Monday night, for the first time since summer camp kicked off, Carlos Martinez made it to the field. It seems he was a victim of some of that testing lag we’ve been talking about, as he was in the same plane as Ricardo Sanchez and Genesis Cabrera, I believe, both of whom tested positive. Martinez was held hostage by the delay in results, but he can now take the field with his compadres, leaving only Alex Reyes really unaccounted for. Either he’s dealing with a similar issue, he’s the original positive case that was never identified, or there’s some caution because of his young daughter who has already dealt with cancer. All we can do is speculate and hope Reyes will be out there soon.
This post is about Martinez, though. With him returning to the field, the polarization around him returned as well. I’m really not sure where it started, though it might have been Mark Saxon responding to a tweet indicating Martinez could be a bullpen guy again this year. Whatever the reason, though, folks were again looking at Carlos. So let’s lay out a few things.
In a regular season, there’s no question that you want Martinez in your rotation. If you can find five starters that are legitimately better than him, you are going to probably dominate things and have a few Cy Young candidates in the mix. Martinez always seems to bring the drama, but when he’s healthy and starting, he’s in the top 15-20 pitchers in the National League, at least.
That being said, let’s work our way through things and see if, in this crazy year, it really makes a lot of difference where Martinez is going to be plying his trade.
I have expressed my concern numerous times about Martinez having to go from the 40 innings he threw in 2019 to a regular starter’s workload in 2020. When there was still the possibility of 162 games, that ramp-up concerned me but not enough to want me to see him left out of the rotation, even with the signing of Kwang Hyun Kim. I did think it was a dangerous thing to just assume he’d be able to snap right back into that starter role and I expected they’d need to pad things out or skip some starts for him, but you still wanted him to pitch at least 100 innings and you can only do that as a starter.
This year, though, 60 innings feels about where the top starters are going to wind up, maybe 65. At most, they’ll make 12 starts in this 60 game season. They may only go 3-4 innings in their first two starts. Plus, as one of my Twitter followers pointed out yesterday, it’s not going to be a season to let a guy work through early struggles. If someone doesn’t seem to have it after two, that might be it given the import of every game. Factor in that the manager won’t have to stretch a starter because he’s coming up to bat in the next half-inning (though, on the flip side, starters might get to go a little longer if they aren’t pinch-hit for) and that 60 plateau seems about right.
Would it be possible for Martinez to get 60 innings in the bullpen? That seems unlikely, but it’s not completely unheard of. It’d require him to get about seven innings per week over the nine week season. That seems a little steep, even if he gets a couple of long relief outings each week. Looking at how he was used last year, it seems like the most you could expect would be four innings a week, as he threw almost 12 innings each healthy month. Four innings over nine weeks would give us 36. You could probably see 40 without too much trouble, especially if he wasn’t saved for the ninth all the time.
Usually, when you are doing the calculus of value, starting pitchers have such a higher index because of the weight they have. They could pitch 180 or so innings throughout the season whereas a reliever might just get to 50 or 60. That difference is remarkably large. We’re not going to see that in 2020, though. The difference between a well-used reliever and a starter is going to be much closer. When you factor in the leverage, that you can make sure Martinez (or another reliever) can pitch in the most important situations, and when you realize those situations are like three times as important this year, the case for Martinez as reliever becomes a little harder to dismiss out of hand.
To be clear, I think Martinez should be a starter and this season, as warped as it is, has the silver lining of letting him move up the workload without being a burden to the team. I just think that, should he be put in the bullpen this year, it’s not the remarkable injustice it would be in a normal year. Now, what two years in the bullpen would mean to his starting chances in 2021 and going forward, that I wouldn’t know. You could see this being a Trevor Rosenthal/Jordan Hicks situation which never sees the talented arm get back into the rotation. Without that knowledge, though, I’d recommend Martinez as a starter, but I’m not sure I’ll get worked up if that’s not the way it goes.