2013 Phillies Report Card: Ethan Martin
Lacking stimulating stuff in the farm system, the Phillies acquired themselves an intriguing arm from the Dodgers at the 2012 trade deadline in young right-hander, Ethan Martin. Martin’s exceptional natural talent had yet to be harnessed as he struggled, like so many young power pitchers, with control and command to the point where many thought he’d end up in the bullpen. His 2013 season was no different and Martin ended his season where he’ll likey spend a good portion of his career, in a Major League bullpen.
A plus-plus fastball and two above average breaking balls highlight a repertoire fit for a starter. You’ll often hear of pitchers moving to the bullpen because of issues with repertoire depth and the importance of a changeup in that arsenal as a weapon to neutralize a platoon advantage. This is largely overstated as plenty of the best pitchers in baseball get by without use f a changeup or splitter. Edwin Jackson, Yu Darvish, Clayton Kershaw, Mat Latos, Nate Eovaldi and Adam Wainwright all survive with nary a cambio and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Provided you and your battery mate know how to use what pitches you have to get, in Martin’s case, lefties out, you can thrive.
Instead, Martin’s issue has been control. Between his first MLB start and his final start before moving to the bullpen, Martin walked 21 hitters in 30 innings of work. Odd, considering over that span he threw a reasonable 59% of his pitches for strikes. That’s better than what Jarred Cosart did in Houston this season. Regardless, Martin was moved to the bullpen where he struck out 11 hitters in 7 innings pitched. His velocity also saw the nice little boost you’d expect from such a move:
I still think that, if the organization was patient enough and makes the right sort of pitching coach hire, that Martin is capable of being a #4 or #5 starter. I also think he has a chance to be a dominant reliever. The question is, which would you rather have?
Value-based metrics dictate that, in a vacuum, you’d rather have he become a back-end starter. The underlying issue is that these decisions don’t occur in a vacuum. I’d argue that it’s easier to find someone with the skill set to be a back-end starter than it is to find an 8th or 9th innings reliever. Consider this:
You have two spots on your Major League pitching staff left to fill, one in the rotation and one in the bullpen. The pitchers you have at your disposal are Ethan Martin and Jonathan Pettibone. Who are you putting in the bullpen and who is going into the rotation? It seems almost forgone that Pettibone would pitch every fifth day while Martin cut it loose when you needed him to come and blow hitters away. I think the sum of those parts varies based on how they’re deployed. I’d rather have an efficient, maybe mediocre, six or seven frames from Pettibone and a dominant one from Martin than have Martin come in and get out of self-imposed jams for five innings before Pettibone comes in to mop things up for multiple innings.
So maybe it makes sense for the Phillies to leave Martin in the bullpen while arms like Pettibone, Biddle, Morgan, Miguel and Severino Gonzalez and a large portion of the free agent market are potentially viable options in the back of the rotation from 2015 and beyond. Thinking about the future here is much more relevant than grading Martin’s 40 big league innings. Alas,
My Grade: C