This week, Jose de Jesus Ortiz became the latest to take shots at the best pitcher on the St. Louis Cardinals for somehow not being consistent enough at his bestness. As Ortiz put it:
He can and should be better, though. Martinez shouldn’t settle for being good enough to match any of the greats on any given night and instead work to become the type of pitcher who can match aces every single time out.
In other words, Martinez must become a more consistent ace.
I'm singling out Ortiz because his commentary was the most recent, but we've heard this line of thinking before, ad nauseam, from various pundits in the Cardinals orbit. This argument is not only unfair, pernicious, at times even mean-spirited... It is completely false.
Carlos Martinez is a more consistent pitcher than Adam Wainwright.
It pains me to frame this as a comparison between Martinez and Wainwright - that's its own junk argument. But unfortunately, it's also the comparison that's always used in these little hit jobs on Martinez. To quote Ortiz:
Martinez is deferential to Wainwright, the true veteran leader who has had a distinguished career and shown teammates an unimpeachable professionalism on the mound, in the clubhouse and in the community.
So if the issue is consistency, I tried to figure out the best way to show how consistent a starting pitcher is. I turned to my old pal Game Score.
Game Score is a metric I've looked at on multiple occasions. A starting pitcher begins with a score of 50 and gains or loses points for everything they do. Innings are part of the equation, so pitchers are rewarded for staying in the game and getting outs. The modern version weights more heavily things like strikeouts and walks which the pitcher has more control over.
Here's the Game Scores of Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright for each of their starts over the past two seasons. Martinez is blue; Wainwright is red:
It gets a little bunched up, but two things should stand out: Martinez Game Scores are consistently higher than Wainwright's, and Wainwright's are strikingly more variable. Wainwright still manages a few starts in the upper reaches of Martinez' best, but he scatters quite a few way down at the bottom, too.
The Standard Deviation for Wainwright's Game Scores is 20.3. Martinez is only 16.9. This seems like clear evidence to me that over the past two seasons, Martinez has been quite a bit more consistent than Wainwright.
But wait, I can hear some folks saying: "Of course Wainwright has been more inconsistent these past two seasons. He's past his prime. When we criticize Martinez, we're saying he should be as consistent as Wainwright has been over his career."
I looked at Game Scores for every start from both pitcher's careers. The results? For Wainwright, a Standard Deviation of 19.2 For Martinez? 16.8.
Even if you look over the course of their entire careers, the quality of Martinez starts have varied LESS than those of Adam Wainwright.
Have both of them had bad starts in their career? Buddy, you better believe it. But this is a textbook example of why you should rely on metrics to make these kind of evaluations, not just your gut. Maybe you happened to turn the game on a few nights when Carlos had a rough start. Or maybe when Carlos has a rough start, you remember it because it fits into this narrative of "inconsistent Carlos" you've had hammered into your head.
And yes, there are variations to this argument, like the bizarre "Carlos is good but he should be BETTER." There are shades of that in Ortiz's column, and I think that's something we've all heard before as well, insinuating something about Carlos work ethic, or his will to win or whatever.
It's odd to me to pick on any player for simply not being better. I mean, do these people turn around and write a scathing critique of Greg Garcia for not hitting 25 bombs and playing gold glove defense at short? Of course not, because Garcia matches their expectations for him, but for some reason Carlos does not.
Picking on your best pitcher - one of the top handful in the league over the past several years - for not being, I don't know, Clayton Kershaw, is just nonsense.
It would likewise be nonsense to ding Martinez for simply not being as good as Wainwright because, here's the thing, Adam Wainwright was a REALLY good pitcher. Probably not Cooperstown great, but let's fit that guy for a red blazer.
And when you line them up next to each other quality wise, using Game Score, here's what you find: Wainwright's average Game Score for starts over his career? 57. Martinez? 55.
But let's not forget, Carlos Martinez just finished his age 25 season. If we look just at average Game Score over starts through their age 25 season, here's what we get: Wainwright, 55. Martinez, 55.
Leave Carlos alone.