After what was a rather smooth transition from a relief pitcher to starting pitcher two years ago, Carlos Martinez has proven himself as a premier piece of the Cardinals’ starting rotation, one that he could be a captain of for seasons to come.
A starter throughout his tenure in the farm system, Martinez made his big-league debut in 2013 as a relief pitcher, and the electric right-handed hurler went beyond expectations to play a key role for the club throughout their postseason run that included a National League pennant and the team’s fourth trip to the World Series within the decade. Martinez logged 12 2/3 innings in the 2013 postseason, including six innings in the World Series across five of the six games.
Other than the occasional spot start, Martinez served a full year, 2014, in the Cardinals’ bullpen before the team decided to insert him in their starting rotation. Aside from the growing pains that every young pitcher sustains, Martinez’ transition from reliever to starter went as swimmingly as it could have, considering he is now of the team’s most pitchers -- let alone starters -- after just a couple of years of hurling every fifth day.
The team’s rotation to begin 2015 -- Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, Michael Wacha, and Martinez -- hardly stuck together through the 2016 season, and, if it weren’t for Martinez, remnants of the pitching loop would not have existed at times. Wainwright suffered a torn Achilles tendon in April of 2015, Lackey was lost to free agency at the end of the year, Lynn was forced to miss the entirety of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, and Wacha’s recurring shoulder flared up for the second time this past August. The one name not mentioned in an undesirable way? Martinez, who, subsequently, leads the team with 60 starts and 375 innings pitched. In addition to his dependability, Martinez has performed very well to become one of the National League’s top pitchers.
Since joining the rotation in a full-time role, Martinez leads the Cardinals’ pitching staff with a 6.8 WAR, over two wins greater than that of the second-place Michael Wacha. In 2016 alone, Martinez led qualified St. Louis starters in LOB percentage (79.5), FIP (3.61), RAR (31.9), and HR/9 (0.69) by hearty margins and ranked ninth in the NL with a 3.04 ERA and thirteenth with 174 punchouts.
Martinez is eligible for arbitration this year and the two years to follow, and it would be wise from multiple perspectives for the Cardinals to buy out his arb years and extend him beyond the 2019 season, the final year of his current agreement with St. Louis. Martinez, at 25 years old, is certainly young enough to give, say, a five-year deal to, and, with the market as inflated as it is, extending him while he’s still young and under club control would be the best as far as dollars are concerned.
His perceptible reliability and evolving performance are nice incentives, too.