Sunday, May 24, 2009

What Do We Make of Martis?

On May 5, Shairon Martis had a coming out party of sorts, throwing the first complete game for a Washington pitcher since I think Walter Johnson, allowing just one run on five hits, no walks, and five strikeouts.

At the time, I cautioned against drawing too much from that particular start, mainly because I felt Martis was benefiting from an enormous strike zone called by Angel Hernandez, who seemed to be trying to finish the game in record time to avoid the rain that was in the forecast for about 4 pm that day.

Then, he followed up that start with a decent 5.1 inning, 3 ER performance and then another gem, going 7 innings against the Giants while allowing just one run on two hits, four walks, and two strikeouts. That was his fifth win of the season and third in a row, and a buzz started to grow. Earlier this weekend, Tom Boswell even threw Martis's name out there as a possible rookie of the year candidate.

This was a pitcher who since I first saw him last fall I'd pegged as a future middle-relief guy, certainly not the kind of pitcher who should be in the rotation for an average team, much less a contender. A little over a year ago, prospect maven John Sickels had him as our #17 prospect, behind the likes of Adam Carr, Jake Smolinski, and Glenn Gibson. He never made the Baseball America top ten list in any year. I wasn't alone in thinking maybe it was time to reassess.

Then, in his last two starts, Martis has gotten beaten up badly by two of the weaker hitting teams in the league, allowing a total of 10 runs in 12 innings against the Pirates and the Orioles. His ERA is up to 4.86, and there's nothing unlucky about that number, judging by his 4.71 FIP and 5.55 xFIP (two advanced metrics that isolate peripheral stats to project a "deserved" ERA one you strip away effects outside a pitchers control like fielding and luck).

So what do we have here? Was I right to be skeptical of the Wowin' Curacaoan? Is he just a young pitcher hitting an inevitable rough patch on the way to a solid career? Or is he reverting to the sub-replacement form that he showed in his cameo late last season?

The biggest concern in his numbers is his strikeout rate. Before 2008, he'd never really shown big swing-and-miss stuff (remember, he was traded by San Francisco for Mike Stanton once upon a time, and the Giants are pretty good at finding young pitchers). The big breakthrough last season was that he suddenly seemed to have broken through to a new level. With a developing change-up, his K-rate in 41.2 AAA innings exploded to 9.07 per 9, and in 20.2 big league innings that rate jumped all the way to 10.02 per 9. Those are big-time numbers, though he was walking far too many and showing worrisome flyball tendencies.

This year, the strikeouts have vanished, falling to 4.19 per 9. For context, only six ERA title-qualified starting pitchers in 2008 whiffed batters at a lower rate than Martis has this year: Livan Hernandez (3.35), Aaron Cook (4.09), Paul Byrd (4.10), Jon Garland (4.12), Zach Duke (4.23), and Kenny Rogers (4.25). That's a list of pitchers who are either extreme groundball guys (Cook, Garland, Duke) or basically replacement-level scrubs (Livo, Byrd, Rogers).

Martis however is a flyball pitcher; 42% of batted balls against him have been hit in the air so far this season. His command is better, but at 3.52 walks per 9, it's just ok, not an asset.

Then, in his last two starts, Martis has gotten beaten up badly by two of the weaker hitting teams in the league, allowing a total of 10 runs in 12 innings against the Pirates and the Orioles. His ERA is up to 4.86, and there's nothing unlucky about that number, judging by his 4.71 FIP and 5.55 xFIP (two advanced metrics that isolate peripheral stats to project a "deserved" ERA one you strip away effects outside a pitchers control like fielding and luck).

Looking at it another way, in six of his nine starts, he has left the game with a team win probability in the negatives, meaning that regardless of what his W-L record says, two-thirds of the time he's done more harm than good to the team's prospects of winning.

You can survive and even thrive as a flyball pitcher in MLB, but your strikeout rates have to be above average, somewhere at least north of 6 per 9, and your walks have to be closer to 2.5 per 9. With his current rates, he's just not going to continue to succeed enough to justify his rotation spot.

Is there room for him to get better? Martis is operating basically a three-pitch guy. His low-90s fastball is a good pitch to work off of, but it's not an out pitch. His change up and slider are both decent but not great pitches. His curveball is a minus-pitch, and he's basically stopped throwing it.

If he has all three pitches working, I tend to think his strikeout rates will rise into the mid-6s, and he can maintain enough to be a 5th starter on an average team. Basically that would make him Jason Bergmann. To be any better than that, however, he's going to need to come up with something we haven't seen yet.

4 comments:

Mr. Mustache said...

Please edit this post. Its hard to read and duplicative.

redcottageaudio said...

I like the idea of Martis, simply because we have so few pitchers that throw strikes and come after hitters. But it really does look like with a month gather scouting reports Martis may have been solved.

Mr. Mustache said...

How about an analysis of which Mets prospects you want for Nick?

Steven said...

Perhaps your comment was in jest, but John Patterson pitched a complete game in August 4, 2005 against the Dodgers. Usually not the kind of thing I would know, but I happened to be there.