The simplest way to put it is that Carlos Marmol is the Cubs' closer until he isn't.
There's no doubt the Cubs still would love to trade Marmol -- they tried last fall -- but while he's still here, the Cubs are committed to him as closer, even with Kyuji Fujikawa waiting in the wings.
Bruce Miles ranks NL closers1, Craig Kimbrel, Braves, 3.2 WAR
2. Jason Motte, Cardinals, 1.4
3. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies, 1.6
4. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers, 1.9
5. J.J. Putz (1.2), Diamondbacks
10. Carlos Marmol, CUBS, 0.3
That's not an entirely bad thing, even with some of the thrill rides Marmol has provided over the past few years as the team's main closer.
Yes, he did lose that job for part of last season, but after he listened to manager Dale Sveum's advice on varying his repertoire, things got noticeably better.
Marmol wound up with a record of 3-3 with 20 saves, an ERA of 3.42 and a WHIP of 1.54. The first-half and second-half splits were starkly different. Before the break, Marmol had an ERA of 5.61 and a WHIP of 1.87. After the break, the ERA was 1.52, and the WHIP was 1.25.
The biggest explanation seems to be that Marmol relied more on his fastball and less on his slider as the season wore on.
"I think he learned a lot last year about his fastball and how to use it," Sveum told reporters early in spring training. "He's throwing strikes with his fastball."
The slider had become something of a good-bad pitch for Marmol. When it was good, it was very good, and he was nearly impossible to hit. But when Marmol was not getting the slider over the plate, hitters laid off. Walks resulted, and batters could wait for Marmol to put a fastball over the plate.
The WHIP figure is most interesting with Marmol. Back in 2008, when he was part of the Cubs' division-winning team, Marmol had a WHIP of 0.93. By 2010, it had crept up to 1.18 (certainly not bad), and in 2011, it was up to 1.38.
Baseball Prospectus put it this way: "... The Cubs lost patience waiting for him to find the strike zone and demoted him from the closer's role. And then the rest of the bullpen reminded the team it had few other acceptable options."
How much did things change? According to fangraphs.com, Marmol threw his slider 64 percent of the time in 2011, compared with 36 percent for the fastball.
By the time the infield dust had settled last year, he wound up throwing 51 percent fastballs and 49 percent sliders. Perhaps not coincidentally, the velocity on the fastball ticked up from 91.8 mph in 2011 to 94 mph last year, making it a much more effective pitch.
Marmol has one year and $9.8 million left on the three-year deal former GM Jim Hendry gave him. If the Cubs are out of contention, there's a good possibility Marmol will be traded. He has no-trade rights, which he would have waived last fall for a trade to the Angels for starting pitcher Dan Haren, but Cubs concerns about Haren's health eventually killed the deal.
Recent rumors have speculated on Marmol being traded to Detroit, possibly for starting pitcher Rick Porcello. Such a deal might benefit both teams (and both players at this point), but so far, those rumors don't appear to have traction. And Tigers manager Jim Leyland might need three packs of smokes a day to get through some of Marmol's adventures.
In any case, Marmol isn't likely to be the Cubs' closer beyond 2013.