The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs on a walk-off single by Randal Grichuk last night (our game recap). Staff ace Carlos Martinez twirled an absolute gem (7.1 IP, 10 K, 0 BB, 0 R) that was unfortunately washed out by a hanging two-strike slider from closer Seung Hwan Oh. Disregarding the fact that he did not receive a pitcher win, Martinez’s outing was so good that it accrued 0.5 fWAR, subsequently leaving him on pace for a casual 15.5 fWAR season (I kid, I kid) over 31 projected starts.
As a fan of good pitching, the most exciting part of the night was Martinez’s battles with reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant. Bryant, 25, is one of the very best hitters in baseball, and as one of the league’s very best hitters, he doesn’t openly display too many holes in his swing, particularly versus fastballs. And yet, last night, on ESPN’s national TV broadcast, Martinez exploited an admittedly small hole that does indeed exist in the third baseman’s swing.
If you had not yet muted the broadcast (ESPN just isn’t what it used to be), during either Bryant’s third or fourth at bat, analyst Jessica Mendoza talked about how Bryant likes the ball up in the zone. Fortunately, readily-available sites such as BrooksBaseball.net allow us to fact-check such claims. As you will see below, Bryant does like the ball up (in actuality, he likes most zones), but up and in, particularly up, in, and out of the zone has been a small problem for him thus far:
Given how advanced scouting reports have become, Martinez almost certainly knew this. Yadier Molina absolutely knew this, and sure enough, the pair exploited the area for strike three on two of Bryant’s three strikeouts.
Strikeout number one (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
The set-up, put-away sequence simply isn’t fair here. Strike number two — the pitch immediately prior to strike number three — was a down-and-away 86 MPH changeup. And after living down and away on three of the first four pitches of the at bat, Martinez was able to blow an up-and-in, 99.8 MPH fourseamer by Bryant. Thus, not only did Martinez and Molina exploit the aforementioned hole in Bryant’s swing, but they made it essentially unhittable through (pitch) perfect sequencing.
Strikeout number three (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
Martinez’s approach was pretty similar here as well, although it required an extra pitch before recording the strike out. Strike number two was a down-and-away 87.4 MPH changeup, but instead of taking this one looking like in at bat number one, Bryant was able to foul it off. After spoiling a 98 MPH fourseamer up-and-away for ball two, Martinez returned to the game plan by striking out Bryant on a 98.9 MPH, riding fourseamer up, in, and out of the zone.
Bottom line, it is already unfair to consider the depth of Martinez’s raw repertoire. If he is able to craft pitch sequencing out of plus plus repertoire — as he displayed versus Kris Bryant last night — he will certainly be considered a National League Cy Young Award candidate. Oh, and for the record, “owning Kris Bryant” isn’t necessarily new for Martinez, as site manager Craig Edwards already dissected his dominance versus Bryant back on September 20, 2015. And there’s the following, via Edwards and of course, Baseball-Reference.com:
Against Carlos Martinez in his career, Kris Bryant has struck out in 11 of 27 plate appearances with just 3 hits, all singles.— viva el birdos (@vivaelbirdos) April 3, 2017
Please note that I have an in-depth, GIF-filled post planned for Thursday’s VEB Daily. ESPN’s off-center, zoomed-out camera angle will make things a little more difficult, but I trust in @cardinalsgifs ability to make things work. In the meantime, Viva el Gallo!