St. Louis Cardinals’ Carlos Martinez is the rotation equalizer


The St. Louis Cardinals have a retooled rotation in 2016, but one young arm may hold the key to the whole operation.

When the St. Louis Cardinals lost Lance Lynn to Tommy John Surgery, John Lackey to free agency and lost out in their bid to acquire David Price, the rotation looked frail and lacked depth. 400 innings were scooped up and a potential Co-Ace was gone.

If you are a run prevention club like the Birds, strong pitching is the engine in this operation. While the return of Adam Wainwright and acquisition of Mike Leake will help shore up loose ends, the healthy return of Carlos Martinez could be the most important key to 2016 running smooth out of the gate.

When Martinez went down in late September, the Cards lost a valuable wheel in the NLDS. If Martinez is around, that entire series is different. Instead, Lackey started two games, Jaime Garcia started a game sick and Lynn was quietly nursing a torn ligament in his right elbow. Martinez is a rare breed of talent and for a few simple reasons.

He has a devastating mix of pitches that range from upper 90’s to mid to high 80’s. His four seam fastball rides up and in on righthanders. His sinker rolls away and skips down towards the dirt. Each of those come in around 97 miles per hour. He then treats hitters to a slider and changeup to keep them honest. When right, Martinez is doom. He can do a number of things with a baseball.

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He doesn’t get shaken when runners reach base. With runners in scoring position, Martinez held opposing bats to a .181 batting average and .244 slugging percentage. With runners on base, Martinez allowed a .223 average. Sorry, National League. He’s only 24 years old. The words in this book only get smaller and harder to read.

He likes to pitch on the road. Loud crowds don’t get to El Gallo. Only he can disrupt his own rhythm. His earned run average was 2.54 (nearly a full point lower than his home ERA) in 92 innings with a .218 batting average against and 98 strikeouts. Pitching in an opposing stadium is about as difficult as choosing a filter on his latest Instagram photo.

Did I mention he’s only 24 years old? Yeah, there is that great detail.

Carlos Martinez was worth 3.9 wins above replacement in 2015, providing around 32 million of worth to the Cards if you account for the way they value WAR in relation to salary. That’s not a bad mark for a guy who had to battle Marco Gonzales and Jaime Garcia for an opening day spot last spring and was deemed too emotional to contribute more than 5 innings per start.

Martinez’s emotion is one of his greatest tools on the mound. It’s his samurai sword. He looms as the most important piece of this rotation because if you take him away, Leake’s needs go up. Michael Wacha struggled mightily towards the end of 2015 and if you listen to my colleague Steven McNeil, he needs to be watched. Adam Wainwright’s advanced age must be watched and is there any real need to mention Garcia’s health concerns? With Martinez, this unit is league best quality. Without him, they are mortal.

Since no major offensive upgrades were made over the offseason, the Cardinals will be focusing more on their pitching strength again in 2016. That’s fine…as long as Martinez’s shoulder (which he reported at the Winter Warmup was 90%) is roaring through the gate in April.

Inside a year, Martinez has gone from question mark to upper rotation threat. Welcome to the show!