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Examining the "fringey" stuff of Carlos Martinez

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On the surface, it appears St. Louis Cardinals All-Star Carlos Martinez has finally hit a speed bump in his first full season as a starting pitcher. After all, his ERA has "ballooned" to 3.12 after spending three straight months in the 2.00's. After being Twitter silent during the majority of Martinez's run to (and through) the All-Star Game, Joe Strauss of the Post Dispatch dusted off the ole troll machine with his targets set once again on El Gallo at the end of August, and it has carried into September, with his absolute best being the following tweet during yesterday's 4-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs:

Taking a shot at Martinez's stuff by including "fringey" (isn't the correct spelling "fringy"?) in the same tweet is, in a word, obscene. One of the metrics I have always taken a look at when trying to get a very quick grasp at a pitcher's "stuff" is O-Swing%, or the rate in which hitters swing at pitches out of the zone. If pitchers have a considerable amount of movement on their pitches, most hitters will chase, especially in pitchers' counts. Well, Martinez is currently tied for 20th in all of baseball at 33.4% (and yes, the usual suspects are ahead of him on the list). Couple O-Swing% with SwStr% (using the calculation of "swings and misses / total pitches"), and once again Martinez finds his name on the first page of the MLB leaderboard at 10.3%.

Vertical and Horizontal Movement (via BrooksBaseball.net)

Martinez BB

BrooksBaseball's scatter chart showing the horizontal and vertical movements of Martinez's pitches paints a pretty clear picture. None of Martinez's pitches, not even his "straight" fourseamer, are anywhere close to zero (zero meaning no horizontal movement whatsoever). The difference between the average horizontal movement of his slider and changeup is 23.58 (!) inches (again, for perspective, the width of home plate is 17 inches). In general, I advise against directly comparing horizontal movements between two different pitchers, but in this situation, I feel like it is a necessary task to help provide some perspective. In 2015, Lance Lynn's twoseamer has averaged -11.06 inches of horizontal movement, or two plus inches fewer than Martinez's (-13.11 inches).

Results/Outcomes by Pitch Type

I will include results like batting average and isolated power, but to me, the more important outcomes to look at, especially when trying to characterize a given pitcher's stuff, are "whiffs per swing," "ground balls per ball in play," etc.

Pitch BA ISO Whiff/Swing GB/BIP
Fourseamer .399 .242 9.94% 45.86%
Twoseamer .266 .056 17.43% 65.91%
Changeup .160 .113 44.49% 63.93%
Slider .172 .089 30.83% 46.59%

As you can see, the only pitch with poor numbers is Martinez's fourseamer. Given its average velocity (96.46 MPH), this is surprising, but anecdotally, it seems like the pitch he uses as a "get-me-over" when behind in the count, so it makes some sense that hitters have been able to mash it. The outcome I am most interested in is "whiff/swing" because it shows that despite a hitter being geared up to swing, he was unable to make any form of contact (thus, being deceived either by pitch movement or sequencing). Well, Martinez's changeup is at 44.49%, as compared to 31.33% for Michael Wacha's (a not-insignificant ~42% difference).

Another reliable outcome in the attempt to quantify a pitcher's "stuff" is GB/BIP, and nearly two-thirds of the balls in play versus Martinez's twoseamer and changeup have been ground balls in 2015. Fringy "stuff" is not often put on the ground, as even a well-placed, low-in-the-zone fastball can be lifted into the outfield bleachers should a hitter be looking for that pitch. You shouldn't be surprised to find out that Martinez's overall ground ball rate is 54.4%, or fifth highest among MLB starters.

Balls in Play (since the All-Star break)

I have nothing to add here.

Bottom Line

Is Martinez experiencing some ERA regression? Surely, but if you use FIP as a predictor for future results, this was to be expected. With the 2015 MLB average BABIP being .301, one can reasonably expect the .386 BABIP against Martinez in the second half to work its way down toward a much more reasonable number. There are a few things to worry about regarding the Cardinals during the stretch run, but frankly, Martinez's stuff is not one of them. He will be just fine.

As usual, credit to BrooksBaseball.net for being a terrific database of the information used in this post. Of note, I collected data prior to yesterday's start being published, so if you are looking at Martinez's player card this afternoon, it will likely be slightly updated from what you see in this post.