It’s been a long spring, hasn’t it? Crunch time has finally arrived, and decisions are being made—or forced—all over baseball. In just the past few days, the Angels and Nationals picked their fourth starters. Both of those jobs are going to 22-year-old rookies. Luckily, both pitchers made some big league starts in 2008—just enough for a PITCHf/x report.
Coming off a woeful season, the Nationals arrived in Florida with a stockpile of outfielders and a shortage of pitchers. The logjam in the outfield remains, but an opportunity has opened up for at least one young pitcher in the rotation. Shairon Martis, who just turned 22, has been named Washington’s fourth starter.
Martis first made a name for himself in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. The native of Curacao threw a no-hitter for the Netherlands, just days shy of his 19th birthday. Martis benefited from the mercy rule, and was working against less than top-notch competition (no offense, Panama), but the accomplishment was a highlight of the inaugural Classic.
Signed as an amateur free agent by the Giants in 2004, Martis came to Washington in a deadline move in 2006 for Mike Stanton. Martis worked an inning in the 2008 All-Star Futures Game in Yankee Stadium, and the rest of his future came quickly. Shairon joined the Washington rotation for four turns, debuting on Sept. 4. He also made on relief appearance in the last days of the 2008 season.
The Los Angeles Angels, who won the AL West in 2008 as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, have found themselves short on pitching. With John Lackey headed to the DL, the Angels still have not settled on their opening rotation. All signs to point to Nick Adenhart being inserted in the fourth slot.
A 6-foot-3 right hander, Adenhart made three rough starts during a cup of coffee with the Angels last May. His struggles continued in the Pacific Coast League, but he’s back on track at the right time. Given his performance in 2008, he could probably use some more time in Salt Lake, but injuries have pushed the Angels to the cusp of naming him their fourth starter. Adenhart was a 14th-round pick in 2004, right out of high school, who moved quickly through the Angels’ minor league ranks. He reached Triple-A quickly, as a 21-year-old, so his struggles there and in the major leagues aren’t too surprising.
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Martis is essentially a three-pitch pitcher. Or two, or five. He rarely uses his sinker, but his slider may be two or three different pitches:
I like Martis. He has enough velocity and has some good off-speed stuff.
- Martis’ change sports a gaudy whiff rate of 47 percent, which is top notch
- His slider, or sliders, have a decent whiff rate (30 percent), but are hard to square up, giving Martis a pair of go-to pitches
- Martis pounds the zone with his fastball, while the sinker barely catches a glimpse of the outside corner
Martis’ ability to change speeds and miss bats is impressive, and his change-up is vicious. When Martis used it on two-strike counts, he got a swinging third strike more than one time out of three. Still, his favorite time to throw it was on even counts, preferring the slider when ahead.
Here’s what Martis threw by situation (or count, in five mutually exclusive groups):
Adenhart used four pitches during his stint with the Angels:
While Adenhart showed good stuff last May, a few issues arose:
- No swinging third strikes
- Fell behind often—1.6:1 ratio of 1-0 to 0-1 counts
- Barely ventured over the inside half against left-handed hitters
- Batters swung at only 35 percent of his curveballs when they were in the strike zone
- Other than that, he fooled no one—the swing rate on his pitches out of the zone (15 percent) was half the league average
- Even Adenhart’s change-up is below average in terms of missing bats (20 percent whiff rate, which is a good 10 points lower than league average for change-ups)
Falling behind and not having an out pitch is probably not a good combination, and Angels fans will have to hope Adenhart has improved on his approach to left-handed hitters.
Adenhart was very balanced with his pitch selection—that’s a good sign.
For the Angels, pushing Adenhart into the rotation for a team expected to contend may be asking a lot. As Lackey and mates get healthy, Adenhart could find himself back in Triple-A.
Martis is coming on board with less pressure, and with more success at the highest level of play. Even if he were to struggle, he’ll probably get away with it more easily by virtue of pitching in the National League.
Before closing this week’s piece, let me thank Josh Kalk for all the fine work he’s produced over the past two years. I know I’ll miss reading Josh’s articles, and I’m sure you will, too. I hope I’ll be able to fill some of the void he’s left here at The Hardball Times.
References & Resources
PITCHf/x data provided by MLBAM. Pitch IDs by the author.