Thursday, May 14, 2015

Random Ex-Brave: Jason Marquis

In my mind, Jason Marquis and Odalis Perez are connected. Both pitchers were young and full of talent. It looked like either or even both would fill out a rotation that was getting older every year. Odalis had great movement from the left side, Marquis was a bulldog from the right side. But in the end, both would need trades to other organizations to reach their potential - even if it was short-lived. For Odalis, it was a move to L.A. For Marquis, it was a midwest run in St. Louis. Combined, the duo managed a 4.81 ERA with the Braves. In his defense, the only reason it was that low was because of Marquis and his 4.45 ERA as a Brave.
Ezra Shaw | Getty Images Sport
Long before Marquis was on draft boards, he was a kid from New York. Born in Manhasset, part of the New York metropolitan area, Marquis grew up in Staten Island as a son of a teacher. He was naturally a Yankees fan and idolized Don Mattingly. It didn't take long for Marquis to ride baseball to new heights. In 1991, he was a member of the South Shore Little League squad that finished third in Williamsport. On his 13th birthday, Marquis tossed a no-hitter against Team Canada to win the consolation game ahead of the world final.

A growth spurt in high school led to Marquis showing mid-90's velocity. He also had a curveball and a changeup and was a dominating force on the mound against other New York high schools. He pitched his teams to state titles while pitching championship games in Shae and Yankee Stadiums. The New York Daily News said that Marquis was "perhaps the city's best high school player since...Manny Ramirez."

The Braves were overjoyed at the prospect of Marquis being available with the 35th overall selection of the 1996 draft. They had already selected A.J. Zapp with their first pick, which would be an utter bust, and now were looking to make something happened with the pick they gained because of failing to sign Chad Hutchinson. Yeah, the quarterback. After picking Marquis, they had to woo him away from heading to the University of Miami, where he had signed a letter of intent. More than a month later, Marquis agreed to a $600K signing bonus to join the Braves.

Aggressively pushed by a Braves organization touted as ultra capable of developing young pitchers, Marquis's minor league numbers were not impressive. He had plenty of K's and a good enough walk rate, but was touched up for too many hits allowed. Considering he was just 19 years-old when he first tasted the Carolina League in 1998, that should be expected. Marquis has the distinction of being a member of the one-year Danville 97s, who played in the same park as the Danville Braves while the new park in Myrtle Beach was built.

Marquis would need to repeat the Carolina League for a brief six start run in 1999 and the Southern League for eleven starts in 2000, but again, it's important to acknowledge that Marquis was routinely three-or-four years younger than the league he was playing in. The Braves had faith he could handle the load and he even ranked twice in Baseball America's Top 100 prospects in 1999 and 2001 despite underwhelming numbers.

In 2000, Marquis made it to the majors. He appeared in 15 games out of the pen, often as a long relief option for the Braves. He earned from a few "atta boy's" on June 12th when he entered after Kevin Millwood (Ex-Brave Profile) surrendered five runs while recording one out. Marquis stranded a runner and went 4.2 ING while allowing three runs - two earned - to keep the game close. In the 8th, the Braves tied it at 8 a piece. In the 9th, Javy Lopez (Ex-Brave Profile) and Reggie Sanders paired up for back-to-back RBI singles and the Braves came back from an 8-3 deficit to win. Marquis would also vulture a victory on June 23rd for his first win of his career. He entered with a 2-1 lead after replacing another recent Random Ex-Brave, John Burkett. After an one-hit seventh, Marquis met ex-Brave Marquis Grissom and the then-Brewer took an 0-1 pitch from Marquis downtown. In the following frame, the Braves retook the lead.

Marquis lost a battle for the fifth starting gig to Odalis Perez entering 2001, but did win a bullpen spot. He would be useful in that role before replacing John Smoltz, who struggled in his return to the rotation (he would be moved to the pen when he came back). Marquis would stick in the rotation for the rest of the year, though Bobby Cox would often skip him when possible. After struggling at first, Marquis would right the ship and finished with a 3.61 ERA after his first start on June 19 - not far removed from his 3.09 ERA before the move to the rotation. He was especially good in September when he posted a 2.45 ERA, including eight solid frames in his final start of the year. He also holds the honor of taking the mound against the Mets on September 21, the first game in New York after the horrific events of 9/11. Marquis, who lost one of his little league teammates-turned-fire fighter in the Twin Towers, pitched six emotional innings and left with the game tied tied at 1-1. The Braves would push a run across in the 8th, but Mike Piazza hit a two-run shot in the 8th to put the Mets ahead for good. As a Braves fan who hated the Mets back then, I don't think I was alone when I said "good for them." I couldn't be mad that the Mets got the win that night.

