Carlos Martinez led the Cardinals to an Opening Day win with a dominating performance against the Cubs, but he still has a ton of room to improve.
Carlos Martinez lived up to expectations and delivered a gem opening day against the defending champs. Giving up 6 hits and putting 10 K’s in the book, it was a classic power pitching performance. However, when we look at the stats a little more closely, we can see that it was, in fact, far from a perfect performance.
Efficient but not Optimal
Martinez overall had a pretty efficient game, throwing 68 strikes out of a total of 105 pitches (65%). I consider about 66% a minimum strike percentage for any high-level pitching, so Martinez isn’t doing anything special there. Based on the percentage alone, I can only say that I would like to see a pitcher at his level to be sitting around 70% strikes on average.
The real story comes when you look at a heat map of his pitches. He threw 65% strikes, but they were spread through the zone and a disquieting number of pitches were in the middle-middle part of the plate. Over time I expect that his pitch locations will improve, and this will become a non-issue.
First Pitch Strikes
The most concerning, and long lasting, number was his percentage of first-pitch strikes. Martinez only threw 37% first pitch strikes compared to his career average of 61.5%. Despite the small sample size, that is an enormous difference. Although he had success, expect this number to change drastically otherwise Martinez will struggle all year.
First pitch strikes are always a hallmark of the most effective pitchers, and this is something to keep an eye one. On the bright side, he will undoubtedly be working on improving this number, and if he can achieve this level of success with a fundamentally flawed game Cardinals fans can expect some fireworks once he recaptures this element of his game.
After looking at his accuracy numbers, I took some time to look at his pitch selection and compared it to previous seasons. I immediately noticed his change-up percentage. Since his MLB debut in 2013, Martinez has gradually increased his change-up usage from about 6% to 21.2% in Sunday’s game.
This is an awesome trend. I always love pitchers with change-ups, and I consider the change-up the most dynamic pitch in baseball, at any level. He also mixes his slider well, usually hovering around 20% per appearance. What this does mean, is that he is throwing closer to 52% fastballs, which may account for his lower first pitch strike percentage.
Pitcher not a Thrower
Although Martinez has an excellent fastball, I love to see pitchers stray away from the prototypical fastball power pitcher model. In the future, this will lead to greater longevity because he isn’t relying on raw velocity as much, and he will age much more gracefully as a pitcher.
Having a plus change-up can effectively boost fastball perceived velocity by 5 or 10 mph. This effectively brings Martinez from averaging about a 95-mph fastball to something that looks more like 100 mph or more. He also threw the occasional curveball to give a different look.
What I love about Carlos Martinez’s first start this year is that there is clear evidence of offseason work. He has already worked to improve his pitch selection, and while he didn’t pitch anywhere near optimally, he still has tons of room to improve. Once he improves his first pitch strike percentage and improves his discipline within the strike zone, he has the potential to have an incredible 2017 season for the Cardinals.
Photo captured by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports