On Sunday night, two of the best pitchers in baseball will square off on national television. One – Max Scherzer – is well known. He owns two no-hitters and a pair of Cy Youngs.
The other, Carlos Martinez, is ascending. He’s never reached the 200 innings threshold or made a postseason start. He has appeared in the postseason – the World Series even – but only as a set-up man to Trevor Rosenthal in 2013.
This year, Scherzer has taken it to another level. He’s not just one of the best pitchers in the Senior Circuit. This year, he’s been the best pitcher in the National League. He’s even been better than Kershaw. He’s averaged over seven innings per start, and has struck out about 35% of batters faced. His ERA is a minuscule 2.06, and he leads all NL pitchers in WAR with 3.8.
How Does Carlos Stack Up?
On Saturday’s game, nationally televised on Fox, the broadcasters mentioned some of the “best” pitchers in baseball. Eric Karros rattled of the usual names: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Jon Lester. But here’s the dirty little secret: since May 1st, Carlos Martinez has been just as good as all those guys, if not better.
The problem with looking at Martinez’s full-season stats is that he had a bad April. He averaged under six innings per start and posted a 4.71 ERA. And that’s including his seven shut out innings on Opening Night.
Since then, Carlos has taken it to another level. He’s thrown 77 1/3 innings, or 7.06 per start (the exact IP/GS Scherzer has posted for the season). His ERA for the season is a very good 2.88, but since May 1st it’s 2.20. Even if you include the first month of the season, Martinez is 4th in WAR in the National League.
Martinez and Scherzer have absolutely dominated right handed hitters on their way to league-landing stats. Against righties, Scherzer and Martinez are 1-2 in batting average against (.124 to .171), on-base percentage (.160 to .224), and weighted on-base average (wOBA, .171 to .226).
The Similarities Go Beyond Stats
Not only are Martinez and Scherzer’s stats eerily similar, but so are their repertoires.
Carlos throws two types of fastballs. He throws a four-seamer about 33% of the time, and the sinker 26%. While the four-seamer can reach 100 mph, the sinker moves about ten inches compared to the five inches of horizontal movement he gets from the sinker.
On the other hand, Scherzer throws almost exclusively four-seamers, and they make up half of his offerings. The average velocity on a Scherzer four-seamer is about three mph less than Martinez’s but gets about three more inches of horizontal movement.
Max Scherzer, Immaculate Inning (9 pitches/3Ks). pic.twitter.com/Zw4Ynt4f7b
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 15, 2017
Next, sliders. Scherzer throws his a tick harder than Martinez. For both, usage is just over 25%. With two strikes, Carlos’ slider usage jumps way up to 44%, but Scherzer’s only increases slightly to 31%.
Can we talk about how Carlos Martinez struck out the side on three different pitches? 100mph heat, 90mph Changeup, 89mph Slider. Crazy. pic.twitter.com/cgNQ1ayzKI
— Pitcher List (@ThePitcherList) April 3, 2017
Martinez has only allowed a .147 average against his slider, but Scherzer has been video game-like. Hitters are hitting just hitting .078 against his slider.
Finally, changeups. Martinez has a better change up than Scherzer. His average change up velocity is 88 mph, nine mph slower than his fastball. Scherzer’s change is also nine mph slower than his fastball. Martinez’s change up moves more, but it’s pretty close: 9.4 inches compared to 8.8.
Two Similar Pitchers, Two Very Different Paths
Scherzer took the direct route to the big leagues. In 2003, the Cardinals drafted Scherzer in the 43rd round, but he chose to go to Mizzou. At Mizzou, he was the Big 12 pitcher of the year in 2005 and drafted 11th overall the following year by the Diamondbacks.
Carlos, on the other hand, took a circuitous one. He originally signed with the Boston Red Sox as a shortstop, under the name Carlos Matias. Carlos was suspended for a year because MLB could not verify his age, and in that time, he switched to pitcher. In April 2010, he signed with the Cardinals.
Despite the longer route he took to get here, Carlos Martinez is one of the best pitchers in the National League. He can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Kershaw, Bumgarner, and Scherzer. On Sunday night, he will have the chance, in front of a national audience, to once again show how far he’s come since he was Carlos Matias, the Boston Red Sox shortstop.
Thanks for reading.