Six days ago, ESPN’s Buster Olney published a piece titled, “Vote: Nastiest pitch in baseball?” Surprisingly, no pitch from Carlos Martinez’s repertoire was included in Olney’s poll. For those unwilling to click on the link, eight pitches were included, one of each being thrown by Carlos Carrasco (slider), Yu Darvish (slider), Clayton Kershaw (slider), Dallas Keuchel (changeup), Corey Kluber (curveball), James Paxton (fastball), Chris Sale (slider), and Max Scherzer (slider). Let me be clear that I respect Olney very much and that the pitchers included throw at least one pitch worthy of consideration for the “nastiest pitch in baseball.” However, failing to consider a Martinez-thrown pitch questions the overall validity of the poll (throw him an honorable mention, at least?). I wholeheartedly admit to harboring bias, but when I think of the word “nasty,” Martinez’s Twitter favorites repertoire comes to mind almost immediately.
Now, we all already know about Martinez’s potential-of-triple-digits fourseamer, knee-buckling slider, and screwballing changeup. Any of these would have been a fine option for Olney’s poll. But Martinez regularly throws a fourth pitch as well, a pitch that I consider a dark horse for inclusion: the sinker — particularly the 2017 version of Martinez’s sinker. So far this season, the pitch — which has averaged 95.29 MPH (and has topped out at 99.10 MPH) — has exhibited the most dragless horizontal movement thus far in his career at -14.33 inches (negative meaning arm-side) and ranks in the top ten among right-handed starting pitchers.
Ranking in or near the top ten in velocity and movement is fun and all, but what does it mean if he struggles to locate the pitch? Fortunately, Martinez has been sharp with his sinker location up to this point in the season. His propensity to run the pitch in on the hands of righties stifles their ability to drive the ball — leading to isolated power of .084 and an average launch angle of -0.7°(!; yes, a negative LA). Lefties continue to hit Martinez well — his last issue as a starter, really — but at least a portion of this success can be attributed to bad luck. For instance, the batting average on balls in play (or BABIP) for lefties against Martinez’s sinker is currently .483 despite an average launch angle of 5.7° (remember, anything below 10° is considered a ground ball).
Location, location, location
As I will discuss further below, the core location of the sinker versus lefties isn’t bad, but still, it could be better. Shift it one deviation to the left and he’s painting the down-and-outside corner. I’d also like Martinez’s sinker to venture into another location versus lefties, but instead of giving it away, keep reading as I get to it later on.
Now, for the fun stuff…
Carlos Martinez versus righties
Swing and miss by Whit Merrifield (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
This was the first sinker Carlos threw all game, and the second-year player looked downright foolish trying to make contact with it. At 94.2 MPH, the pitch exhibited 15.4 inches or horizontal movement. Though a sinker is not necessarily considered a swing and miss pitch, it can be when its ball flight resembles that of a hard slider from a lefty. Even if Merrifield was able to make contact here, it wasn’t going anywhere but down.
Foul ball by Alcides Escobar (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
This ball flight — and the next one, for that matter — resembles the usual approach Martinez takes when attacking righties with the sinker. His ability to run the pitch in on the hands would make Chris Carpenter smile. Why bring up Chris Carpenter, you ask? Just the other night on the Fox Sports Midwest broadcast, Dan McLaughlin quoted Carp in saying that pitchers don’t throw inside anymore (out of fear). Well, as shown in the heat map above, Martinez versus righties is certainly an exception. Oh, and this 95.6 MPH sinker carried 15.2 inches of dragless horizontal movement. This is a good thing considering it was located as far inside as Martinez would have liked.
Ball to Whit Merrifield (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
As you can see in the BrooksBaseball link above, this pitch just barely missed the inside corner. Yadier Molina did a tremendous job framing it, but he still couldn’t convince the home plate umpire. Honestly, he was probably fooled by the sheer magnitude of movement. This sinker actually possessed the most dragless horizontal movement of any sinker during Martinez’s outing at over 16.5 inches. Getting a 94.6 MPH pitch to move that much simply isn’t fair.
