Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Downfall Of Jeff Marquez

So whatever happened to Jeffrey Marquez? As recently as last season many were referring to the former 1st rounder as the next Chien Ming Wang type. Though it is understood how unique a case CMW is, and that Marquez most likely would not duplicate his major league success, the similarities were there.

The turbo sinker. The declining strikeout rates yet consistent success. He was catapulted after a very good year at AA-Trenton, the minor league level recognized as the proving ground for rising pitching prospects.

During that 2007 season, Marquez was overshadowed by rotation mate Alan Horne, who won the Eastern League version of the Cy Young, as well as Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, who blistered through Trenton on their way to the big leagues.

However, prospect watchers didn't sleep on Marquez and his status as a groundball machine. Last year saw Marquez compile an impressive 15-9 record, log 155+ innings and post a solid 3.65 ERA. Over those 155.1 innings Marquez only walked 44 batters [bb/9 of just 2.45] but his strikeout rates dropped dramatically from 7.99 k/9 in 2006 to 5.45 k/9 in 2007. That trend continued into 2008 as Marquez is currently striking out just 4.38 batters per nine innings at Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

Though Marquez allowed more hits than innings-pitched in both 2006 and 2007, that is to be expected from a prospect who pitches to contact and induces scores of groundballs. There is nothing to be alarmed about there, as he is often able to produce GIDP's much like Yankee fans saw from Wang last against Oakland. However, his 2008 hits per nine innings has seen another decided increase from just over a hit per inning last year to 11.97 h/9 this season. To be blunt, Marquez has been bombarded during his foray into AAA competition and there's been little silver lining to consider.

When he is at his best, Marquez commands a true power sinker anywhere from 88-94 mph that saws off righthanded bats with regularity. He controls the pitch well and expertly varies the speed at which he throws the two-seamer - he can sit 93-94 or create more movement with an 88-90 mph sinker. Marquez also mixes in the occasional four-seam fastball which can hit 95 mph. His best secondary offering has always been a power changeup which he throws in the low 80's. It's a swing and miss pitch, but it also gets lefties out-in-front and pound the ball into the dirt.

The Achilles heal for Marquez has been his curveball. The pitch can be above-average at times [some have even projected it as a plus pitch], but it is consistently inconsistent for Marquez and can be hung up in the zone and punished by opposing batters. In response to the inconsistency of his curve, Marquez recently introduced an effective slider, a pitch which by all accounts came from out of nowhere. Though he reportedly had just begun playing around with the pitch, it showed solid life and depth, and could ultimately prove to be the third pitch he's been searching for.

Two starts ago Marquez put together the best performance of his brief AAA career, tossing seven innings of one-run ball on four hits. Though Marquez did not strike out a batter, the slider he had overused in his previous start was working well that night and it appeared as though he had turned a corner. His previous two starts had gotten progressively better and it seemed this seven inning outing was the exclamation point. [During those previous two starts Marquez threw 14 innings and allowed just 4 runs]

Assuming Marquez had made the necessary adjustments, one would predict another strong outing last night against the Richmond Braves. The results were dominant or disastrous as Marquez put together a very pedestrian five innings, allowing three runs on four hits and again striking out zero batters. His ERA rose to 5.13 on the season, with 90 hits allowed over 73.2 innings.

On this particular player my conclusion is that it's inconclusive. Marquez has become an enigma that The Riddler wouldn't attempt solving. His near future may involve a demotion to Trenton in order to regain confidence, or his last four starts and the development of his slider could equal a major step forward. There had also been some buzz about Marquez turning to the bullpen and eventually becoming a version of Ramiro Mendoza - a guy who can pitch multiple innings and get key groundouts. Whatever takes place over the duration of the '08 season, it's safe to say Marquez has confounded us all thus far.

No comments: