St. Louis Cardinals: Breaking Down The Mechanics Of Carlos Martinez

Apr 9, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Carlos Martinez (18) looks on after giving up a solo home run to Cincinnati Reds left fielder Adam Duvall (23) during the second inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Carlos Martinez (18) looks on after giving up a solo home run to Cincinnati Reds left fielder Adam Duvall (23) during the second inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

St. Louis Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez has been inconsistent to this point in the year, to put it mildly.

Carlos Martinez, the newly-extended St. Louis Cardinals ace, is off to an 0-3 start in his first four games on the season with an impressive 12.31 k/9 to go along with his 1.19 HR/9 and 4.37 BB/9.  This translates to eleven walks, thirty-one strikeouts, and twenty-three hits in 22.2 innings.

That shows a high level of fairly frustrating inconsistency.  Take his eleven strikeout and eight walk outing against the Yankees.  Or his last start against the Brewers, where he gave up two home runs and two walks.

This is not a call to worry about Martinez.  Besides the new hairstyle, nothing is terrible.  He just is not living up to the vision of what an ace should be.  Watching him pitch, there is a nagging  inconsistency.  He seems to be a different pitcher inning by inning.  As soon as it looks like he settles into a groove, he walks a guy or gives up a hit that throws everything off.

His mechanics may be the culprit.  The smallest changes cause pitches to be thrown off and control to be compromised.  Good mechanics are vital to a healthy arm and a consistent ability to locate pitches.

As Martinez is gearing up for his slated start today against the Blue Jays, I want to take a look at his mechanics.  There are three parts to CarMart’s delivery to look at in order to see what, if anything, could be causing his inconsistency with finding the strike zone.  These parts are Balance Point, Power Slot, and The Turn.

Balance Point

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The Balance Point is heavily  involved with the legs.  It may seem like it wouldn’t contribute to much, but it can cause every pitch to miss high.  It is all about the upper half staying back, while the lower half does the work.

Martinez has a very good balance point.  His front side hip is set to lead out so he can land with the momentum built from his legs.  If his top half moves toward the plate first it is called leaking.  When a pitcher leaks that is where the ball will sail high.  This is because the pitcher will not be able to get over his front leg on the follow through.

His foot is the other part of this position to look at.  There are two schools of thought about what the foot should do.  One school of thought says the heel should land first, then quickly transition to the ball of the foot, like there is a wheel on the bottom of the foot.  Josh Beckett is an example of this landing type.

The second school of thought is what Martinez does.  This is where the pitcher lands on the ball of his foot.  That way there is no stopping of the momentum by landing on the heel.  Normally there is more of a comfortable downward tilt on the foot.  But the flat foot seen in the picture gets a slight downward movement before he lands.

This is not where there are any problems are for Martinez; his Balance Point is very good.  It is a very good start to his delivery to the plate.

Power Slot

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

As far as inconsistency in location, the Power Slot is most likely to be the problem area.  Any miscues while striding out will come to fruition in this position, and this is where the true act of delivery begins.  Unlike the Balance Point where the focus is on the lower half of the body, this position requires attention from the ground up.

The above picture cuts off the legs of Martinez, but the legs show no issue.  He is in line towards the plate.  That means his landing foot is lined up with the middle of his drive foot.  If his foot lands closed it can cause stress to his front leg and lead to injury.  If he lands open, he will be losing velocity because he is already turning prior to when he lands.

The next part to this position is the hips.  The goal is for the hips to start moving a split second before the top half.  This creates what is called hip-to-shoulder separation.  This is an important aspect for velocity.  As you would imagine with a fastball like Martinez, he does a great job with this.  The picture above showcases this separation.

Now for the top half of his body.  He does a good job with his glove arm.  His shoulder and elbow are facing toward the target.  The importance of that is keeping his top half closed until he turns.  This again adds to his velocity.  It can also hurt location if the front arm is not in position because it can have a tendency to start the front shoulders turn early.

Throwing is the whole purpose, so the throwing arm is also very important.  Martinez does a very good job of creating torque with the back shoulder.  His back shoulder is slightly cocked back behind his body.  That is a huge contributor to his velocity numbers.  He also is showing the ball to center field and his arm is at a slightly larger than 90 degree angle.

Martinez shows no signs of problem in this position.  Everything checks out.  He has a good fastball and this positions shows several reasons why.

Power Slot Part Two

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

This picture is the split second in the delivery after the previous one.  It is the beginning of The Turn.  But just looking at the two pictures, these are drastically different positions. His throwing arm went from above 90 degrees to below, so he is going to throw from his ear like a catcher.

Looking at the grips in the two pictures, the first is a fastball and this picture is a curveball.  But that should not affect the movement of the arm all this drastically.  Repeatable mechanics are the key to consistent strikes.

This type of change in the arm motion while delivering a pitch is exactly why the St. Louis Cardinals ace could be experiencing trouble.

His glove arm is slightly lower too.  It is hard to tell if that is a natural motion of his to turn his body or not, but it is worth noting his weak front side in this picture.  As I mentioned before, a weak front side can be a big contributor to throwing consistently, and having control over the course of a game.

The Turn

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports /

This picture is a great angle to see every part of The Turn.  This is another position that is important to look at from the legs up.  This is where the ball is released, so it inherently plays a key role in throwing strikes.

Martinez gets good extension on his back leg.  The slight bend in his back leg does not mean he can or should extend further.  That is how he keeps his body under control through delivery.  A fully extended back leg makes following through difficult, even with all the forward momentum.

His front leg has a bend in it too.  That is also good.  That means he is not trying to pitch from his heel and stopping any forward momentum built to this point in delivery.

It can be argued that there should be more bend, but that depends on the mechanical school of thought of the person looking at it.  I have no issue with it.  Part of control to the plate is body control and less bend means more body control while delivering the ball to the plate.

The glove side of Martinez is in a good place.  At this point in the delivery, the glove side has one job, which is to get the top half of the body to finish over that front knee.  Without it, every pitch will either miss high or be an easily hittable pitch up in the zone.

As far as the throwing arm goes, it is both good and bad. The good parts are that he is getting decent external rotation at the shoulder and his arm slot is in good position to finish out front.  It is a consistent arm slot to the first Power Slot picture.  That means his body is in sync and he will be able to repeat the delivery.

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Now for the bad.  It is not consistent with the second Power Slot picture.  His arm has to travel a long way from being at a less than 90 degree angle to get to where it is in the above picture when turning.  In the time it takes his arm to get there, his lower half is not waiting.  This means his arm will be caught in no man’s land when his body is ready to deliver the ball to the plate.  Hence the difficulties throwing consistent strikes.  His body is not in sync.

What It Means

Moving forward into today’s start and beyond, he will continue to find inconsistency when he throws.  There is no overnight cure for mechanical issues.  And frankly he is a usually dominant pitcher, so his mechanics have worked up to this point.  But if there are blaring inconsistencies then they will continue to show through.

The problem is his arm path and it starts in the Power Slot.  Unless something clicks, it won’t go away.  He will continue to walk guys at a high rate and will be searching for his first win.  The fans of the St. Louis Cardinals would love to see him turn it around.  There is no reason to believe he won’t, but his struggles start with his mechanics.

Next: On Base Problems Plague The Birds

In order to be confident in the turn around, his mechanics will need to improve or there is always the chance this wills how through.  His body needs to get in sync with his arm path.  I have confidence that the Carlos Martinez of old will be back soon.