The Cardinals rotation has approached all-time great levels this season. Shortly after the All-Star break, with all five starters still firing on all cylinders, there was a lot of discussion about who should drop out of a playoff rotation.
At the time, many folks thought the odd man out would be Martinez. All five starters were putting up relatively similar numbers, Martinez was the youngest arm with the biggest bump in innings this season, and he had experience in the bullpen. That argument may have been solid in late July, but the equation has changed, and it would be a huge mistake to not only have Martinez in the playoff rotation, but taking the ball in Game 1.
In the 2nd half, Martinez leads the Cardinals starters by both FIP and xFIP by a pretty wide margin. His consistency in both halves of the season make him not just the best on the staff, but one of the absolutely elite pitchers in the league. As VEB's own Craig Edwards recently noted on his Twitter account, which is like a 24-hour stream of eye-popping Martinez stats:
NL Pitchers ahead of Carlos Martinez in bWAR and fWAR Kershaw Arrieta Greinke Scherzer Bumgarner Cole deGrom Harvey That's it #VivaElGallo— Craig Edwards (@craigjedwards) September 16, 2015
One of the truly beautiful things about the postseason is the clarity it brings to roster decisions. Gone is the "lose the battle; win the war" mentality that must sometimes dictate the 162-game grind. The only question a manager needs to ask in October is, "who are my best players now?"
Carlos Martinez is pretty clearly the Cardinals most effective starting pitcher right now. But there are still writers on the local and national level who cling to one of the other arguments for moving Martinez to the pen: To reduce his innings or because he has more bullpen experience.
Limiting Martinez's innings over the course of the season was a good idea in April. In the hazy mystery box that is pitcher injury risk, we know that there is some relationship between workload and injury - especially for young pitchers. If any of us were told on April 1 that Martinez would throw 175+ innings during the regular season, we would have winced and maybe even said "yikes."
But whatever percentage benefit in Martinez future injury risk the Cardinals may have gamed by limiting his innings, now is absolutely not the time to do it. To argue otherwise is to make some variation of The Strasburg Argument. As you probably remember, in 2012, the Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg in September, with a 6.5 game lead in their division, and did not use him again, even in the playoffs. They lost in Game 5 of the Division Series to the Cardinals, in what could have been Strasburg's 2nd start of the series.
Now, moving Martinez to the bullpen would not be going Full Strasburg, but the reasoning behind it is absolutely the same. The counterargument is also the same: You never know when you will make it to the playoffs, so you ought to do your best to win when you are there.
This whole subject reared its head again just recently in what can only be called "the Matt Harvey debacle." Harvey and Super Agent/Villain Scott Boras both made vague comments about shutting Harvey down to limit his innings (and by extension, injury risk), and we saw the tepid implementation of that plan on Sunday, to disastrous result.
On the Effectively Wild podcast, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller used the Harvey situation as a jumping off point to discuss how much postseason starts are worth. They agreed that if they were to negotiate a contract with a pitcher for postseason starts, they would pay in excess of $1 million per start, and even if they knew a pitcher would miss the entire next season with Tommy John surgery, they would still use them in the postseason.
All this is just an elaborate way to say that postseason games are EXTREMELY valuable. It is not the time to be managing workloads in a feeble attempt to appease the Ulnar Collateral Ligament Gods.
That leaves only the argument that Martinez has recently and effectively pitched in the bullpen - something the other starters have not. Is that true? Yes - but I don't think it's especially meaningful. First, there's the somewhat contradictory assumption that pitchers cannot change roles from starting to relieving, and yet Martinez will be able to make this transition (or at least make it better than most).
But even if we accept that Martinez will be able to step right back into the role of dominant setup man, the marginal value of that is pretty small because of the concept of bullpen chaining. It's not like Martinez would be swooping in and taking the 8th inning role from some AAA jobber. He would be taking the spot of the already quite effective Kevin Siegrist, who would bump down to take what we might call the 7th inning role from the two-headed Broxton/Cishek monster, who would bump down... and so on.
Carlos Martinez is the best starting pitcher on this team right now. He deserves to be on the mound in Game 1 of the Division Series.*
Viva El Gallo.
*I do not accept the possibility that the Cardinals will not win the Division.