Free Pitcher X! It’s a chant often heard when a pitcher with a starter’s arsenal who was a starter in the minors gets banished to the bullpen. This time around, those chants were directed toward Carlos Martinez. A starter throughout his minor league career, Martinez has started just eight games for the Cardinals, versus 70 relief appearances. It seemingly wasn’t due to the Cardinals organization believing he lacked the stuff or stamina to succeed as a starter. Instead, the team was just overloaded with rotation options and rather than keep Martinez in the minors, why not allow him to contribute at the Major League level? It’s what happened to Trevor Rosenthal, but his bullpen dominance ensured that he has found a home there. With a rotation opening, Martinez now appears to be the favorite for the team’s fifth starter job.
Aside from sharing the same first name, there are actually a lot of similarities between Martinez and Carlos Carrasco, who you all know I fell in love with beginning in mid-2013. Let’s compare Martinez to the pre-2014 version of Carrasco:
*Carrasco’s 2013 velocity after returning from Tommy John surgery
Obviously, it’s not a perfect match, as until this season, Carrasco was unable to translate his outwardly good stuff into strikeouts, and most of his innings came as a starter, versus Martinez who has primarily pitched in relief. But the skill sets are quite similar. Both pitchers induced lots of ground balls, throw hard and displayed acceptable control that had room to improve. Both pitchers had also been bitten by terrible defensive support leading to inflated BABIP marks.
The reasons to get excited about Martinez continue as we move away from the Carrasco comparison. Check out the SwStk% of his offerings compared to the league average:
That’s four pitches (though the changeup was thrown just 40 times, representing a rather small sample) that generated swings and misses significantly above the league average. And that sinker gets ground balls 70% of the time! That is truly one elite pitch. It’s no surprise then that Martinez shows up second on Eno Sarris’ Pitch Arsenal Score ranking. Who is he behind? Carlos Carrasco of course.
But before you rush over to your early 2015 rankings and circle, star and highlight Martinez’ name, there’s this:
While he has been rather unhittable against right-handers, lefties clobbered him this past season. He walked more batters than he struck out! Of course, these are just surface results. Let’s find out why lefties were so successful:
|Pitch Type||Whiffs vLHH||Whiffs vRHH|
Oh my. It really is that simple — righties have had major trouble making contact with Martinez’s pitches, while lefties have had no such issues. The slider and changeup whiff rates still sit at respectable levels against left-handers, but his two fastballs are certainly not fooling them, and he throws those two more than 70% of the time. Let’s take a look at another table, this time looking at his rate of balls thrown:
|Pitch Type||Balls vLHH||Balls vRHH|
And there’s your explanation for his inflated walk rate against left-handed batters. With the exception of his slider, which he used least frequently against lefties, he can’t find the plate when a left-hander is in the batter’s box. Nearly half of his sinkers and changeups were balls!
Unfortunately, I cannot determine exactly why Martinez is unable to make lefties swing and miss or throw strikes when they step to the plate. However, his current statistical profile is that of a ROOGY. Without an adjustment, some sort of cure for this ailment, Martinez may continue to struggle against lefties, at which point opposing teams will realize this and set their lineups accordingly. The ultimate downside is that the Cardinals observe his platoon issues and demote him back to the bullpen.
Of course, Martinez has been so good against righties, and with his arsenal, may very well continue to be, that he could still post solid overall numbers as a member of the rotation and one’s fantasy team. His upside, though, is capped at the moment by those platoon issues, which removes him as a candidate to become my top pitching sleeper of the year and the 2015 Carlos Carrasco. I really wanted to love him, but alas, the search continues.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.