Carlos Martinez entered the 2015 season as a question mark. The rookie with a thermonuclear arsenal had underperformed as a reliever and performed unevenly when thrust into the 2014 rotation due to teammate injuries. Martinez's 2015 performance answered those question emphatically. Not only does Martinez have the skill to be a viable major-league starter, he has the makings of a future ace.
The quality of Martinez's performance has perhaps overshadowed by just how good the entire St. Louis rotation has pitched. Their collective performance this year has been analogous to that of an ace. Just ten individual starters who have qualified for the ERA crown have an ERA lower than the St. Louis rotation's 2.87 entering play on Sunday. The Cardinals' 3.45 starter FIP is better than 34 major-league starters. The St. Louis rotation as a whole would be a top 30 starter in MLB this year. The St. Louis rotation members have pitched so well that no individual stands out, even though each should when compared to MLB overall.
So, today, let's look at how Martinez's 2015 performance compares to his teammates and MLB as a whole through play on Saturday, September 26, 2015. I put together a graphic that compares the stats of Martinez, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, and Michael Wacha, the St. Louis rotation as a whole, and the MLB starter averages. I also included the individual St. Louis starter MLB rankings for each stat as well as that for the Cardinals' rotation as a whole.
Then player rankings are among those starters who have qualified for the ERA title. Since Garcia has not qualified for the ERA title, I've ranked his stats as if he had so qualified. I recognize this is imperfect, but it's just to give folks a frame of reference for how good the pitchers have pitched so far. The St. Louis rotation rankings are among all MLB rotations.
These two statical categories are Martinez's worst—though he's not horrible by any means in terms of his league-wide rankings.
Walks have been an issue for the righty. His walk rate (BB%) is comfortably above the MLB starter overall rate. It ranks below only Lynn in terms of Cardinals rotation members.
Early this year, he was plagued by the long ball. That early homer happiness have normalized as the season has progress. Today, after the end of Martinez's season, he has a below-average HR/FB rate for a starter. It's a testament to Busch Stadium as a pitcher-friendly and home-suppressing park as well as his teammates' skill levels, that Martinez's below-average HR/FB rate is the worst of the Cards' primary starters this year.
Martinez is the best swinging-strike and strikeout inducer of the St. Louis starters. In other words, Martinez has more swings end harmlessly than any of his teammates. He also has more plate appearances end with an surefire out (i.e., a K). His SwStr% ties him with Felix Hernandez and was 0.2% behind Jake Arrieta entering play on Sunday. El Gallo's K% tied him with Gerrit Cole and placed him just ahead of Jon Lester.
Garcia has been a groundballer extraordinaire this year. And his other peripherals (lowish K rate and a tiny BB rate) fit the sinkerballer archetype. They also help show what makes Martinez so special. The young righty's filthy swing-and-miss stuff also induces a lot of grounders. He's like King Felix with that combination. (That's not a comparison I make lightly.) The question, though, is whether Martinez can harness his control and evolve into an elite starter like Hernandez.
The question becomes whether one believes Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) or Earned Run Average (ERA) better capture a pitcher's individual performance. FIP is calculated using strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen, homers, and innings pitched. ERA channels the official scorer and a pitcher's fielders to an extent as it is calculate using earned runs and innings pitched. By either measure, Martinez has been excellent. By FIP, Martinez was the second-best St. Louis starter this year.
With Martinez out for the remainder of 2015 with a strained shoulder, the Cardinals lose a unique weapon. Other than perhaps Garcia, no pitcher has a repertoire as nasty as Martinez's. While both can suffocate a lineup with groundball-inducing stuff, Martinez has the added potency of the strikeout. As general manager John Mozeliak remarked to Ben Federickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Martinez:
"He showed he’s an elite level starting pitcher. All of you who got to watch him saw that as well. He wanted to get into the rotation (entering this season). He earned it. And, needless to say, when he was on, he was one of the more dominant guys in the game."
With the Cardinals approaching the finish line in the National League Central race and heading into October, they are down a singular talent in their rotation. His replacement in the October rotation, whether it's Lynn or Wacha, will be a pitcher who has pitched worse than Martinez this season. Thankfully, though, Martinez's fill-in will be a starter who is well above average. A downgrade, to be sure, but not as drastic of one as so many other teams would have experienced with such a cruel twist of fate as Martinez's injury.
PhamDuel, er, FanDuel
SBN and FanDuel have entered an exclusive partnership with respect to daily fantasy baseball. My focus is laser-like. I'm all in. So I'm rolling with Lance Lynn against the PIrates. You may play FanDuel here.