St. Louis Cardinals Rotation: Carlos Martinez


Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

As if the St. Louis Cardinals need any more pitchers of suspect reliability, the diminutive Carlos Martinez became its ace. Then, just like that, he was gone.

Like Jaime Garcia in particular, right-hander Carlos Martinez has huge, huge upside. More upside, really, thanks to his rocket right arm and excellent stuff. Just how good are his pitches? Upon is arrival to the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals, Martinez had already earned the nickname “Baby Pedro.” As in Pedro Martinez, Hall-of-Fame pitcher.

The younger Martinez’ high-90s four-seamer has good sinking action, which causes opposing hitters to hammer it into the ground when they don’t miss it altogether. He throws a very good changeup with sinking action that generally sits in the upper 80s. FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan thinks that’s the pitch that gives Martinez top-of-the-rotation potential.

Sullivan may be right about that. But then look at Martinez’ sweeping, mid-80s slider. It’s almost unfair to throw it to opposing hitters gearing up for the high-90s heat. Last year, they mustered a meager .196 average against the pitch.

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The negative that will always dog Carlos Martinez is the same one that followed Pedro Martinez around for his entire. It’s one neither men could help. Martinez is small, standing at a generously listed 6 feet and weighing a scant 185 lbs. When the St. Louis Cardinals consider that and the force of his delivery, surely they wince a little.

What happened in late September, just after his 24th birthday, probably wasn’t a surprise to the St. Louis Cardinals braintrust.

But there’s hope injuries like that won’t happen quite as often as the St. Louis Cardinals may fear. Just look at Pedro. He made 29 or more starts in 10 of his 18 big league seasons. Yes, he had well-documented limitations. But the average workload of a starter shrinks with every passing season, making that issue increasingly moot. Who cares if Carlos only goes six or seven innings, as long as he dominates for the St. Louis Cardinals, right?

I feel bad for Martinez. His late-season shoulder injury screwed him out of a playoff roster spot and kept the speculation about his durability going. But the fact of the matter is that he pitched more innings for the St. Louis Cardinals last year. He jumped from 89.1 innings in 2014 to 179.2 last year.

Next: St. Louis Cardinals Rotation: Jaime Garcia

Even with his electric arm, which is absolutely perfect for a late-inning relief role, Martinez was arguably better as a starter than he could have been as a closer or set up man. That’s pretty impressive. He should be proud of himself.

Instead, Martinez ended his 2015 season an angry and upset young man thanks to his shoulder. Over a long, cold winter, those emotions tend to harden into determination. That, I think, will make him even better in 2016.