Cardinals 23-year old righty Carlos Martinez has been enjoying a wonderful season in his sophomore year and first year as a full-time member of the starting rotation. He had a meeting with the division rival Cubs on Sunday night baseball, the same dynamic young Cubs offense that handed him his worst start of the season back on May 4 when they touched him up for 7 runs on 9 hits and 4 walks in just 3.2 innings. So Martinez was out for some revenge on the nationally televised game and he earned it with a line of 6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K with the victory to improve to 9-3 with a 2.80 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 100 K/39 BB in 93.1 IP.
With the shiny 2.80 ERA, Martinez is outpitching his xFIP of 3.17 and his SIERA of 3.36. It would appear that he is getting a bit of fortune on his side with a .284 BABIP and 83.3% strand rate. The BABIP isn’t low enough where we would think that he is in for a huge regression though, because he has a solid defense behind him and he has been adept at limiting hard contact this year at 25.7% (23rd lowest in the league). However, the strand rate sits at 3rd best in the league and that should begin to regress at least a little bit, which would negatively affect his ERA. But overall, it is hard to believe that this breakout performance is a fluke. More likely, it is a case of a young talented pitcher with electric stuff learning how to pitch at the Major League level.
Where Martinez has improved the most over last year is in his ability to get left-handed hitters out. Last season, working mostly as a relief pitcher, Martinez gave up a .297 AVG and .462 SLG to lefties and a .244 AVG and .301 SLG to righties. So far this season, lefties are still hitting for more power against him, but the hits are coming at a far less rate. He’s holding lefties to a .221 AVG and .393 SLG this season, and righties are at a .223 AVG and .313 SLG.
The weapon that has been effective for him in guiding him toward this improvement against lefty bats is the development of his changeup. According to PITCHf/x data, Martinez threw a changeup just 2.9% of the time in 2014, but this year he is going to that offspeed pitch 15.6% of the time. And it’s the changeup that is inducing both ground balls (66.7%) and swinging strikes (19.5%) at the highest rate of any pitch for him.
Martinez’ 2015 campaign has been more than the Cardinals could have asked for, but early on in the season I suggested that Martinez would probably be put on some sort of innings cap since he only pitched 99.2 innings last season and his career high for a single season is only 108 innings from 2013. Cardinals management recently came out and said they believe Martinez could exceed 170 innings this year, which is a higher limit than I would have thought because often time teams don’t like their young, inexperienced pitchers to have much more than a 30-40 inning increase from either the previous season or their career high. But if he does exceed 170 innings, I wouldn’t imagine that he goes too much higher than that.
This would mean that the Cardinals may have to get creative in the second half to limit his innings and to have him available for the post-season. But with the 9 game lead that the Cardinals currently have in their division, if they can maintain it, then they could afford to skip Martinez’ start when they have an off day scheduled and/or put him in the bullpen in September. Doing so, also could work out in the team’s benefit because after the All-Star break when Martinez is in uncharted territory for himself in innings pitched, he could begin to show signs of wearing down — poorer command, decreased velocity, etc. So extra rest or a shift to the pen could be beneficial on both ends if that happens.
So if you own Martinez, then it could be a sneaky move to begin to shop him around for another piece that could help your fantasy team. Because if/when Martinez begins to display any sort of fatigue in the second half of the season, then other fantasy owners are not going to find him as attractive and they will hear rumblings from larger media outlets (or perhaps the Cardinals organization themselves) that Martinez will be treated more carefully with skipping his turn in the rotation or moving to the pen. Besides being completely shut down for the year, being moved to the pen would be the worst case scenario, unless it is to close games due to a Trevor Rosenthal injury. If Martinez is in the pen as a setup man in September then he will not be doing much to help any fantasy squads, especially for the playoffs in head-to-head leagues. So I would say that it is okay to ride him while he’s going well, but just beware of the events that may unfold and to be open minded about trading him away in season long redraft leagues.
Now let’s check out what else happened during Sunday baseball! Continue reading