With the first full month of the season under wraps, I take a look at who the pitcher of the month for March/April is for the St. Louis Cardinals.
The St. Louis Cardinals sit at 17-12 in the highly competitive NL Central division. After starting last weekend in first place, an untimely sweep by the surprising Pirates has the Cardinals looking for answers once again tonight to start the month of May.
But as May gets officially under way, let’s take a look at my selection for the pitcher of the month for March/April.
MLB is finally feeling Tsunami’s waves
I don’t believe I can go wrong with this selection, but for me the pitcher of the month for March/April is Carlos Martinez. The unquestionable ace of the St. Louis Cardinals got off to a rocky start against the New York Mets on Opening Day, but rebounded nicely to turn in some incredible performances over his last five starts.
Here are the lines for each of his six starts this season:
Carlos Martinez leads the St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff in ERA, strike outs, K/9, WAR and innings pitched. According to Baseball-Reference, Martinez boasts a 1.7 WAR on the season. The next closest Cardinal pitcher is Miles Mikolas with a 0.5 WAR. Martinez’s WAR puts him just behind Johnny Cueto (2.0 WAR) in the National League, but in front of names like Max Scherzer (1.6 WAR) and Clayton Kershaw.
So why is Martinez having success so far in 2018?
After his third start in April, I wrote an article stating Martinez was showing signs of consistency we had not seen from him. It turns out, I was on to something for Martinez ripped off three consecutive games with at least six innings pitched and one or less earned runs allowed. His consistency on the mound this year has kept the St. Louis Cardinals in games and has given them a chance to win.
Incredibly enough, Martinez does not lead the staff in wins. Martinez boasts a 2-1 record, but in the six games he’s started, the St. Louis Cardinals have won five times. While wins today do not mean as much, Martinez should also be leading the team in wins had the lineup produced for him.
If you’re doing the eye test on how Martinez has performed, you have to like what you see. The only issue he continuously runs into is walks and HBP. Oddly enough, Martinez has hit a batter in every single game pitched this season. His walk rate currently sits at 4.02 a game, which is almost a walk higher than last year (3.12). But even then, Martinez manages to find his way out of trouble by bearing down and making his pitches. His LOB % currently sits at 88%, which is thirteen points better than last year (74.9%) and sixth in the National League this season.
I mean you can see it for yourself in the table above. Martinez has now thrown five straight starts of six innings or more while only giving up a single run or less. What more do you want from your ace at this point? I definitely expect Martinez to regress towards the mean, but he just looks like a different pitcher and that’s good news for the St. Louis Cardinals. I’m sure the “he’s immature crowd” is nowhere to be found though, right?
Beyond the eye test
According to Baseball Savant, all of Martinez’s pitches are seeing less exit velocity off the bat than in previous years. Here is a table for you:
|Avg. EV by year by pitch type
You can see some major changes in some of the data, especially with his four-seam fastball and slider. Martinez is trending in the right direction of getting better. Let’s take his FFB for instance. Last year, the hit probability off an EV of 86 MPH was right around 23% and had a wOBA around .235. If we were to use 2018 data in 2017, Martinez’s EV of 79 on his FFB would give us a hit probability of 22% with a wOBA of .221.
But Martinez actually performed slightly worse than what the probability model showed. Last year, Martinez’s FFB had a BA of .249 and a wOBA of .311 even with an EV of 86 MPH. But so far this year, Martinez has upped his game. His FFB has a .074 BA with a .158 wOBA. The expected batting average (XBA) off Martinez’s FFB is .141 and the XWOBA is .222.
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That means Martinez is sitting +.067 in terms of batting average and .064 in wOBA this year. What’s fueling that fire? Martinez’s swing and miss percentage is up to 26.2% this year compared to 15.2% in 2017. He is locating the fastball better, and when you have a secondary pitch like his slider, the fastball becomes even more dangerous.
I understand the difference may not seem huge, but when you realize Martinez has only given up two hits off his fastball in 158 batters faced before today’s game, you see just how much a difference is does make.
Speaking of said slider, it also has a similar story to the FFB.
In 2017, the EV off his slider expected yield the hit probability and wOBA as the FFB. Carlos was better than that as well. His slider yielded a .141 batting average and a .230 wOBA. This year, though, his slider is yielding a .086 batting average and a .204 wOBA. Baseball Savant shows his slider’s XBA to be around .104 and his XWOBA to be around .229.
Again, this difference between the numbers just speak to how much better Carlos Martinez has been for the St. Louis Cardinals this season. Like his fastball, the slider is also seeing an increase in swing and miss percentage. He is up to 44% on the slider from his 38.5% in 2017. He’s given up three hits off his slider in the 158 batters he’s faced before today’s game.
I think there is no secret the next steps for Carlos Martinez is to limit his walks. If he can control those moments better, Martinez is looking like a top-5 pitcher in the National League, maybe in baseball. Something else I’d like to see him do is continue to work on his cutter.
The cutter is a new pitch for Martinez and could be a really nice weapon for the St. Louis Cardinals, especially if he can get the ball on the hands of lefties. The slider is a nice pitch down in the zone to lefties, but can be left over the plate at times. The cutter takes on the speed of a fastball and has the ability to get on top of the hitter much quicker. The only issue will be if Carlos cannot get the cutter on the inside part of the plate. If he is to leave off the plate, the best place is down and away to lefties, much like a back-door slider.
That’s enough nit-picking from me. Congratulations to my St. Louis Cardinals pitcher of the month, Carlos Martinez
Shout out to my honorable mention, Bud Norris. Where would the St. Louis Cardinals be without him?