Giving Carlos Martinez the Pitch-Comp Treatment

This is clearly a toy I love playing around with. Please just don’t ask me what it means. I don’t know what it means to say that Henderson Alvarez almost has Felix Hernandez’s changeup. It’s just a statistical observation, like any other. This is all way too new for me to know if it has any substance. If nothing else, it adds some color, right? We are a people somewhat obsessed with player comps. We love comps for young players, because they allow us to pretend like we can see their futures. This is kind of along those lines, at least with regard to the unproven. Carlos Martinez is unproven. Let’s analyze Carlos Martinez.

The Cardinals intend for Martinez to be a starting pitcher, a role in which he’s only dabbled in the major leagues. At this point he’s the favorite to open the year as the No. 5 starter, and while the Cardinals have pursued other arms on the market, that has more to do with a potential lack of depth. Of course, there are Martinez skeptics. There are skeptics of every pitcher who has yet to start and succeed. Frequently, those skeptics come away looking smart! But we don’t know if Martinez is going to develop. All we know is his age, and the kind of arm he has.

Martinez throws hard — he throws incredibly hard — and when he made a few starts last summer, he threw almost identically hard as he did when relieving. He featured an angried-up breaking ball, and he also mixed in some changeups, although a changeup to Martinez is a fastball to a bunch of lesser-blessed pitchers. Let’s take those pitches Martinez threw as a starter last June and July. Let’s assume those are just the pitches he has, and let’s run them through the pitch-comp formulas, made possible by the Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards. Below, Martinez’s pitches, and some pitches from other right-handed starters in 2014. I don’t know yet what we’ll learn from this, but I promise you we won’t learn literally nothing.

Martinez throws a four-seamer, a two-seamer, a changeup, and a slider. It sounds like he’ll also bring back a slower breaking ball in 2015, a pitch he threw a couple years ago, but for our purposes here, I’m leaving that out. We don’t know quite what that pitch will look like, since Martinez has slightly adjusted his arm slot.

Martinez_Release

(from Texas Leaguers)

That’ll do something to the breaking ball’s movement, such that it probably won’t match what it did in 2013. But anyway, forget about the pitch Martinez is bringing back. Here are the pitches he threw.

Four-seam fastball

Martinez_FF

Pitcher Pitch Velocity Horizontal Vertical Comp Rating
Carlos Martinez FF 97.6 3.9 8.4
Wily Peralta FF 96.5 4.2 9.4 1.4
Henderson Alvarez FF 94.5 4.0 8.6 1.5
Jordan Zimmermann FF 94.6 3.8 8.7 1.6
Shane Greene FF 94.5 3.8 8.7 1.7
Shelby Miller FF 94.4 3.9 8.8 1.8

As a reminder, the comp rating is based on z-score differences between a given pitch trait and Martinez’s corresponding pitch trait. The traits considered are those shown: average velocity, horizontal movement, and vertical movement. The best comp for Martinez’s four-seam fastball, among righty starters from last year: Wily Peralta’s four-seam fastball. According to the info, Peralta throws both a four-seamer and a two-seamer, although they seem very difficult to tell apart in the data. In any case, if you look at the table, you see Martinez and then a bunch of lower velocities. It means something that no one’s within 1.4 comp-rating points. Maybe you’re tempted to think about Yordano Ventura, but Ventura’s four-seamer has more run, and more rise. So while Martinez throws about as hard, the fastballs themselves move somewhat differently.

Two-seam fastball

Martinez_FT

Pitcher Pitch Velocity Horizontal Vertical Comp Rating
Carlos Martinez FT 96.2 8.3 2.9
Marcus Stroman FT 93.3 8.3 3.3 1.5
Carlos Carrasco FT 95.6 8.8 4.9 1.8
Blake Treinen FT 95.4 9.6 3.7 1.8
Gerrit Cole FT 96.3 8.6 6.0 2.0
Lance Lynn FT 92.2 7.8 2.9 2.2

On one hand, that’s pretty good company, especially since Stroman’s sinker compares very well to Roy Halladay’s sinker. On the other hand, Stroman is 1.5 comp-rating points away. But then, look at the rest of the table: the horizontal movements are identical. The vertical movements are virtually identical. The difference is that Martinez threw his two-seamer three ticks harder than Stroman did. So that’s not a point against Martinez; that’s a point in favor of his being a freak. There isn’t a great comp for his sinker, but the best one is an approximation of Roy Halladay’s sinker, and Martinez’s is faster. You start to understand a little about why Martinez has been so good against righties.

There’s a big movement difference between Martinez’s fastballs. You see a gap of 5.5 inches in vertical movement, which is the third-biggest difference in the sample. A part of this, probably, is that Martinez has a tendency to drop down when throwing his sinker. His four-seamer tended to come from a higher angle. I haven’t decided yet whether this is good, bad, or neutral. It just is what it is. Maybe — maybe — it contributes to pitch-tipping, but I’m skeptical of that stuff.

