We believe that there are two versions of Carlos Martinez: one that throws as hard as he can without being particularly smart, and one that does everything a pitcher should while dialing down the velocity. Yesterday, we saw someone who was throwing both hard and smart.
Carlos Martinez’ pitching is about as good as it is strange. There just aren’t many other pitchers who fluctuate in velocity from game to game like Martinez does. As he bounces up and down in velocity, he’ll sometimes lose control or fall in love with his fastball. He may not have been so accurate yesterday, but Martinez was still pitching (not just throwing) while hitting 99 mph on the gun.
To be clear, I am not saying that Martinez did everything well. In fact, his control was pretty bad yesterday. Four walks in five innings is not good, and then this chart from Brooks Baseball displays his problem pretty well:
The chart shows that he really was all over the place. After I saw this chart, I thought it was a miracle that he only hit one batter. However, he did something that we’ve always assumed that Martinez doesn’t do when he is throwing as hard as he can: he was changing speeds the whole game.
Part of the whole pitching versus throwing argument is that pitchers aren’t changing speeds enough; they’re just rearing back and firing the ball as hard as they can. Here is a chart that shows Martinez’s pitch speeds throughout the game, also from Brooks Baseball:
Even when he was throwing three fastballs in a row, he was switching between his two and four-seamer. He kept changing pitches and changing speeds the whole game. His velocity indicated that Martinez had a “throwing” day, but he was actually pitching smart and changing speeds effectively. If he can continue to do that, then having less control is more bearable.
Despite his lack of control, Martinez still struck out eleven in five innings, so he was clearly doing something right. The higher speed definitely contributed to that some, but I would be surprised if his smart pitching didn’t have more to do with it.
When I saw those pitch speeds, I was curious to see if Martinez had always done this or if it was just yesterday. I wanted to find out if he really is just a thrower on high velocity days. The result is that he tries to pitch smart, but can’t sustain it. For most of the game, he mixes speeds and pitches, but there is usually one stretch where he doesn’t. He has one or two stretches where he throws too many fastballs. I won’t give you every game, but here is a good example of what I am talking about from his start on July 4.
Martinez started out throwing almost exclusively fastballs. When he got tired later in the game, Martinez went back to his heater. Martinez started pitching again in the fourth and fifth innings, and he had a very short fourth (8 pitches). He can obviously get away with this, as he didn’t give up any runs in the first three innings, but it isn’t ideal. He got away with the extra walks yesterday by changing speeds, so it clearly adds something to his game.
When Martinez wants to slow it down and pitch with more command, we don’t have to worry about this. In fact, he sometimes goes to his offspeed stuff too often on those days. However, on throwing days, Yadier Molina must keep his pitching habits in mind. Molina is a very smart ballplayer and may have been the reason for Martinez’s smart pitching. The Cardinals need to make sure that he’s keeping track of how often Martinez goes to his heater when he wants to dial up the velocity.
There is definitely a trade-off when Martinez throws instead of pitches. His control worsens and he can’t place the ball where he wants to. He made it clear yesterday, though, that he can still be a smart pitcher when he is throwing. Mixing speeds helps ease some of the control problems that arise with all the hard fastballs. We thought that there were two versions of Carlos Martinez. Nevertheless, the one we saw yesterday just might be the happy medium.
Photo captured by: Benny Sieu – USA TODAY Sports