Last year was a step backwards for Mr. Martinez. I’m not talking about the changing colors of his hair. That doesn’t affect his work. No, it doesn’t. Stop being ridiculous. Last year was a step backwards because he got injured. He came back pitching absolutely frightened of getting hurt again and then re-injured himself. Then, the team felt he didn’t have enough time to get back to a starting role so they rushed him back in order to be a reliever for the rest of the year.
It was also an interesting year for him because he laid an egg on opening day against the Mets, pitching pretty terribly. He walked 6 in 4 1/3 innings and gave up 4 hits to boot. He gave up 5 runs (4 earned) and threw 90 pitches.
Martinez then reeled off a 6-game stretch over the next 5 weeks that was a streak for the ages. He threw 40 2/3 innings with a 40:13 K:BB, a 0.66 ERA, a .173/.277/.223/.500 line allowed, more double plays turned behind him than extra base hits allowed, and a 3-0 record (team 6-0). That is elite. In fact, that makes most elite pitchers look bad. He then went out and got injured the next game he threw.
Martinez missed 24 games before coming back and starting 10 more games. He had just 3 quality starts in that stretch and an ERA over 5. He looked more tentative than I have ever seen. He got re-injured in the last start and when he came back 21 games later was a reliever from August 21st to the end of the year.
As a reliever, Carlos threw 15 games (finishing 9 of them) with a 1.47 ERA, .177/.297/.226/.523 line against, a 19:11 K:BB, 18 1/3 innings pitched, and 0 inherited runners scored off of him. He was 2-0 with 5 saves and 3 holds. He had zero losses and zero blown saves, helping shore up the back end of the bullpen after Norris became ineffective.
That’s a long intro just to figure out what might happen with Carlos this year, and for that I apologize. Martinez’s peak - his potential, his “when he’s at his best form” - is that of a top-end starter. He’s a guy who could be a top 5 CYA vote getter in the NL for years to come, including this one.
Despite cries for him to be in the bullpen, that is why I will be writing Carlos up as a starting pitcher for these projections. Remember, the average starting pitcher in the last 5 years has had this line per 30 starts:
My projections for Carlos Martinez in 2019: 33 GS, 210 IP, 6.364 IP/GS
3.34 ERA, 3.75 FIP,1.271 WHIP, 2.51 K:BB
7.886 H/9, 8.914 K/9, 3.557 BB/9, 0.857 HR/9
Basically, I have Carlos only starting 3 more games, but throwing 40 more innings - that’s an extra 2 outs per game over 30 starts, plus another 20 innings on top of that. I have his WHIP slightly below league average and his K:BB slightly below as well. His H/9 help him out to have a WHIP below league average and his high ground ball rate leads to a nice HR/9 number, giving him an ERA and FIP well below average.
If he pitches like this, with the potential on the offensive side of the ball this year, Martinez could very well be looking at his second season of 15+ wins. That would be very nice to see from him this year.
How/If things go wrong:
Truthfully, I feel like the numbers above aren’t going to do Martinez justice this year. So how/if things go wrong, minus another injury we might simply see those numbers above or slightly closer to league average. Another way things could go wrong is that Carlos could continue to miss the zone more often than he should - as his walk rate in 2018 was in the bottom 4% of the league. The other way things could “go wrong” - he could be shoved into a relief role and the Cardinals starting pitching could be much worse because of it.
What can be pointed out to show that things CAN be better than that?!?
Martinez is a guy who threw 6 pitches last year. Four of them had a swinging strike rate of 20+%. His change up got swings and misses on more than 1/3 of swings. His slider (seen below) got swings and misses 41.6% of the time! He struck out 56 of the 129 people whose plate appearances ended against a slider compared to just 54 people putting it in play. Overall, batters missed over 1/4 of the time they swung against him last year. That’s always good for pitchers - if you don’t even allow the ball to be put in play, your team that led the league in errors can’t make a mistake for you. His swinging strike rate has gone up in each of the last two years over 2016 now. He was also top 2% in barreled balls allowed and top 3% in the league in batted ball exit velocity - making things easy on his defenders, typically.