake, hanging another 0-2 curveball to Hinske, and the Brewers’ pitcher was properly punished, giving up a mammoth homer and the ball game.

Axford has had this kind of loose control with his breaking ball for the better part of the last year now. Opposing batters hit just .117 against Axford’s curve and they had just one extra-base hit off the pitch (via Brooks Baseball) during his seminal 2011 season. Those numbers have been markedly worse since then. The Brewers closer has allowed opponent’s to hit .240 off the pitch since 2011 and the extra-base hits have come more frequently and they’ve been more damaging.

Axford’s fastball velocity has also dipped a hair and that loss in speed has cost the pitch a bit of its bite. Axford’s fastball has a natural run to it and when he’s not throwing it above 95 the pitch tends to straighten out and bad things tend to happen.

It’s fair to wonder if Axford will ever be able to regain that 2011 magic again or if all of that was just a flash in the pan. He still has big-time strikeout ability as evidenced by his towering K rate (12.4 per 9) a season ago but he misses on his location too often over the middle of the plate. Until Axford can get his location issues sorted out Milwaukee may want to consider using Jim Henderson, a hard-throwing righty, in his place. Let’s examine the struggles of this pair of closers:

Carlos Marmol

“We’ve had three games that have been winnable games this year and all three have been an adventure,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “So the decision was fairly easy.”

That’s Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer discussing wild man closer Carlos Marmol and the franchise’s decision to demote him from 9th inning duties. Instead the Cubs will opt to use former 8th inning man Kyuji Fujikawa as their closer while they try to get Marmol sorted out once again.

This seems to be an annual occurrence on the north side of Chicago because of Marmol’s control issues. The fire-balling righty is about as volatile as they come in his delivery to the plate and that’s due to his inconsistent release point. Marmol has always struggled to repeat his delivery and that’s led him to rank among the league leaders in walk rate over the past 5 seasons.

Part of the problem comes from the unnatural delivery Marmol has when he delivers the ball to the plate. Marmol has a tendency to drop his shoulder and jerk his neck as he’s releasing the ball which leads to poorly located pitches and piles of walks.

Another one of Marmol’s problems stems from the inability to learn a 3rd pitch earlier in his career. Marmol has always been a 2-pitch pitcher which makes things easier for a hitter. All they have to do is sit on his fastball and they can simply react to the breaking ball on the off-chance that it happens to run across the plate. That’s the exact approach both Upton brothers took to the plate in Saturday night’s game and, as you saw, it was extremely effective.



  1. whosgotaheatgun

    Good read. Axford has been terrible going back to last year and Marmol hasn’t been much better. Great point on Marmol, guys just sit on that fastball because he almost never gets the slider in for a strike. Where do you see these guys at the end of the year? Different teams, AAA, closing, 8th inning?

    • David Hruska

      Axford’s going to be in Milwaukee and he’s going to be given every possible chance to succeed. If he can’t get it together as a closer I’m guessing he just falls down the pecking order in the bullpen. I don’t think Marmol has much more time left in his career as a Cub. If Chicago can find a way to dump him they most certainly will.

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