A guest post by Jared Simmons. You can find him on Twitter: @McGeeTriples.
The glut of young, power arms possessed by the St. Louis Cardinals has been well documented. Some fans have called for the organization to maximize the value of their assets and relieve the rotation’s logjam through a trade. However, I have always believed the old cliché about never having too much pitching. So, how then, can the Cardinals get the most value out of all their young arms when they can’t all fit into a five-man rotation?
Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, and Michael Wacha are locks for the rotation with Jaime Garcia, if healthy and effective following shoulder surgery, destined to be in the mix as well. That leaves Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, and Carlos Martinez vying for the final starting spot. There’s been talk from John Mozeliak himself about C-Mart potentially starting the year in AAA if he cannot crack the big-league rotation. This line of thinking is very pragmatic and follows the conventional wisdom. But I believe that there’s another, less conventional way for Carlos to dramatically impact the Cardinals season without 1) being in the starting rotation or 2) being the “eighth inning guy.”
The odds of Martinez beating Kelly or Lynn out for the 5th and final rotation spot appear slim and honestly, seem undesirable. Where can Martinez impact the game the most? I would argue that the gap in production between any of these three in the 5th starter role would be negligible over the long season. Further, the 5th starter is unlikely to see a start in postseason play and therefore asked to step into a role that he has not performed in all season. I want Carlos Martinez to pitch early and to pitch often when the postseason rolls around.
The late-inning relief roles are stocked with good pitchers. Trevor Rosenthal, Jason Motte, and Kevin Siegrist are flame-throwers and should be able to hold down the fort in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings pretty efficiently. As a result of these surpluses the Cardinals have the luxury of breaking the mold or returning to the old mold–if you prefer–and using Carlos Martinez and his electric arm as a super reliever.
Let’s define “super reliever” for the purposes of this blog post: a super reliever is a relief pitcher whose role is not tied to a particular inning. Today, closers pitch the 9th and setup men pitch the 7th or the 8th innings. If anything different is asked of these players, they lose or their agents lose their minds on their behalf. Saves and holds earn dollars.
Meanwhile, games are lost in the 5th inning when a starter loses his mojo and gets in a jam. Or the sixth with the bases loaded and a two run lead, does the manager call the bullpen for his best guy knowing that this is the confrontation that will likely determine the outcome of the game?
Instead, the manager calls for Seth Manness. Or Fernando Salas. Or Maikel Cleto. When this happens, the odds of losing the game skyrockets—all because the manager is paralyzed by fear and handcuffed by convention.
The “super reliever” eliminates this scenario because his role is to put out the fire whenever the flame sparks. The super reliever is just like the closer—only more flexible, more durable, and more valuable. If the game is on the line in the 6th, this man (Carlos Martinez) will slam the door. If Trevor Rosenthal has pitched 3 straight days, Carlos Martinez will save the game without breaking a sweat. If a game goes into extra innings and all other bullpen options are exhausted, the super reliever will go 3 innings, shut the door, and send the crowd at Busch home happy.
The super reliever is also not tied to an arbitrary one-inning limit. He pitches as needed, and gives way when the situation dictates that he should. And because he’s not tied to an inning or a particular situation, he is free to do this—as tomorrow the setup men and the closer will still be there to do the overrated, overvalued, and overpriced task of coming into their predefined inning with a 3 run lead, no one on base, and retiring the opposing 7, 8, and 9 hitters for the 29th best team in baseball.
The super reliever is the leverage reliever. The man to pitch anywhere, anytime as long as the outcome hangs in the balance. The bullpen arm who can count for two roster spots and determine the difference between winning and losing.
For the Cardinals, this man is or rather should be Carlos Martinez with his electric fastball and devastating slider. A man with a reliever’s arm and a starter’s stamina. His career ahead lies in the rotation, but for now, with the excess of young arms already on the roster, his most potential impact is in this unconventional role I just described.
I believe Carlos Martinez has a rare gift in his right arm. In my view, C-Mart has the stuff to become a legendary figure in the annals of Cardinal pitching lore – if only he is able to refine his command and remain healthy. As such, I hope the Cardinals will utilize him in as many game-deciding situations as possible. With the traditional bullpen roles in good hands and the long-relief/mop-up role being handled by the odd man out of the rotation (Lynn or Kelly) the most efficient way to capitalize on C-Mart’s talent will be in the same way that old school closers were used: 100-120 innings of flame-throwing, season-defining, high-leverage relief.
Shortening the bullpen with C-Mart in this manner does a lot of things for the Cardinals:
• It allows the greatest number of the team’s bullpen innings to be pitched by the team’s best pitchers.
• Gives Manager Mike Matheny the ability to ration the workloads of Motte, Siegrist, Rosenthal, and even Seth Maness (whom Matheny loves for some reason). This is important because for the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals, the goal is winning a World Series. And NOT in the same way that it’s the goal for every team in the MLB. Really winning a World Series. Barring catastrophe, the regular season is just a formality the Cardinals have to wade through on their way to October. So, having your power arms fresh and peaking at playoff time is of more concern than how well they can play in April.
• Rations C-Mart’s innings. The Cardinals, like most teams, are concerned with preserving their young arms for the long-term (Note Shelby Miller’s disappearance from the playoffs). Being able to manage Carlos’ innings throughout the season will hopefully eliminate any desire to hold him back in October.
• Ensures that the bridge from the starter to the shutdown portion of the bullpen is as smooth as possible. There’s value in the middle innings. Close games are often lost in the 5th or 6th innings. Big leads are lost nearly every time Fernando Salas steps on to a major league mound. It also limits the desire of modern managers to trot every member of a bullpen into every single game until they find the one guy who is going to have a bad day. C-Mart is easily capable of going 2-4 innings at a time on any given night.
• Gives the Cardinals roster flexibility. Martinez’s ability to pitch so many innings out of the bullpen means the Cardinals don’t have to carry as many pitchers if they don’t want to. Or if they choose to carry 12 pitchers—they don’t have to use them as often.
The Cardinals have a lot of different ways they can go with Carlos Martinez in 2014. They afforded themselves this luxury because of half a decade’s worth of smart decisions in free agency, the draft, international pool, and with their own players. Carlos Martinez is a weapon they can use from the 5th inning to the 9th inning.
He should be used in tight games, and he should be able to rack up a ton of relief innings. If you make him the “eighth inning” guy, you are unnecessarily limiting him and are probably only going to get 60-80 innings out of him. More innings = more value. Pitcher’s with elite arms like Martinez have not generally been used in this manner since the 80’s, but the presence of Motte, Siegrist, and Rosenthal means that they can deploy Martinez anytime, anywhere and still be covered at the end of the ballgame.
Make sure to follow Jared on Twitter: @McGeeTriples