As happy as I am for Shairon Martis, I'm starting to get the feeling about that we're once again setting unrealistically high expectations for a kid, setting him up for almost sure-fire disappointment. Mark Zuckerman called him "dazzling" and "spectacular." Chico Harlan saw "flashes of dominance."
I agree he was better than his first start, and Nationals fans should feel good about how his first two big league starts have gone. You don't strike out nine major league hitters in a game if you don't have something going for you. He has a 2.70 ERA after two major league starts, and no one can take that away from him. Last night he had guys falling all over themselves trying to hit that change up. None of what I'd read about him identified the change as a plus pitch, but as Sutton said last night, that's often the last pitch that young pitchers master.
I'm as excited about the Wowin' Curacaoan as the next guy. After all, what a nickname! And if he sucked, I couldn't use it.
But we should try not to go overboard. It's starting to look like Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill, Collin Balester, and Chad Cordero all over again, guys who are very good pieces to have around, but whom fans get frustrated with because they are merely good, not great.
Because as good as he's been, he's also been very lucky. Last night, he left the bases loaded with no outs in the sixth. Charlie Manning and Steve Shell teamed up to end the inning with only one run allowed, a fantastic performance. If all three runs had been allowed to score, Martis's ERA would stand at 4.50. As I've pointed out a couple times, he allowed baserunners every inning in his first start against the Braves, and just one big hit could have blown that game open.
Add up all the numbers so far, and he's got a 79% strand rate (70% is typical), .229 BABIP (.290 is typical), and a 4.61 fielding independent ERA. He's not this good, and our expectations shouldn't be skyrocketing.
But the thing that I think actually helped him the most last night was Chad Fairchild's strike zone. If you're interested in seeing closer what I'm talking about, you can click through the pitch-by-pitch on MLB Gameday and see exactly where each pitch ended up. (Gameday lets you click around and see the play from various angles, but I think the best view is from directly behind the pitcher's rubber, a little below pitcher's eye level.)
By my count, there were six called strikes that were off the plate:
--Strike one and strike two to Ramirez in the first (one off the plate outside, another off the plate inside--it makes it pretty tough for hitters when the pitcher is getting the call on both sides)
--Strike three to Willingham in the second
--Strike two to Ross in the second
--Strike one to Hermida in the third
--Strike one to Hermida in the fifth (this pitch in particular is a terrible call)
Six pitches might not seem like much, but it's actually a lot. If you flip any of those pitches, it would change those at bats and could change the game.
That got me thinking about the track record of the homeplate ump, Chad Fairchild. I went over to the Baseball Prospectus Umpire Reports and calculated the percentage of pitches that every ump in MLB has called strikes over the last 3 seasons (this actually didn't take very long--just a little copying and pasting into MS Excel).
I'm sure there's a ton of statistical noise in here, but I figured that on the whole there may be some trends among umps who tend to call bigger and smaller strike zones. Looking at the umps who called at least 300 innings, here's what I found:
--The overall range for called strikes is between around 42% to 46%. This actually I thought was a surprisingly large spread, but that's not based on anything except my gut.
--This year, Phil Cuzzi is leading the league with 45.95% pitches called strikes, while Paul Schrieber has called the fewest strikes at 42.18%.
--In '07, Doug Eddings had the biggest strike zone with 46.57% strikes, while Greg Gibson has the smallest at 42.33%.
--In '06, John Hirschbeck had the biggest zone at 45.58%, while Jerry Crawford was the stingiest ump in all three years calling just 41.91% strikes.
I also found some degree of year-to-year consistency among some umps. Umps like Laz Diaz, Doug Eddings, and John Hirshbeck showed up all three years toward the top of the list for the highest percentage of pitches called strikes, while Jerry Crawford, Tim McClelland, and Greg Gibson, among others were consistently among the smallest strike zones.
Then of course, some guys seem to bounce around a lot. Our guy from last night, Chad Fairchild, was among this "bounce around" group. This year, he's actually been one of the league's stingier; of the 73 umps with 300+ innings called, he's way down at #65 for the fewest called strikes, 43.19%. Last year, on the other hand, he was way up at 25th of 73 with 44.41% strikes.
So what does all that tell us about Shairon Martis? Well, nothing really. Fairchild had a big strike zone last night regardless of what the stats say about his past track record. Maybe he has a girlfriend in Miami and wanted to get the game over quick. But I thought I'd share since I looked all that up.
In case you're interested, here are the top 15 and bottom 15 umps in the league for strike percentage this season: