St. Louis Cardinals: The Good, the bad, and the ugly of Jose Martinez at first base

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 12: Jose Martinez
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 12: Jose Martinez /

St. Louis Cardinals fans may have to learn to live with the good, the bad, and the ugly of having Jose Martinez at first base. Much like the Sergio Leone-Clint Eastwood classic 1966 Spaghetti Western, the options the Cardinals have aren’t easily discernible.

The St. Louis Cardinals have a first baseman in Jose Martinez who has remarkable offensive capabilities and painful-to-watch defensive deficiencies.  The dilemma is best described as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  Let’s look at all three as they relate to Martinez.

The Good

No doubt, it’s his offense.  Since the St. Louis Cardinals first called him on September 6, 2016, Jose Martinez’s offense has been outstanding.  In 135 games, he has a slash line of .320/.393/.524 with 17 HR and 62 RBIs, along with a three season WAR of 2.1.  Martinez’s 2017 season of 14 HR and 46 RBIs in 106 games earned him a spot in the starting rotation for 2018.

So far in 2018, Jose Martinez has been an anchor in the Cardinals offense.  Hitting between Marcell Ozuna and Yadier Molina, Martinez has hit 3 HR, 15 RBIs, with a slash line of .339/.429/.559 in 17 games.  His six strikeouts is less than Tommy Pham (15), Marcell Ozuna (19), Paul Dejong (29), Dexter Fowler (16), and Matt Carpenter (21).  Although it’s still early, among the starters for 2018, Martinez leads in SLG (.559) and OPS (.988).

Redbird Rants co-editor Dr. Michael Miles wrote a piece recently that accurately and properly praises Martinez’s offensive skills.  Check out Dr. Miles’ piece here.

The Ugly

Allow me to go with the ugly before the bad in this piece.  Jose Martinez’s defense at first base has been…just plain ugly so far in 2018.

The defensive metrics for Martinez at first base are hard to defend.  According to Baseball Reference, Martinez has a Rtot of -4 and a Rtot/yr of -14 after 50 games over three years at first base.  Since zero is considered average, you can see how ugly Martinez’s defense at first has been since his arrival in the major league.

Rtot and Rtot/yr are measurements by Baseball Reference to determine the number of runs above or below average a player was worth. Rtot is based on the number of plays, Rtot/yr on the number of innings.

However, moving Martinez to the outfield, is  still not a good option, because his defensive metrics are even worse.  In 42 games for the Cardinals in the outfield, Martinez has a -8 Rtot and a -30 Rtot/year, meaning first base is his strongest defensive position.

To compare, Allen Craig who played 95 games in 2013 at first base, and was no gold glover, had a Rtot of 5 and a Rtot/year of 7.  In six seasons at first base, his numbers were 5 and 3 respectively.  Albert Pujols during his first gold glove year in 2006,  had a Rtot of 13 and a Rtot/year of 13 in 143 games.

The Bad

The bad is more about the options the Cardinals have at first base other than Jose Martinez, which are limited.

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Matt Carpenter has the most first base experience on the roster, and his defensive metrics are stronger than Martinez’s.  In 216 games at first, Carpenter has a Rtot and Rtot/year of 3.  However, Carpenter’s offense does not measure up close to Martinez especially in a middle of the lineup roll.  Through 17 games, Carpenter has a slash line of .175/.338/.333, with 2 HRs and  10 RBIs, primarily in the three spot.  Although, Carpenter is more effective in the lead off spot, he can’t replace Martinez as a run producer.

Jedd Gyorko could be another option at first base, although his experience is limited at that position.  In three seasons, he has just played 22 games at first.  His defensive metrics are better, with a 0 Rtot and a -5 Rtot/yr.  Nevertheless, his offensive metrics don’t compare to Martinez’s, with a career slash line in six years of .243/.308/.430,

The only other option at first for the Cardinals would be Luke Voit.  The 27-year-old prospect has had limited exposure in the major leagues with only 62 games, however, 31 of those were at first base.

Voit’s defensive metrics are respectable with a Rtot of 1 and a Rtot/yr of 4.  Offensively, though, his limited metrics don’t compare with Martinez’s.  His slash line of .246/.306/.430, are reflective of the Cardinals problem with finding another solution at first base for Martinez.


Recently at the Cards Conclave Blog, Dennis Lawson published a piece entitled, “Ten Unpopular Opinions and One Pseudo Truth.”  His tenth opinion stated what many St. Louis Cardinal fans may feel when he said: “I wish Tyler O’Neil could play first base. I also wish Jose Martinez could play first base.  Same for Matt Carpenter.  Actually, it would be nice to have anyone who can actually play the position defensively available.”

The St. Louis Cardinals aren’t replacing Jose Martinez at first base nor are they likely to move him back to the outfield.  Although his defense at first has been painful to watch, his offense is too important to this Cardinal lineup.  Hopefully, the Cardinals coaching staff(aka Jose Oquendo) will be able to improve Martinez’s defense as the year progresses.

Next: Update on top-10 prospects

Until then..we can close our eyes and pray.  Let us know your thoughts on Jose Martinez.  Thanks for reading.