I really try not to get pulled into the waves of public perception that can flow especially strong on Twitter. It’s easy to get washed away by the backlash, then the backlash to the backlash. Most times, I see a stream of bad takes and just think “who cares?”
But seriously, what is the deal with people trashing on Carlos Martinez all of a sudden?
The National Center for Bad Carlos Martinez Takes (NCBCM) has been tracking an intensification in bad Carlos Martinez takes over the past couple months, but they may well have peaked in this week’s Rick Hummel piece.
The headline of the piece is “Martinez won’t be Cardinals closer.” I did not find that surprising, as closer is generally not the role that teams assign to their best starting pitcher.
Hummel goes on to say, with some supporting quotes from Shildt, that Carlos needs to retool his body to manage a 200 inning workload. And then comes Hummel's grades for the season. He gives Carlos a B, and says this:
The Cardinals were hoping Martinez would mature into the staff ace this season. Instead, injuries derailed his season.
He also notes that Martinez “wildness persisted.” Compare that with what he says about Michael Wacha, who he gives a grade of A-:
He was terrific when he was able to pitch this season… But then a severe oblique strain sidelined Wacha for the rest of the season. Each time he tried to come back, the injury grabbed him again.
Hummel has no criticism for Wacha’s work on the mound this season, and only notes that his injury history may prevent him from getting a long-term contract.
In many ways, Martinez and Wacha had similar seasons - good results when they pitched but both battling injuries. But the better season clearly belonged to Carlos Martinez.
Martinez made 18 starts to Wacha’s 15. Martinez also came back to pitch in 15 games as a reliever, in high-leverage and ultimately closing situations. Ultimately, the Cardinals got 118 innings out of Martinez, 84 out of Wacha. Carlos posted a better ERA and a better FIP by 70 points. Martinez WAR: 2.2. Wacha: 0.8.
And let’s keep this in perspective: 2018 was the worst season of Carlos Martinez career since he became a full-time starter. Since 2015, he has been the best pitcher on this team... and it isn’t particularly close.
Since 2015, Martinez leads all Cardinals starters in WAR, ERA, FIP, IP and strikeouts. And he does not just stand head and shoulders above his peers in St. Louis, but across the league.
Martinez has pitched 698 innings since 2015. During that period, here is a list of pitchers who have thrown that many innings with a lower ERA than Martinez 3.22: Jake Arrieta, Chris Sale, Zach Greinke, Justin Verlander, Kyle Hendricks.
And yet we have folks like Hummel and countless fans persisting this narrative that Martinez needs to seize some magic sword to be an “ace.” For Hummel, Wacha had a terrific season which was sidelined by injury. Carlos Martinez, who fought his way back off the DL three different times, failed to mature and had his season “derailed.”
Some of this is just the same talk that has dogged Martinez his entire career. But there seems to have been a shift, or even an intensification of late.
Hummel says Martinez moved to the bullpen because he was “feeling he couldn’t continue as a starter.” That makes it sound like it was Carlos choice, which is very different from what the team said at the time. Here, for example was what John Mozeliak said when Martinez move to the bullpen was announced:
“It’s not necessarily health as much as timing,” Mozeliak said. “If you’re going to go down that starting path and you’re starting at ground zero, the likelihood of him being back would be sometime in mid-September and we’ve done that twice this year and ended up in the same place after a few starts. So rather than do that, we feel it makes more sense to put him in the bullpen.”
Maybe that’s splitting hairs, but it does feel like the comments leaking out of the front office are a bit down on, and critical of, Martinez.
It’s been stated or implied in many outlets that the team has some issue with Martinez work ethic. On the latest episode of the Cat Chat podcast, Derrick Goold suggested the team felt working out of the bullpen made Martinez show up to the park focused every day, which he did not always do on days he was not pitching.
If you’ve read any speculation about the Cardinals offseason, you’ve probably seen the idea floated that Martinez could be on the trade block. On the latest episode of the Seeing Red podcast, Bernie Miklasz and Will Leitch agreed they thought Martinez only had about a 50% chance of remaining with the team next season.
Now of course, any player could be on the trade block. And when it comes to Carlos Martinez work ethic or how he spends his non-pitching days: I have no idea. But it feels like the front office is engaging in a little bit of a retcon operation here.
There’s enough smoke around Martinez that I can’t imagine it’s not reflective of at least a small fire being set by the front office. Maybe that’s planting the seeds for a narrative about why the team is going to trade Martinez. Maybe it’s just reflective of some frustration and hope that some aspect of his off-field habits change.
But what it should not be interpreted as is any reason to believe that Carlos Martinez is not only a great pitcher, but has been and will likely continue to be the best pitcher on the St. Louis Cardinals.
Miles Mikolas had a stellar 2018. Jack Flaherty looks like a star on the rise. But until they show they can sustain that over a long period of time - as Martinez has - I’ll take Carlos.