Changeup

Martinez_CH

Pitcher Pitch Velocity Horizontal Vertical Comp Rating
Carlos Martinez CH 88.8 5.0 5.6
Yordano Ventura CH 88.4 5.9 6.6 1.1
Sonny Gray CH 87.5 6.4 5.6 1.2
Eddie Butler CH 86.7 5.9 5.6 1.3
Yu Darvish CH 87.6 5.5 4.0 1.5
Nick Tepesch CH 85.2 4.9 5.9 1.5

There’s Ventura. But, we’ve been over this. When analyzing a changeup, you probably want to analyze how it’s different from a guy’s fastball or fastballs. So here are separations between changeups and four-seamers:

Pitcher Velocity Gap Horizontal Gap Vertical Gap Comp Rating
Carlos Martinez -8.8 1.1 -2.8
Gerrit Cole -8.9 0.7 -3.4 0.6
Kevin Gausman -9.5 1.2 -3.5 0.8
Nick Tropeano -9.4 1.8 -2.5 0.9
Ian Kennedy -8.4 1.0 -3.8 0.9
Trevor Bauer -10.5 1.3 -2.8 1.0

Cole’s changeup isn’t much of a weapon. Gausman’s changeup isn’t much of a weapon. Tropeano supposedly has a good changeup! But he is a mediocre pitcher overall. Kennedy has never shown a big platoon split, which is a credit to his change. Bauer’s changeup might be his fourth-best pitch against lefties.

Now, separations between changeups and two-seamers:

Pitcher Velocity Gap Horizontal Gap Vertical Gap Comp Rating
Carlos Martinez -7.4 -3.3 2.7
Julio Teheran -7.3 -2.1 0.9 1.9
Gavin Floyd -6.9 -1.6 1.1 2.3
Carlos Villanueva -6.6 -3.6 -0.4 2.4
Jhoulys Chacin -6.3 -3.2 -0.6 2.5
Shelby Miller -7.6 -1.0 1.0 2.6

Not much here. Here’s why: look at the vertical gap. Martinez’s change had less sink than his two-seamer. By almost three inches, on average! No other pitcher in the sample matched that. Odrisamer Despaigne came closest, and his changeup is weird. Martinez has more of a straight change, and last year, it did generate a bunch of swings and misses. But he also had trouble keeping the changeup down enough. Maybe that’s by design, but given how Martinez struggled so badly against left-handed hitters, there are necessary improvements.

Which Martinez knows about. Maybe he really is getting more depth on his change, now. He’s had the pitch for a while, and people have liked it before. It’s a pitch he’d need, as a starter.

Slider

Martinez_SL

Pitcher Pitch Velocity Horizontal Vertical Comp Rating
Carlos Martinez SL 86.4 4.1 1.2
Jimmy Nelson SL 87.3 4.3 0.9 0.6
Zack Greinke SL 85.5 4.2 0.4 0.8
Bud Norris SL 87.6 3.0 1.2 1.1
Collin McHugh SL 86.6 3.1 2.3 1.3
Allen Webster SL 84.7 3.9 0.2 1.3

Martinez’s 2014 breaking ball was an improvement on his 2013 breaking ball, picking up some ticks to turn this into a power weapon. And while Martinez made the occasional mistake, he was mostly able to keep the breaking ball on the proper side of the plate, and he was fairly successful keeping it down. The comps are pretty good, here. Nelson has a good slider. Greinke has a good slider. Norris has a good slider. McHugh has a good slider. In here are sliders that have been trusted against left-handed hitters. For Martinez, that could take some of the pressure off of his change.

=====

Even before this, you knew about the stuff. Martinez’s repertoire isn’t quite as striking as Marcus Stroman’s, through this lens, but there’s enough here to be good, and there’s enough here to be great, and I’ll remind you of the Martinez/Stroman sinker comp. Stroman could have one of the better sinkers in baseball, and Martinez has a similarly-moving sinker that just so happens to be a few miles per hour faster. Maybe that won’t help a ton against lefties, but most hitters are righties, and righties don’t have a lot of fun with Carlos Martinez.

The lefty thing might determine his path. Martinez needs to solve lefties. Having that slightly higher arm slot should improve the probabilities. From here, it’s about putting the stuff in the right places, and avoiding predictability in fastball counts. I can’t help but feel like Martinez ought to go inside more often with his four-seamer. As things stand, only the slider works the inner half of the plate. But so much of this has to do with the changeup that maybe I’m just grasping for other ideas. Martinez, in the minors, was known for occasionally getting changeup-happy. If he finds the feel for that pitch again, I don’t know what he can’t do. The raw stuff gives him a considerable margin of error. With an arm like Carlos Martinez’s, you need be only so precise.

It’s no mystery why the Cardinals like Martinez so much. Frequently, people fall into the trap of evaluating young players by their ceilings. And with Martinez, that trap is very real. But, the ceiling? I have to imagine it’s up there, somewhere. I just can’t even see it.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Henry Druschel
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Henry Druschel

I submitted a Community post (that I think will go up tomorrow) that tried to create a “uniqueness” leaderboard for all pitches thrown in 2014. Admittedly, that combined starters and relievers, but it picked out his two-seamer as both his oddest pitch and the 40th oddest pitch among righties. It’s certainly the pitch that excites me the most, in a vacuum, particularly because it’s different from nearby pitches in a very valuable way (more velocity).