Jason Marquis is slinging it like he never has before. (Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE)
Let me give you a series of numbers, it should be easy to pick out the one that looks a bit different:
4.3, 4.4, 5.1, 4.9, 4.8, 4.8, 5.2, 6.3
That last number (6.3) is a decent amount higher than the others. Those are Jason Marquis' Strikeouts Per 9 Innings Pitched (K/9) rates dating back to 2005. So that 6.3 K/9 rate is this year's rate. I admit that I'm fudging the numbers a little because before 2005, Marquis did have higher K/9 rates. Still it's interesting that over a 7 year span before reaching a year where the majority of his innings are with the Padres Marquis was quite consistent with how many strikeouts he could get per 9 innings pitched. The change is even more dramatic if I remove his time this year with the Twins out of the equation. Since joining the Padres, his K/9 rate is 7.5.
Another interesting thing to think about is that the Padres had this happen to another pitcher recently. Jon Garland had the following series of K/9 rates:
5.4, 4.7, 5.2, 5.1, 4.7, 4.7, 4.8, 4.2, 4.1, 4.8, 6.1.
That bolded number is Jon Garland 2010 K/9 rate. The year he spent with the Padres. One thing that may jump to mind here is that the Padres play at pitcher friend Petco Park. That could help, right? Actually, Garland and Marquis both have higher K rates at Petco in their Padre year than away from Petco, but both had 6.0 K/9 road rates in that year. 6.0 is still above the normal given how their careers were going up until joining the Padres.
Why does this matter? Why should we care? Strikeouts are fascist, as was said in the movie Bull Durham. They are a definitive out that the pitcher can create. Letting the ball get put in play is more democratic. Sometimes it's hit at a defensive player, sometimes an error is made and sometimes the ball just finds a place where no one can get to it in time to record an out. A pitcher may have some control over this by keeping hitters off balance or throwing stuff that's nasty enough and in both cases may force weak contact (although even weak contact doesn't prevent hits, but probably won't give up extra base hits). Garland and Marquis were already pretty proficient at forcing as many weak contact outs as possible.
So, if you take two pitchers that already know much of what they need to do to force weak contact and then give them some extra strikeouts per game to help reduce the burden place on defense and take away some chances for bad luck, you've significantly improved a pitcher's potential. That's why it is interesting see such changes. Those road K/9 rates I mentioned earlier seem to take Petco Park out of the equation. So, what seems to be left is either luck (or as statisticians would say: random variation, or what some could also call: a career year) or possibly something that is coached by pitching coach Darren Balsley and the Padres staff.
I can't say for sure, but I find it intriguing that potentially the Padres pitching coach could be so good as to teach these old dogs new tricks. Another interesting part of this is Jason Marquis' pending free agency at the end of the year and the continuing health uncertainties surrounding the starting pitchers that are under team control for 2013. If Marquis' success is a fluke then obviously you thank him for his time and let him go. If the team has found a way to make Marquis magic, then a new contract may be in order. Of course, other teams might want to bid as well.