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Evan Marshall: ‘Changed’ for good

The veteran has bounced around for years, signed this offseason for just 550k, and now is an integral part of the Sox bullpen

MLB: Game One-Baltimore Orioles at Chicago White Sox
Sweet Home Chicago: Marshall made his MLB debut in 2014, but could never stick in a spot. He’s already thrown his second-most innings in an MLB season.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Way back in 2011, Evan Marshall was selected in the fourth round of the draft, and three years later made the big leagues.

And he was pretty good: In 2014, Marshall had a 2.89 FIP in 49 13 innings. He was more of a strikeout pitcher then with some questionable command, but he was very effective. Unfortunately for him, it was downhill for the next few years, and not necessarily all his fault.

The 2015 season was the start of Marshall’s decline, as his FIP increased to 6.13, but more devastatingly, he was hit in the head by a batted ball and was diagnosed with a fractured skull. Thank goodness, Marshall made a full recovery and obviously returned to the mound the next season. The bad? He continued to pitch poorly.

The 2016 and 2017 seasons saw little to no success — but 2018 did bring some hope. Marshall had a career-high K-rate (though in just seven innings pitched!) along with a good 2.73 FIP. It was not good enough for Cleveland to retain his services, and the Sox signed him to a minor league contract this past offseason.

Once here, Marshall’s ascent started again.

In 10 innings pitched with the Charlotte Knights, something clearly had changed for Marshall. The strikeouts were near the mark he had in 2018, but the walks took a significant drop, closer to where his previous minor league walk rates sat. Unlike in 2018, where Marshall lost his command upon promotion from Triple-A to MLB, the White Sox version of Evan Marshall has seen his command stay pristine, only this time, the K-rate fell. Now in 16 13 innings with the Sox so far, Marshall has not allowed an earned run, with a FIP at 2.36.

So, Evan Marshall is good now?


It’s all about the change!

Evan Marshall has become one of those weird pitchers who uses something other than a fastball a majority of the time. From 2014-18, Marshall used his sinker more than any other pitch, and by a good margin, too. Until this season, that is.

Marshall’s changeup is now his dominant pitch, and for very good reason, as you can see in the video above and the expected batting average graph below.

Marshall’s expected batting average on his pitching arsenal, from 2014-19.
Baseball Savant

Yeah, that changeup is pretty good — in fact, it has been his best pitch in terms of expected batting average against over Marshall’s past two, abbreviated seasons.

So why is it so good and even getting better? Well, so far this season, the pitch has gained about one mph in velocity, it is basically as quick as a Kyle Hendrick’s fastball. It is also rated 20th in all of baseball (starters and relievers) for vertical movement in inches vs the average movement of similar changeups. If you watched the video above, you probably could have guessed that, but the stats bear out the eye test: What that movement has done this season is just astounding:

Batters against Marshall’s change have a -13 launch angle and an average exit velocity of 79.2 mph. That exit velocity is the 14th-best mark in MLB (min. 10 results) and the launch angle is the best mark MLB ... by a lot (second-best mark is -6.9 degrees, by Ross Stripling).

That is an elite changeup that has only resulted in two hits off of Marshall, and every single expected stat agrees on how good it has been. So, Marshall has decided to throw his changeup 13% more often compared to last season, and the results have been great.

But the change being so good, and its increased usage, also helps his other main pitches, the sinker and four-seam fastball.

First the sinker, which Marshall really only uses against righthanders (55 of his 58 sinkers). The movement of a sinker and change are kind of similar, but there has been some notable differences from both — specifically the changeup.

In terms of horizontal movement, both pitches move more horizontally than last season, but the gap between the two has closed from two inches to .6 inches. On the vertical side, the change is now moving more up-and-down than the sinker by about an inch. So while both pitches are moving more similarly across the plate, the change is getting more vertical movement in relation to the sinker than ever before. That’s not a great thing for batters, especially when their locations are very similar.

Marshall’s change location on the left and sinker location on the right against RHB in 2019.
FanGraphs

That combination is just unfair to right-handed batters, and Marshall is taking advantage of it like never before. Right now, Marshall has thrown more changes versus righties than lefties, something he has never done before. With all of these differences in movement and usage for both pitches, the sinker has gone from having a career best wRC+ against of 134, to currently having a -18 wRC+ so far in 2019. But there has also been a similar effect for the four-seam fastball, though not as drastic.

Obviously, there is not much about movement similarity between a four-seamer and a changeup. However, the ramped-up usage of four-seamers against lefties in 2019 for Marshall is significant. Before this season, Marshall had only thrown more four-seamers to left-handed batters once (2017, 73%). This season, he has thrown 84% of his four-seam fastballs to lefties, a huge increase — and a very productive one. Where the change comes in to help the fastball is in terms of location, as both pitches are used about the same in terms of total pitches thrown. Marshall routinely throws his change low-and-away to lefties, and then goes right up-and-in with the fastball.

Marshall’s 2019 changeup usage against LHB on the left and four-seam fastball usage against LHB on the right.
FanGraphs

and this is how lefties have hit both of those pitches. In a word, this is greatness:

Marshall’s heat map against lefties (using his change and four-seamer) in 2019.
FanGraphs

Marshall’s ability to work the hitter’s eye level with the change low-and-away and the fastball high-and-inside has led to a career best wRC+ for the fastball so far in 2019. The previous best wRC+ against his fastball was 114 back in 2017; Marshall currently has an 82 wRC+ this season, a significant improvement. And it all comes from the change.

The best part about this is that Marshall is controllable for two more seasons and he is at 29. He’s not some old reliever rearing back for one last good season. Marshall has made changes to his pitch usage in terms of an increase in changeups overall, and using his sinker and fastball exclusively for RHB and LHB respectively. The White Sox may have found something in Marshall, and with the years he still has left in arbitration, this is a bullpen pitcher who can be a part of a playoff contender.

But yeah, Evan Marshall has changed for good.