Every baseball team has its pitcher—generally a reliever—who could really be something if he someday put it all together. He invariably has a big fastball, and a secondary pitch that toggles between "unhittable" and "so hittable it might as well have been tossed underhand by Coach Fred at little-league practice." He assuredly has tons of strikeouts, strikeouts he counterbalances with hit-by-pitches and gobs and gobs of walks. And his ERA sits anywhere from 1.50 to 6.50, depending on whether his pitching coach did the right kind of mood stabilizing that year.
Closer Carlos Marmol, who was designated for assignment today, was from 2006 until now the Cubs' version of this archetype, their very own Oliver Perez or Daniel Cabrera. He followed the pattern closely: In 2007, he had a 1.59 ERA in 69.1 innings of work; in 2013, his ERA had made it all the way t0 5.86.
But Carlos Marmol had no interest in being just another footnote. He wanted the strikeouts, and, sure, the walks. But he wanted them with a desire more fervid than anyone else's. He had no interest in the hitters determining the outcome of his at-bats. He wanted to be the least hittable pitcher in baseball history.
And, um, it might not be much of an accomplishment, but holy crap: He was. Among pitchers with more than 400 innings pitched, throughout all of baseball history, Marmol allowed the fewest hits per nine innings. He's right there, just above Billy Wagner, Troy Percival, and Armando Benitez—try though you might to hit Carlos Marmol, you could not.
Ah, but that's the thing. No batter really tried all that hard to hit Carlos Marmol. Since the Pitch/FX era began in 2007, Marmol has the lowest swing rate of any pitcher in baseball. Hitters swung at only 38.2 percent of his pitches. (Did they make contact? Not really: His contact rate—batters made contact on 70.6 percent of swings—is the third-lowest since '07.)
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This meant hitters would strike out—Marmol's strikeout rate, 11.67 per nine innings, is the fourth-best in baseball history (again, min. 400 innings)—but it also meant that they would walk. And did they ever. Marmol's walk rate, 6.07 per nine, is the seventh-highest in baseball history. All the dominant closers who joined him on the fewest-hits and high-strikeout lists abandon him here. Instead he's surrounded by the likes of Mitch Williams and Mark Clear.
But their vanishing from this list is a good sign for Marmol: It means that he made even more baseball history. I made up a statistic—strikeouts and walks per nine innings. He's number one all-time, and it's not close. (Be forewarned: I calculated it literally on the back of an envelope, so there may be a mistake here and there. The innings minimum remains 400.)
Walks and Strikeouts Per Nine Innings
Cubs fans may not have known it, but they were watching something special. They were watching the first pitcher in the long history of our national pastime who apparently had no idea there was a batter facing him. And for Marmol's ability to sustain that delusion throughout his career, we can do nothing but applaud him.