Nine starts into his first full season as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation, Carlos Martinez, the 23-year-old right-handed pitcher with one pretty good nickname and one even better nickname, has compiled an impressive highlight reel full of filthy pitches. With a power sinker, an electric fourseamer, and a changeup that dives away from left-handed hittters, this should come as no surprise to those that follow Martinez on an even a semi-regular basis. That being said, the slider, while definitely still a plus pitch for him, had been unusually absent from highlights in 2015, until Monday's start against the Arizona Diamondbacks, of course.
Pitch Information (career numbers, for context)
|Pitch||Frequency||Velocity (MPH)||Horiz. Movement (in.)||Vert. Release Pt. (ft.)|
Over the course of his career (per BrooksBaseball), an El Gallo slider has possessed an average horizontal movement of 5.87 inches, an impressively effective amount when considering the movement—in the opposite direction—of his fastballs and changeup. Well, strike three to Chase Anderson recorded a horizontal movement of an astounding 8.45 inches—a ~44% increase from his career average. I must note that so far in 2015, Martinez's slider, at 6.79 inches, has had a higher average horizontal movement than his career numbers, but even then, the pitch seen in the GIF below had ~24% more horizontal break on it.
After allowing back-to-back singles to the first two hitters (Yasmany Tomas and Chris Owings) in the top of the fifth inning, Martinez bore down and struck out the next three: Tuffy Gosewisch (six pitches), Nick Ahmed (four pitches), and Chase Anderson (five pitches). A pitcher like Martinez should have no trouble overpowering the seventh, eighth, and ninth hitters of a lineup, and this is exactly what he did in Monday's game, as the three went 0 for 10 with four strikeouts and one walk.
Based on Martinez's chest-pounding reaction after the inning-ending strikeout, it is reasonable to believe that, in Martinez's mind, he desired to throw the best slider he has ever thrown. Often, such a mindset leads to overthrowing and pitches falling in the dirt before reaching the plate, but in this case, we were treated to a 5.25 ounce baseball breaking more than what many of us could do with a 0.67 ounce wiffleball.
What makes this particular pitch so devastating is the fact that up until roughly five or six feet from home plate, it still looked as if it could catch the outside corner for a called strike three. Unfortunately for Anderson, and based on his "swing," I think he knew it as well, the pitch took a sharp left turn and was caught by Yadier Molina a foot or so into the left-handed batter's box. To be honest, a pitch like this is borderline criminal with the opposing pitcher at the plate.
Martinez has had good results with three of his four pitches thus far in 2015, with his fourseamer being the one lagging behind. However, it is still way too early in the season to draw finite conclusions on a single pitch, and there is no reason not to believe that Martinez will begin having better results with his fourseamer going forward, especially as he continues his growth as a starting pitcher in the big leagues.
While increased sinker and changeup use will prove to be beneficial long-term (especially against left-handed hitters), Martinez's ability to blow hitters away with his fourseamer will be a barometer of future success as well, particularly in high-leverage situations. If he is able to consistently incorporate sliders like the one we see above, I have no doubt that increased fourseamer success will follow. With two strikes, Martinez has flashed the ability to throw four very different pitches. Hitting in the big leagues is tough. Hitting in the big leagues, with two strikes in the count and being forced to guess which of four pitches is coming your way, is significantly tougher.