Have you ever been in a situation, whether at work or in school, where you felt like your overall performance was underwhelming due in large part to your higher-ups providing you with no specific role? Have you ever been forced to deal with a personal tragedy, such as the passing of a loved one or a lifelong friend? Unfortunately, Carlos Martinez, at just 23 years of age and two years into his big-league career with the St. Louis Cardinals, has had to deal with both, with the latter being much more significant than the former.
Well, with Jaime Garcia's latest setback, situation number one appears to have taken care of itself. Martinez has been named the team's fifth starter to open the 2015 season, with his first start slated for April 11th against the Cincinnati Reds. Situation number two is much more complicated as the 23-year-old will have to deal with the loss of his "brother" (Oscar Taveras) every single time he puts on that #18 jersey and subsequently sees the "OT" memorial patch on its sleeve.
However, as first discussed by Derrick Goold last October and continued by Stan McNeal in January, it appears Martinez has done a considerable amount of growing up in the short time since Oscar's tragic death. Now, from a performance standpoint, will he step up? That remains to be seen, but the following quotes provided to us via Jenifer Langosch are a good place to start:
On being named the team's fifth starter:
"I felt very happy. I told [Matheny] that was my dream. [Being a starter] is all that I wanted to do."
On the importance of being more efficient as a starting pitcher:
"That's basically it. Try to be more efficient with my pitches. Try to throw fewer pitches per inning so I can go deeper into games and last eight or nine innings, if possible."
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Martinez has an expanded repertoire that intrinsically can lead to more efficiency, especially if he chooses to throw more sinkers. Naturally, sinkers lead to more contact than fourseamers, which for some pitchers is not always a good thing. However, hard sinkers with dropping and tailing action like the one Martinez possesses leads almost solely to weak, on-the-ground contact. It will certainly help the cause if he is able to gain confidence in his already-effective changeup as well. Couple these two with a put-away breaking ball and a blazing fourseamer, and you have a repertoire the Cardinals' starting staff hasn't seen in a very long time.
As we have known for quite some time, the "stuff" is there. Now, the role is there, too. In 28 starts over 150 innings pitched, Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projects Martinez to be worth 2.5 zWAR in 2015, a very good season and one that would have ranked third highest on the staff last year behind #1 Adam Wainwright (4.8 fWAR) and #2 Lance Lynn (3.4 fWAR). If we were able to fast-forward one year from now and look back on a 2.5 fWAR season from Martinez in 2015, we would all be ecstatic, especially from the fifth spot of the rotation. However, something statistical projection systems cannot quantify is the "drive" Martinez has to continue the realization of his "dream." As a general rule, given the value and complexity of statistics, I try my very best to avoid placing much value in intangibles, but it is impossible to ignore in this specific situation.
Martinez's role with the Cardinals has been jerked around for the better portion of two seasons, and now that he has finally been awarded the role he deserved as early as last spring, he has someone beyond himself to play for, to compete for, and to live for. This is the reason why he made the change to #18 over the offseason. In my humblest of opinions, I truly believe we are about to see something special from Martinez in 2015. Young players talk about "realizing dreams" all the time. It's baseball—the ultimate kid’s game—I get that. However, not very often do these same young players have talent anywhere near the level of Martinez.
Carlos Martinez (@Tsunamy27) March 31, 2015