Infield single by Lorenzo Cain (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
As a pitcher, you cannot get too upset about swinging bunts for hits. Sure, the end result may not have been what you were looking for, but over the course of a 30+ start season, it is best to first focus on the process and then the result. Good processes will yield good results much more frequently than poor processes. Inducing a batted ball profile with a -11° launch angle and a 75.2 MPH exit velocity is a clear win for Martinez. Heck, Cain’s chopper yielded a hit probability of only 8%. It was just perfectly placed, particularly for a player with Cain’s speed. Oh, and did I mention this sinker had over 15.5 (!) inches of dragless horizontal movement? I didn’t really need to as the trail helps you visualize the magnitude of pitch’s movement, particularly the hump and right turn™.
Called strike to Alcides Escobar (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
Think sinkers must be kept down in the zone? Think again, as Martinez painted the up-and-in corner perfectly with this 92.0 MPH sinker. What’s interesting is this sinker actually yielded the least amount of horizontal movement, but when it’s located this perfectly, does it really matter? From a sequencing and effective velocity perspective, Martinez deserves an A+ as he induced weak contact with a down-and-away, 85.6 MPH slider on the very next pitch.
Carlos Martinez versus lefties
Swinging strike to Eric Hosmer (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
As you can see by Hosmer’s follow-through, he was geared up for a triple-digits, considerably straighter fourseamer. And it makes sense considering he was able to take Martinez deep on one in the inning prior. Fortunately, Martinez had other ideas for 6’4″ lefty, riding a 97.1 MPH (with over 16.5 inches of dragless horizontal movement) sinker just beyond the reach of his swinging bat.
Foul tip by Melky Cabrera (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
In the inning prior, Martinez revved his sinker up to 97.1 MPH. Here, he induced a foul tap — man, Cabrera has such a mechanical swing — with one of the 93.5 MPH variety. Martinez’s inherent ability to dial the pitch up and down — while retaining its movement and location — is uncanny. It turns a singular pitch into multiple weapons. Not to mention, being successful at 92-94 MPH helps preserve the arm, in both the short- and long-term.
Ball to Mike Moustakas (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
This 95.1 MPH sinker starts as a ball off the inside corner, tails toward the strike zone, vertically and horizontally, only to dive down to just above the dirt before being caught by Molina. When the sinker crosses the plate, it’s only 2-3 inches below the zone. Full disclosure, Martinez missed his target here. Yet, despite missing his target, he almost executed one of my favorite pitches to lefties. Unfortunately, he wasn’t successful in getting that called-strike, front-door sinker. Regardless, whether he knows it or not, the front-door sinker is a weapon he can utilize. Here’s to hoping Chris Carpenter’s visit can play a role in its implementation.
Lineout by Mike Moustakas (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
This is probably the best contact (86.5 MPH, 21°) against Martinez’s sinker all game, and still, it managed a hit probability of only 32%. Even a well-located sinker can still lead to fairly solid contact, particularly versus lefties who like getting their arms extended. Martinez can keep these hitters off balance by bringing the sinker to the inside corner, as already referenced to above.
Called strike to Eric Hosmer (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
This pitch is identical to the called ball to Merrifield, only a lefty is standing in the batter’s box. Home plate umpires tend to expand the lefty strike zone further out than their expansion of the righty strike zone in. I think this has to do with it being away from the hitter instead of inside on the hitter. Either way, this pitch is in an unhittable location. At 92.3 MPH, it feels like Martinez purposely took a little bit off in order to paint the corner. Thanks to the home plate umpire, he was successful in his endeavor.
Carlos Martinez versus righties, combined
Carlos Martinez versus lefties, combined
So, does Martinez’s sinker truly belong in Olney’s “nastiest pitch” poll? Heck, does it really even matter? The answers to those two questions are “probably not” and “absolutely not,” respectively. However, I am a baseball blogger who thoroughly enjoys watching Martinez pitch. I enjoy it so much that I write about it frequently. Remember, Martinez doesn’t turn 26 until late September. As long as he is able to stay healthy, theoretically, he should continue to grow as a pitcher. If he puts his first inning woes behind him and the coaching staff grinds the importance of pitch sequencing into his approach, even more success will follow, and ultimately, he will gain the respect needed for inclusion in national baseball writers’ articles.
P.S. Expect more front-door sinkers. It’s a logical next step in his overall repertoire development.