During the postseason is when we talk about postseason statistics, and one of the first points always brought up is that the level of competition in the postseason is more difficult. As such, it isn’t fair to just run a straight comparison between numbers in the playoffs and numbers not in the playoffs. The postseason is selective for the best teams, which will have many of the best players. Many of the worst players on the best teams won’t play, or won’t play much. There is a counterpoint, though, at least as far as pitchers are concerned: the playoffs take place in October, by which point a lot of arms might be worn down. The season is long, and it’s taxing, and who’s to say what’s really left in the tank come Columbus Day or whenever?
What we know, anecdotally, is that good pitchers tend to still be good. We seldom ever see a player’s velocity crater, and if a guy were truly worn down he probably wouldn’t be used. One of the interesting things we’ve seen with Michael Wacha, though, is that his velocity hasn’t just stayed the same — lately he’s been throwing harder. It stands to reason that’s why he’s been so effective, at least in part. And it turns out Wacha isn’t the only Cardinal with strength saved for a final push.
Most people know by now about Trevor Rosenthal, and if you know about Rosenthal, you know about his heat. The fastball is his calling card, and because of that fastball, the Cardinals don’t really miss the ultra-effective version of Edward Mujica. They’ve been built deep enough to survive. And where Rosenthal has the arm to fill in for another guy, the Cardinals additionally have arms to fill in for Rosenthal. Right now, the closer isn’t the only scary part of the Cardinal bullpen, and among the weapons out there are Kevin Siegrist and Carlos Martinez.
Siegrist and Martinez were plenty effective in the regular season. That still holds true, even if you don’t know who Kevin Siegrist is. And in getting straight to the point, here are a couple images from Brooks Baseball player pages:
Siegrist, right now, is throwing harder than he has all year. The same goes for Martinez. Focusing just on the fastballs: in August, Siegrist averaged just under 96 miles per hour. He gained a tick in September, and he’s gained another tick on top of that in October. There have been corresponding velocity increases with his changeup and curveball. Meanwhile, Martinez was earlier throwing a sinker around 95 and a four-seamer around 97-98. More recently, his sinker has been 97-98, and his four-seamer has pushed triple digits. Martinez’s slider, also, has been harder. Two of the Cardinals’ primary non-closer relievers are throwing as hard as the closer is, and the closer is known for how hard he throws.
Another way of looking at this: according to PITCHf/x, Siegrist’s 23 fastest pitches this season have all come in September or October. Of Martinez’s 25 fastest pitches this season, 21 have come in September or October. A couple weeks ago, Martinez pumped a fastball at 100.8, and on Friday he threw a handful of heaters between 99-100. The specific numbers might be very slightly off, but the general points shouldn’t change.
Given that Siegrist and Martinez apparently have their velocity up, a natural follow-up is: so, are they better, then? It’s a difficult issue to investigate, because of the limited nature of relief-pitching sample sizes. Martinez, for what it’s worth, has been highly effective the last two months. Siegrist has had a mediocre October, but then he’s faced all of 12 batters. This is probably a case where we look to a more general principle: more velocity is good. It makes a pitcher harder to hit, and there’s no real evidence that Siegrist or Martinez have lost movement or location. Already tough, right now they should be a little bit tougher.
And as it happens, Eno just wrote about the Red Sox’s relative struggles against really hot heat. There’s some evidence to suggest Boston has trouble with better fastballs, and now the back of the Cardinals’ bullpen is about as hot as it gets. Siegrist could match up that much better against David Ortiz and/or Jacoby Ellsbury. Martinez could be leaned on for 1-2 innings if Mike Matheny doesn’t feel like chancing it with someone else. There are plenty of reasons to have questions about Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn as starters, but let it not be said that the Cardinals aren’t prepared for a bullpen game. Even limited, there’s still quality available support, and in a close game the Red Sox could have real trouble scoring after the sixth inning.
From the looks of things, neither Siegrist nor Martinez is worn down. On the contrary, the numbers say they’re pitching stronger than ever at just the right time. If this is due in large part to postseason adrenaline, that’s interesting, and it’s worth looking into in greater depth. If this is due in large part to planning on the Cardinals’ end, that’s also interesting, and it’s worth looking into in greater depth. How is it that some of the Cardinals’ arms have something extra left in the tank? To that question, I don’t have an answer, but I know these guys couldn’t choose a better time to peak. The “why?” part isn’t nearly as important right now as the “what?”
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