Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Carlos Martinez Not Inspiring Confidence

On Broadway, upstaging the lead is generally considered poor form. In Monday’s game against the Mets, the Cardinals experienced a little upstaging on the field, as the unheralded, recently promoted Nick Greenwood did a much better job in relief of the man he took the ball from, the once and possibly still promising Carlos Martinez.

Making his first start since 2013, Martinez, self-styled as the Tsunami, nearly drowned in a storm of his own making, walking four of the 18 batters he faced, barely completing four innings. He struck out three and finished with a 4.59 FIP and 4.91 xFIP for the game, against a team that at 29th in MLB in wOBA, isn’t exactly Murderers’ Row. For Greenwood’s part, the soft-tossing lefty was more efficient and effective, facing 12 batters over 3 1/3 innings, with a 2.19 FIP/2.58 xFIP.

For the season, Martinez now has a 3.63 FIP and 3.90 xFIP. More concerning is his substandard 8.0 K-BB%, a measure of a pitcher’s dominance. To put that into perspective, Seth Maness (10.1%) and Randy Choate (11.7%) rank higher than Martinez. Martinez’s K-BB% has been steadily declining since he broke into professional baseball.

In particular, the problem for Martinez — and this is true regardless of whether he starts or relieves — is that he appears to be a different pitcher when he pitches from the stretch. Twice in the last week, we’ve heard from former players Rick Horton (on the radio broadcast) and Mike Matheny (in his postgame comments Monday night) that Martinez has “been jumpy” or “looked uncomfortable” pitching without the benefit of the windup. But looks can be deceiving, of course, so let’s check the splits:

Situational IP OBP SLG wOBA SO/9 BB/9 SO/BB
Bases Empty 36 .280 .224 .239 8.0 3.3 2.5
Men on Base 31 .405 .500 .378 6.7 4.1 1.6

That’s not a lot of data, but it’s probably enough to support those anecdotal observations that Martinez isn’t comfortable pitching from the stretch. He walks more batters and strikes out fewer, but the real eye-opener is that batters pound him more. That may indicate lost velocity and/or movement owing to mechanics — something we’re not sure how and probably not qualified to solve. Hopefully, Cardinal pitching coaches can help their righty overcome or compensate for his weakness. But short of never allowing base runners or pitching from the windup every batter, the team’s #2 prospect entering this season doesn’t have many options;  this may be a Damocles sword that hangs over him for the rest of his career. That sounds serious, and we hope we’re wrong; after all, the guy is still only 22 and remains technically a rookie. As for what we’re seeing now, Martinez isn’t inspiring confidence.

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