Marquis would appear in two games out of the pen during the NLCS loss to the Diamondbacks and was charged with four unearned runs. It would be the only postseason games he pitched for the Braves. Still, he had put himself into position to stay in the rotation heading into 2002. The trade of Odalis Perez to the Dodgers opened up things a bit more for Marquis. He looked good in his first start, but struggled in his next two and missed the next few weeks presumably to injury. Once he returned, his production remained uneven and the emergence of Damian Moss pushed Marquis back a spot as well. On the year, he started all 22 games he appeared in, but posted a 5.04 ERA. The Braves were pretty much done with Marquis at that point. They chose to sign Shane Reynolds to stabilize the bottom of the rotation in 2003, which left Marquis to pitch in the minors and/or mop-up duty for the pen. The Braves seemed to feel that Marquis, like Perez, just didn't fit into what the Braves wanted their pitchers doing.

After the 2003 season, Marquis was packaged with reliever Ray King and prospect Adam Wainwright in a deal to the Cardinals to get J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero. The deal would ultimately be remembered for Drew's one season in Atlanta and Waino's ascension to elite status, but Marquis's departure also hurt at first. Dave Duncan, the long-time Cards pitching coach, pushed Marquis to rediscover his sinker and in 2004, he won 15 games with a 3.71 ERA. He even got the start in Game 4 of the World Series. He posted a quality start, but the future Brave Derek Lowe was better and the Red Sox beat the Cards to break the curse. His numbers went down from there and Marquis posted a 6.02 ERA in 2006, yet never lost his stating spot. Twice, he took one for the team (13 ER in 5 ING, 12 ER in 5 ING). I imagine his ERA goes under 6.00 without those stinkers. Despite not appearing in the postseason, Marquis received his only World Series ring when the Cardinals beat the Tigers.

After the year, Marquis stayed in the midwest and signed with the Chicago Cubs for $21M over 3 years. Like his last two years in St. Louis, Marquis was just a guy who took the ball every fifth day and that was about it. In 358.2 ING with the Cubs, he had a 4.81 FIP and a 1.42 WHIP. The Cubs sent him to Colorado before the third year of the deal and he posted possibly his finest year. Pitching half of his games in Coors Field didn't bother Marquis and he finished with a 4.04 ERA and a 4.10 FIP, the second best FIP of his career. He had a remarkable game that June 30th. He allowed just two hits, walked nobody, and induced 17 ground-ball-outs while throwing a shutout on just 86 pitches. Marquis would go to the All-Star Game not as a club representative - Colorado had five All Stars - but as a deserving pitcher. The game was played in St. Louis and he received a big ovation during pregame intros. When Colorado went to the playoffs, Marquis became the first player to play for a playoff team in each of his first ten years and do so while playing for more than two teams.

The Rockies wanted Marquis back, but the Nationals wanted him more and gave the righty $15M to sign for two years. His time in Washington was miserable. He missed time with an elbow injury and made just 13 starts in 2010. Overall, in 33 starts with the Nats, he posted a 4.82 ERA before being traded to the Diamondbacks. He made just three starts with Arizona before a comebacker broke his fibula.

Since then, Marquis has played for one year deals and minor league contracts. He started seven games for the Twins, but struggled badly. He was much better after landing in San Diego after the Twins cut him in 2012 and even threw his fifth career shutout, but another comebacker would end his season. He returned to San Diego in 2013 and was enjoying a good season, aided by the friendly dimensions in San Diego, before tearing his UCL that July. Less than a year later, he signed with the Phillies and continued to rehab, starting nine minor league games before being released.

Last offseason, he signed with the Reds and made the team coming out of spring training. In his first half-dozen starts with the Reds, he's 3-2 with a 5.66 ERA. One of those wins naturally has come in Atlanta where, on May 2, he gave up three runs in 6.2 ING as the Reds rolled 8-4. He probably would have started against the Braves yesterday had a rain-out not pushed his regular schedule back a day.

One of the remarkable things about Marquis has always been his ability at the plate. A real athlete, Marquis has hit .195/.213/.276 during his 15-year career with 5 HR. He also has a steal. It came on May 3, 2004 against Greg Maddux, who had also stole a base off Marquis earlier in the game. Maddux was a little bit more active on the basepaths than Marquis and stole 11-of-14 attempts during his career. But unlike Maddux, Marquis has a Silver Slugger. It came in 2005.

As we look back at Marquis's time with the Braves, it's important to note that while it was disappointing, it was some of his best pitching in one place. His 4.45 ERA with the Braves was better than his ERA with the Cards (4.60). His FIP of 4.74 is better than his time with the Cards, Padres, and Cubs. And while Marquis was never the frontline starter the Braves dreamed he would be, he has stuck around long after the careers of Odalis Perez, Damian Moss, and Jung Bong have ended. He's the right-handed Bruce Chen. He's not the star we hoped he would be, but you can't stop him from pitching. He's going to do it just to spite you.

More Random Ex-Braves
Nate McLouth (2009-11)
Roman Colon (2004-05)
Ray Holbert (1998)

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