Carlos Martinez was solid in 2016 for the St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, by fWAR (3.3) and bWAR (5.4), Martinez was the most valuable pitcher on staff last season (yes, you have heard this before). As our own Alex Crisafulli wrote last week, the 25-year-old receives “another passing grade” in his second full season as a starting pitcher. While Martinez may not have taken a noticeable step forward in 2016, it can be, at worst, widely considered a step sideways, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering his 2015 All-Star-worthy performance.
Now that Martinez has proven able to replicate his success as a starting pitcher, let’s see if he can take a step forward in 2017, ultimately cementing his ace status in St. Louis. However, before looking forward to next year, let’s look back at some of Martinez’s “filthiest” pitches from the 2016 season.
How did I choose the following four pitches, you ask? Well, after filtering to Martinez’s game logs tab on BrooksBaseball.net, I clicked on the “Get Expanded Tabled Data” at the top of each individual start. Next I scrolled over to the “pfx_xDataFile” column, which represents the horizontal movement (in inches) of pitches. I then worked my way down the column, making note of the largest values seen in each of Martinez’s 31 starts (or a total of 3,000 pitches; please note, there was a data-collection glitch in his September 25th start versus Chicago). Using this one column of data (an admittedly rudimentary process), the four pitches embedded below possessed the most horizontal movement by Martinez in all of 2016.
Before getting into the fun part (the GIFs, obviously), let me first explain my rationale behind using horizontal movement only. I have always prioritized horizontal movement over vertical movement largely because I am infatuated with the beauty that is arm-side run (hence my Corey Kluber two-seamer article) and it makes logical sense that horizontal movement along a bat can make the difference between a ball being barreled or a bat being sawed off completely. That being said, vertical movement is important to consider as well, especially with changeups, so sometime down the road, I may do this exercise again, but using vertical movement exclusively. Or even a combination of the two, you never know.
The final thing to consider is camera angle. For accurate strike zone viewing purposes, most absolutely love Fox Sports Midwest’s center-field viewing angle (myself included). However, for pitch movement admirers (again, myself included), it isn’t the best for observing the true magnitude of horizontal movement on pitches. Given Martinez’s release point as a right-hander, a camera positioned just a foot or two toward left-center would be best for following the path of the pitch from his hand to the catcher’s mitt. This would require FSM to either move the camera based on pitcher handedness or incorporate a second camera, both being borderline unreasonable suggestions (considering they would cater more toward pitch movement enthusiasts than strike zone enthusiasts).
April 15, 2016 versus Jay Bruce (BrooksBaseball AB)
Martinez started Bruce off with an 88.6 MPH changeup that possesed a raw horizontal movement of -12.974 inches (remember, negative for RHPs = arm-side run). The pitch looks low, and it is, but one glance at the strike zone map shows that the pitch was much closer to being a strike than it originally appears. Yadier Molina, for as good as he was offensively in 2016, experienced a step back defensively, especially in pitch receiving (framing, blocking). A better frame of this changeup could have led to that ever important first-pitch strike.
May 20, 2016 versus Jake Lamb (BrooksBaseball AB)
Any time a 1-0 changeup is thrown exactly middle-middle to a hitter who ended the season with a 114 wRC+, you know said hitter was fooled. This is exactly what Martinez did with an 86.9 MPH changeup, carrying a raw horizontal movement of -13.639 inches. Remember my disclosure above regarding camera angle? This pitch, to us, looks relatively harmless, but given Lamb’s reaction, it clearly wasn’t. A camera angle toward left-center, or, at the very least, a slow-motion replay using this same angle, would help us to better appreciate this pitch.
May 1, 2016 versus Max Scherzer (BrooksBaseball AB)
I began this exercise with the impression that only changeups would register as having the most horizontal movement. After all, they are thrown at a slower velocity than fastballs, subsequently giving them more time to experience movement. Plus, changeup grips, often with the thumb and pointer finger on the side of the ball, lead to horizontal movement naturally. Well, as you can see above, Martinez proved me wrong with a sinker against the Nationals. Despite the opposing pitcher being at the plate, Martinez got nasty for strike two, hurling in a 94.8 MPH sinker with a raw horizontal movement of -14.497 (!) inches. Admittedly, if the pitch was located better (i.e. not middle-middle), this would have easily been #1.
September 30, 2016 versus Eric Fryer (BrooksBaseball AB)
Fryer was Martinez’s second-to-last batter of the 2016 season, and of course, with two strikes, he threw him what I am considering his “filthiest” pitch of 2016 — an 87.3 MPH changeup with a raw horizontal movement of -14.067 inches (immediately following a riding 94.9 MPH sinker up-and-in I must add). Notice Martinez’s slight stumble backwards after releasing the pitch? He was clearly giving it his all on this put-away pitch. Nothing like saving your best for last, but Martinez threw only two more changeups after this one. Now, the changeup wasn’t as effective for Martinez in 2016 as it was in 2015, but if he can build off this one to Fryer, that step forward I spoke of at the beginning of this post will soon follow.