NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
He’s still just 26 years old and by far the youngest player on this statistically-based list of the Top 100 Cardinals of all time. The book on Carlos Martinez is still in its early chapters and much can change.
The Cardinals, in fact, have kicked the tires on the notion that the right-handed Dominican could have a future at the back end of the bullpen, a role he assumed following his return from the disabled list late in 2018. He was good at it, too, pinning down five saves with a 1.47 ERA in 18.1 innings.
Still, history reminds them not to be too quick in dismissing Martinez as a top-of-the-rotation starter, or even the Cardinals’ staff ace.
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Though his focus and command sometimes seem to come and go like his hair changes color, he has been remarkable consistent as a starting pitcher, posting Wins Above Replacement (WAR, the basis of the BND’s list) among the top 15 in the National League over his three healthy seasons in the rotation.
And to think the Cardinals almost didn’t get him.
It was the Boston Red Sox who first discovered Martinez and signed him as an international free agent in February 2009. But the name and age that were written into his contract didn’t match those that came with his birth records.
Even though the discrepancies were blamed on poor record keeping in Dominican Republic, Major League Baseball disallowed the contract and made Martinez ineligible for another year. The Red Sox walked away and the Cardinals signed him in March of 2010.
Martinez made his major league debut three years later, appearing in 21 regular seaons games and getting 13 innings of work in the post-season, all out of the bullpen.
He joined the starting rotation in 2015 and went 14-7 with a 3.01 ERA in addition to making his first National League All-Star team. More than that, Martinez may have saved the Central Division title for St. Louis by beating the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 20 to prevent a three-game sweep. It was his last appearance of the season, however.
The Cardinals went on to 100 wins, but shelved Martinez for the remainder of the season with a shoulder strain. They won the Central, but without their ace the Cardinals lost the divisional playoff series to the dreaded Cubs.
In 2016, Martinez picked up where he left off the previous autumn, winning a career-best 16 games with a 3.04 ERA. His win total fell to 12 the next year despite a career high 205 innings pitched and his league-leading two shutouts. And, last season, he posted a 3.11 ERA despite his limited innings due to the injury.
The Cardinals have Martinez under contract through 2021 at a well-below-market $11.7 million per year with a pair of club options through 2023 that could pay him an additional $35 million. What chapters he adds to Cardinals history remains to be seen.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 2013-present
54-38 (.587 winning pct.) | 3.37 ERA | 800 strikeouts | WAR 14.5
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.27