Yesterday, Craig Edwards provided his thoughts on the Final Vote for this year's MLB All-Star Game in Cincinnati, Ohio. Craig put forth valid reasoning as to why he is choosing St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Carlos Martinez over qualified candidates such as Clayton Kershaw and Troy Tulowitzki. As you should know by now, this is a Cardinals-centric blog. Our staff writes about the Cardinals because we are fans of the Cardinals.
We all know Martinez is one of Craig's favorite players. It should have been clear if you follow him, but if not, he told us that this was the case yesterday. Well, if you read my articles on semi-regular basis (I have written eight articles centered on Martinez in 2015) or follow me on Twitter, it is abundantly clear that Martinez is one of my favorite players as well. And Craig eloquently explained why voting for your favorite player is an okay thing to do:
"Despite all that, I'm still going to vote for El Gallo. I enjoy watching him pitch and would love to see him at the All-Star Game. My vote does not make sense on a lot of different levels, but I'm still a fan and fans do irrational things all of the time in the name of fandom. Voting for your favorite player to make the All-Star team is not even all that irrational. I encourage you to do the same."
That being said, when I go to cast a few ballots for the Final Vote, I have decided that I will be going with Kershaw over Martinez on the National League side. First and foremost, while the All-Star Game should absolutely still be considered an exhibition/talent showcase, the fact is, it's not. Home field advantage in the World Series is a highly coveted prize, both for the players on the field and the owners upstairs in their suites.
While playoff outcomes are generally random, this does not stop me from believing that the 2015 Cardinals have a pretty good chance at getting to and hopefully winning another World Series title this fall. This means that I want the National League to be equipped with the very best team possible. So, the game counts and the Cardinals may make the World Series, but this still does not fully explain Kershaw over Martinez. Isn't El Gallo having quite the year as a starting pitcher? Let's take a look.
2015 Statistics (includes Martinez's relief outing from opening night)
Martinez is indeed having a terrific 2015, about as good as we could have expected in his first full season as a starting pitcher. However, other than win-loss record (which I never include in any of my pitch analysis articles) and ERA, Martinez's 2015 just has not been on Kershaw's level, especially when looking at peripherals (i.e. K%, BB%, etc.).
When comparing statistics between two pitchers, I tend to look at FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) first. FIP is by no means a perfect statistic, but it does a pretty good job at putting a number on the outcomes a pitcher can control: walks (plus HBPs), strikeouts, and home runs. Now, this does not mean I completely disregard ERA as Martinez's is 0.38 lower than Kershaw's at the midway point of 2015. Yet, the difference in FIPs is almost three times the difference in their ERAs, this time in favor of Kershaw, and it is largely due to the reigning MVP's NL-leading strikeout rate of 32.4% and relatively tame walk rate of 6.0%. By comparison, Martinez's walk rate is third highest among qualified starting pitchers.
In a game where hitters are consistently swinging for the fences, a strikeout pitcher can create a timeless highlight reel (remember Pedro Martinez's performance at Fenway in 1999?). While (Carlos) Martinez has a respectable strikeout rate (25.4%, highest of the Cardinals rotation), it is not all that close to Kershaw's, who is striking out roughly one-third of the batters he faces in 2015.
Of course, it would be highly entertaining to watch El Gallo ramp up his fourseam fastball in hopes of eclipsing 100 MPH on a likely-to-be-amped-up All-Star Game radar gun. I make this statement because for some reason, I cannot seem to forget the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium where generally low-90's Ryan Dempster came into the game throwing 95+ with his fastball. Unlike Dempster, though, it is not unreasonable for Martinez to light up a radar gun as his fourseamer topped out at 100.1 MPH against the Detroit Tigers back on May 15th. Throw in a few "Bugs Bunny" sliders, along with some devastating changeups, and Martinez has a repertoire built for the bright lights.
No, Kershaw will not be close to touching 100+ MPH in Cincinnati, but he will have no trouble cracking 95, so it's not like he is a soft-tossing/crafty lefty. If watching pitchers command a mid-90's fastball is more your thing, then Kershaw is definitely your guy. While Martinez's slider is oh so fun to watch, there is always the risk of hanging one (like this one to Giancarlo Stanton) while Kershaw has proven able to locate his knee-buckling curveball much more consistently over his eight-year career.
In all honesty, you cannot really go wrong with either pitcher. For all we know, dropouts between now and Tuesday could allow for both pitchers to be on the roster. Heck, you cannot really go wrong with any of the Final Vote candidates as a case can be made for each one of them. Yet, given the need to limit Martinez's workload so that he is still fresh by season's end and the decorated track record of Kershaw as one of the best pitchers in the game, I sincerely hope the southpaw wins the vote.
Not only will the Cardinals benefit from Martinez's arm having four days off but also from the fact that one of the best pitchers in the game will be on their team for one night. Given that he is still only 23 years old, I envision Martinez getting many more chances at participating in future All-Star Games. The mere fact that he was included as part of the Final Vote is a win in my book. It means that despite being new to starting and enduring two tough starts early in the season, Martinez is still respected as one of the best starting pitchers in the game. And that, my friends, is an incredibly scary thought.
P.S. The All Star Game should not decide World Series home field advantage.