Sunday, July 26, 2009

J.D. Martin's Bad Luck and Good Pitching

Fans of the Nationals know that there are few guys worth cheering for this year on the Washington Nationals than J.D. Martin.

A first round pick of the Indians. Then, injuries. Tommy John surgery. Eight years in the minor leagues. He lost half a dozen ticks on his heater, and had to remake himself as a finesse righty--the rarest and most difficult of transformations.

This off-season, he was a minor league free agent and chose to leave the only organization he'd ever known for a team where he figured he'd have a better shot at the bigs. (Reports that he was dumped by Cleveland are wrong. Martin left.) Then, after all that, at age 26, he battled back and against all odds finally got his chance.

J.D. Martin is Roy Hobbs.

Unfortunately, his bad luck has continued in his first starts in the majors. Of course, he had the good luck of getting the Mets and the Padres, two of the worst hitting teams in baseball.

But Fizzleman for whatever inexplicable reason decides twice to put the horrid double-play combination of Ron Belliard and Cristian Guzman behind him. In the Mets start, he also had Willie Harris at third. It's hard to assemble a worse defensive alignment.

So with those stone gloves behind him, Martin got stuck with five earned runs in the Mets game when he deserved no more than three. Then, after retiring six out of six in the third and fourth, Fizzleman pulls him for a pinch hitter.

Basically, the manager said, "Hey kid, welcome to the big leagues. You pitched pretty good, but here's an 11.25 ERA anyway, just because I hate you."

Last night, Martin had Zimmerman at third at least. It was again Belliard, whose range resembles that of a beach volleyball player, at second and Guzman, who's not much better, at short.

But facing the AAA Padres, Martin did fine. His command wasn't quite right, uncharacteristically walking one and throwing just 17 of 28 pitches for strikes. But he got it done, getting through two innings with no runs and just two hits, one a Belliard gift on a groundball to his left that's an out if Alberto Gonzalez or Anderson Hernandez is out there.

And honestly the other hit he allowed was a catchable ball too. It would have been a great play, but a plus-fielder could have tracked down Everth Cabrera's first-inning double. Give Martin Mark Buerhle's fielding support and he'd be damn near perfect too.

Regardless, the rains came after two scoreless (actually about 30 minutes after two scoreless--the umps weirdly began the rain delay well before any actual rain started to fall, and they could have gotten one or two more in before the real rain started), and Martin's day was over, that grossly inflated ERA still at 7.50.

His groundball rate is way up at 65%. He's given up just one walk against 28 batters faced. No, he's not overpowering anyone, striking out next to no one. But his command and groundball tendencies are more than enough to succeed, if only the guys behind him could catch the ball.

But his BABIP is way up at .386, and just 54.6% of his runners allowed have been stranded. His fielding independent ERA is 3.22, and his tRA* is 4.69 (tRA doesn't distinguish between earned and unearned runs allowed, so subtract 0.40 from that to estimate a deserved ERA.)

It's a small sample size, but whether you're looking at the fancy stats or just watching the games, it's obvious that Martin's ERA is about double what it should be. But that's what happens when you field the defense that Riggleman's putting out there behind J.D.

Next time out, Martin will have a much tougher assignment--the Brewers, who are fourth in the NL in runs scored. His luck (and help) better improve, because he deserves a little good fortune to come his way.


Souldrummer said...

Martin is one of the feel good stories of the Nats this year and one of the few good things about the timing of JZimm's injury is that it will give Martin some more rope to show what he can do.

If nothing else, Martin can be happy knowing that his two innings and his key at bat were vital parts of helping his team win. The Nats are .500 in games he starts right now and he's got to focus on that as much as glamor statistics. Wins and losses is what kept Martis around so long after his performance started to drop.

On the other hand, Mock is absolutely puzzling. Do you think his problems are mental or his stuff just not big league quality? I haven't had the opportunity to see or listen to his last two starts.

Anonymous said...

"It's a small sample size, but whether you're looking at the fancy stats or just watching the games, it's obvious that Martin's ERA is about double what it should be. "

Thanks for this line....I was about to go off again. Really do not need those stats with that sample size....just use your eyes and watch the games.

Steven said...

We get it. You think all stats are dumb and useless. You're just talking to yourself at this point.

Anonymous said...

Hey that was nice Steven or oh so mature I have said before and will say again your blog has taught me a whole new type of stats. I like some of them......I like the ones you used today a lot...but for what 5 innings of work? I'll trust my eyes.

Chris Pendley said...

Getting pulled in the first game was kind of bizarre; I'd be surprised if that continues. I suspect his luck will turn as he gets more experience, but the things I'll be watching for with him are what his strikeout / control numbers normalize to and if he can maintain that obscene GB%. Those, as much as luck, will determine if he'll be successful going forward.

Steven said...

I wouldn't expect the Ks to rise much, but the walks can stay where they are. The GBs won't stay at 65% either, but can stay over 50%.

Really the key is that they need to catch the ball behind him. If you played him the whole year with the Rays' defense instead of the Nationals, that would be worth at least 2 runs on the ERA.

Chris Pendley said...

Of course, expecting the Nats to catch the ball is going to be a losing proposition the way they've been playing. I'm not sure how much success a pitch-to-contact type guy is going to get with the Nats, but your point is well noted. If the GB% can stay over 50%, I think he'll be okay, but he won't move much past 4/5 material until either the defense improves or his K rate goes up.