Press Box: You couldn’t go wrong with either Martinez or Kershaw

Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune

When Major League Baseball’s candidates for the All-Star Game’s “Final Vote” contest were announced early last week, I was happy to see Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez in the running. But I didn’t expect much suspense.

I knew Moustakas would be selected, because apparently Royals fans had been waiting 29 years not just to cheer on a playoff baseball team but also to type in five randomly generated numbers and click “vote” ad infinitum.

As for Martinez, I figured he had no shot, seeing as reigning MVP Clayton Kershaw was another of the five National League candidates.

But then the wave that was #VoteTsunami propelled Martinez, a first-year starter whose stormy nickname is tattooed on his right forearm, past Kershaw, Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto, Mets reliever Jeurys Familia and Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and into his first All-Star game.

As the News Tribune sports desk’s resident Cardinals fan, I was ecstatic. No surprise. But, also unsurprisingly, plenty were disappointed with the selection.

CBS Sports analyst Doug Gottlieb neatly (and harshly) summed up the sporting world’s dissenting view on “moron #Cardinal fans” in a tweet Friday: “If you voted Carlos Martinez instead of Clayton Kershaw as an #MLBAllStar you should never be allowed to discuss sports w/ur friends ever.”

To be fair, that was my original thought as well — the Kershaw thing, that is; not the ridiculous idea that having a bad opinion would ever stop anyone from arguing sports with his or her friends.

The Dodgers’ Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game, has been for a while now, and will be for years to come. He’s coming off one of the best pitching seasons in recent memory, becoming the first NL pitcher to win the MVP award since Bob Gibson in 1968. The guy had a sub-2.00 ERA in 2013 and 2014, he has struck out 200 or more batters the past five seasons, and he threw six complete games in his MVP campaign.

His numbers are slightly down this year, thus the demotion to the “Final Vote” ballot. Still, he’s one of those players who are so good they should be automatic annual All-Stars — because what else are All-Star games for if not for watching the greatest talents in the game? (I’ll get back to that.)

Kershaw’s 2015 numbers are still very good, but Martinez does have the edge on him in a few places. “Tsunami” leads “The Claw” in ERA (2.52 to 2.85) and Wins Above Replacement (2.9 to 2.3), a stat that helps gauge a player’s overall value to his team. Kershaw has allowed four or more earned runs in three games this season. Martinez has done so only twice.

Those two blips, by the way, are the biggest marks on Martinez’ resume. In back-to-back May starts, he allowed seven earned runs and lasted just nine innings between the two games. Since his May 15 outing, however, Martinez has been lights out. He has allowed just nine earned runs in 67 1/3 innings in that stretch, good for a 1.21 ERA — best in the majors in that time. He has gone 7-1 in those 10 starts, tied for the most wins in the MLB during that time.

Sure, you don’t simply get to ignore the low points when considering one’s All-Star potential, but could you ask anything more from a first-year starter than to overcome a rough early stretch only to out-perform everyone for the next 50-plus days? (Martinez wasn’t all that shabby before his speed bump, either. His April ERA was 1.73.)

Of course, Kershaw’s ebb, minor as it may be, is not likely to last. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which helps identify whether a pitcher is having bad or good luck once the ball comes off the bat, is among the 20 worst in the majors, meaning some of his struggles could be attributed to chance. What’s more, the number of home runs he’s allowing per nine innings is twice as high as it was in 2013 and 2014, which is also a potential indicator that Kershaw’s struggles have been somewhat fluky.

If I were starting a baseball team, I would take Kershaw over Martinez any day of the week. That said, you make an All-Star Game because of what you’ve done in a season, not what you’re capable of doing.

Then what about that thing I said about Kershaw being good enough to be an auto-All Star every year, you say? I stand by that.

However, I think those players should have their All-Star tickets punched by their managers, not tweets. The “Final Vote” shouldn’t be reserved for forgiving a manager’s omissions.

Taking a quick look at the stats, there’s once again an argument to be made for Martinez over Cueto, Tulowitzki and Familia. Martinez has the best ERA of any of the pitchers and the best WAR, a stat useful in comparing pitchers and hitters, of any of the five NL players.

But the stats aren’t the main reason I vouch for Martinez as an All-Star.

It’s the story.

You might know it already. Martinez was close friends with Oscar Taveres, the young Cardinals outfielder who died last offseason in a drunk-driving accident. Martinez honored Taveres, a fellow Dominican and product of St. Louis’ farm system, by adopting his No. 18 as he prepped for his first year as a starter.

As I’ve illustrated, the results thus far have been impressive. More than that, they’ve been inspiring.

And though many will point to Martinez’ stellar seven-inning, four-hit performance Thursday as the outing that sent him to Cincinnati, his definitive start this season came on May 31.

That day, the one-year anniversary of Taveres’ major-league debut and first MLB homer, Martinez happened to be set to start. He took the mound and in an emotional performance the 23-year old held the Dodgers to one hit and no runs over seven innings of work.

When the MLB announced Friday he had received the final NL All-Start nod, Martinez tweeted a photo of him with his fallen friend: “Hey (Oscar), we’re going to Cincinnati.”

Maybe I’m a moron, but that’s my kind of All-Star.



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