Jason Marquis is 3-0 with a 2.62 ERA after out pitching Tim Lincecum yesterday. Marquis' start is among the many surprises of this early 2011 season. And Marquis' success hasn't been lucky. His BABIP is normal. And the ERA is no fluke either as it is slightly higher than his FIP, which stands at 2.52 and is only slightly lower than his xFIP which stands at 3.18. Obviously, this isn't the Jason Marquis of 2010 who went 2-9 with an ERA over six. What's even more obvious is that we've never seen this Jason Marquis before.
For starters, Marquis isn't walking anyone. Even in his Dave Duncan, Cardinals seasons, Marquis walked over three batters per nine innings. His career average is 3.46 walks per nine. His lowest rate was 3.00 under Duncan in 2005. And yet this year, Marquis is only walking 1.31 batters per nine innings. That's in the Cliff Lee/Roy Halladay range.
Secondly, Marquis' strikeout rate is his highest since 2004. That was a long time ago. His 6.29 strikeouts per nine innings is more than a full strikeout over his career average of 5.26. Plus, Marquis has only given up one homer this season giving him the ridiculous rate of 0.26 homers per nine innings. His career rate in that category is 1.1. The only two seasons Marquis has kept his homer rate below one per nine innings was in 2008 for the Cubs and 2009 for the Rockies. Note: He was also under one early in his career in part time duty.
So how is Jason Marquis suddenly among the elite pitchers in the National League? Well, he's healthy for one thing. Last year's poor performance was due in part to nagging injuries that limited him to only 13 starts, his lowest total since 2003. But Marquis has been healthy plenty of years and not pitched like this. The real key to his success thus far seems to be his change up.
Why the change up? Because it's the only real anomaly in his statistics. His ground ball rate is nearly the same. The effectiveness of his fastball is not out of line with his career. His line drive rate isn't greatly changed. The only real change that jumps out at you in his statistics is his change up. He's thrown the pitch 23.2 percent of the time this season. The highest rate he's ever thrown that pitch is 13.3 percent last year. And for his career, the pitch has only been in his arsenal to the tune of 9.1 percent. His rate of pitches being chased outside the strike zone is higher to a pretty significant degree and perhaps that can be directly related to the increase in change ups and the effectiveness of that pitch.
And Fangraphs certainly seems to show the change up has been very effective. It's by far his most effective pitch type. Marquis has never had a devastating fastball and its values are always in the negative numbers. His slider is slightly more effective this year than in the past. But the change up this year is rated very highly.
Normally, you might expect Marquis to regress from his stunning 2011 early numbers. His walk and homer rate seem so out of whack with the rest of his career. But there is also the chance that he's found something like lightning in a bottle with his change up and just perhaps, he can ride that pitch all season as long if his health holds up.