Carlos Martinez walked off the mound at Coors Field on July 4, 2021, with one out in the bottom of the fourth inning. Neither he nor anyone else knew that he had likely just thrown his last pitch as a St. Louis Cardinal. In the weeks following, it was discovered that the thumb injury which caused his exit was severe enough to sideline him the remainder of the season. St Louis was long expected to not be picking up the club option on Martinez at the end of the season, meaning the Independence Day game against the Rockies was likely his final one as a Cardinal. It was the last game in one of the more unique Cardinal careers in recent memory. Here is a look back at the interesting story of Carlos “Tsunami” Martinez.
Signed by the Red Sox in 2009 for $140,000 out of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, Carlos Martinez was a 17-year-old sitting in the low 90s. Projections were that as he filled out his wiry frame he would develop into a top prospect. However, it was after signing the contract that Martinez’s unique journey began. Questions relating to his stated name and age surfaced, causing the contract with the Red Sox to be voided and the MLB to suspend Martinez for one year.
Cardinals Career Begins
Now a free agent, Martinez signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2010 for a hefty $1.5 million. From 2010 to 2012, Martinez essentially breezed right through the minor leagues, not once being sent down a level. While in AA in May of 2013, Martinez was called up to the MLB at the ripe old age of 21. He debuted on May 3, 2013, at Miller Park against the Brewers, tossing one scoreless inning. He bounced between the majors and AAA for the remainder of 2013, finishing his MLB season with a 5.08 ERA in 28.1 innings pitched. Carlos also made his postseason debut in the fall of 2013, appearing in 12 total games and logging 12.2 innings during the Cardinals’ run to a World Series runner-up.
In 2014, Martinez played a similar role for the Cards. He appeared in 57 games, 7 of which were starts, and logged a 4.03 ERA in 89.1 innings pitched. He also logged 4 postseason innings in 4 appearances across the 2014 NLDS and NLCS. Of note, in December of 2014 Martinez changed his number from 44 to 18 to honor teammate Oscar Taveras who tragically died following the 2014 postseason. Martinez would go on to wear number 18 for the remainder of his Cardinal career in Taveras’ memory.
The Golden Years
From 2015 to 2017, Martinez was one of the top pitchers in the game. Martinez posted an impressive 3.24 ERA in 580 innings pitched spanning 92 starts in those three seasons. His 8.9 K/9 paired well with a BB/9 of 3.2 over those three seasons. He possessed a unique combination of plus-control, wicked movement, and overpowering velocity which made him a stalwart in the Cardinals rotation. His 42-27 record over those three seasons represents how well the Cardinals were able to perform with Martinez on the mound. His sensational performance earned him spots on the All-Star team in 2015 and 2017.
In 2016, Martinez’s 5.6 Pitcher’s WAR was tied with Jon Lester for third-best in the National League. The top Pitcher’s WAR in 2016 belonged to Max Scherzer with 6.2, while he made $22.1 million. The second highest was Clayton Kershaw with 5.8, while he made $34.5 million. As mentioned, Martinez and Lester tied for 3rd with 5.6. Lester made $25 million that year. Martinez made $539,000. He brought more dollar-for-dollar value by wins above replacement than any other pitcher in the league in 2016.
In 2017, he was rewarded for the immense value he brought the Cardinals with a five-year $51 million extension. This contract guaranteed him an average of $10 million per year from 2017 to 2021. An important detail of the contract is that there were club options in place for 2022 and 2023, worth $17 million and $18 million, respectively. Martinez showed the contract was well-earned as he went on to lead the National League in shutouts with 2 in 2017. His 205 innings pitched in 2017 were also good for second in the National League, just behind Jeff Samardzija with 207.2.
In 2018, Martinez saw a change in his role. A full-time starter the three years prior, in 2018 he split time between starting and relieving. Carlos was still able to post quality numbers, logging a 3.11 ERA in 118.2 innings pitched. In 2019, however, he did not start a single game. Martinez logged 48.1 innings pitched in 48 appearances but was still able to post a 3.17 ERA with a whopping 9.9 K/9. In 2018 Martinez’s 4-seamer averaged 95.1 MPH and in 2019 it averaged 96.6 MPH. Though his role had transitioned, he was still able to post excellent statistics and powerful raw velocities.
In 2020, Martinez experienced a marked decrease in fastball velocity, dropping to 93.3 MPH. While still a very respectable fastball, for a pitcher used to sitting in the high 90’s, the change was too drastic. He wasn’t able to adjust to pitching off of a slower four-seamer. During an injury-laden 2020 and the following 2021 season, Carlos posted a 6.95 ERA in 102.1 innings pitched. Notably, his K/9 dropped significantly to 6.5, and his BB/9 went up to 4. He was no longer the pitcher he once was, leading the Cardinals to decline the 2022 club option, ending his tenure as a Cardinal and making him a free agent.
Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright surpassed 300 starts as battery mates in 2021. The next highest number among active players? Yadier Molina and Carlos Martinez at 121. This number alone shows how important Martinez has been to the Cardinals throughout the past nine seasons. During his prime, one word was consistently thrown around when describing him on the mound: electric. His fastball that reached triple digits regularly. A slider that made even the game’s elite hitters look foolish. His changeup that spun hitters into the ground. A cutter that left hitters confused. He was nothing short of absolutely electric.
His rankings among all-time St. Louis Cardinal greats is equally impressive. He owns the highest K/9 in Cardinals’ history at 8.63. His 974 career strikeouts are good for 10th all-time in Cardinals’ history. The .243 batting average against him ranks 11th all-time among qualifying Cardinal pitchers. He also owns the 10th best K:BB ratio in St. Louis history. Interestingly, his 15,294 pitches thrown as a St. Louis Cardinal ranks 6th among Cardinal pitchers playing in an era in which pitch counts were recorded (circa 1988).
However, his journey to becoming an all-time great Cardinal pitcher was nothing short of unique. As previously mentioned, he was suspended before his career even began. He had some social media mishaps. He had some off-the-field shenanigans. His hair changed seemingly every start. And he was fittingly given one of the more unique nicknames in baseball: Tsunami. But it described him perfectly. On the mound, he was truly like a tsunami: coming full force, with no sign of stopping, and with no mind paid to what was in front of him.
It’s unclear when or if Carlos Martinez will take a major league mound again. But if he does, he will take it passionately, holding nothing back, and with all the power he can produce–just like a tsunami.
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