Limited Words on the Rangers’ Newest Reliever

Just yesterday, the Rangers signed Chris Martin for two years and $4 million. Martin is a righty reliever who will turn 32 next June, and his major-league ERA is 6.19. If you try to Google him to examine his background, you have to be selective with your queries, because otherwise you just learn an awful lot about popular music. The Martin signing is a fairly easy one to ignore, all things considered.

I can’t make any promises. I don’t know what Martin might be capable of. But I feel almost obligated to try to talk him up. This seems like a forgettable deal, but Martin appears to have major upside. And the key to this is that, since Martin last pitched in the major leagues, he spent a couple of years in Japan.

Martin has been a teammate of Shohei Ohtani, with Hokkaido. Two years ago, he picked up 21 saves, reflecting the kind of trust he quickly earned. Because of an ankle injury, Martin has thrown just 88.1 innings over two seasons, but his performance was almost immaculate. I’ll tell you what I mean! Between 2016 – 2017, 190 different pitchers in the NPB threw at least 50 innings. Martin ranked first out of all of them in runs per nine, at 1.32. He ranked sixth in walk rate and seventh in strikeout rate, and he ranked second in K-BB%. The only pitcher ahead of him, in that final stat: Dennis Sarfate, who is outstanding. Martin hasn’t been quite on Sarfate’s level, but Sarfate seems like one of the best relievers in the world. Martin, meanwhile, seems just plain good.

If you’re curious about the stuff — when Martin last pitched in the majors, his fastball was 95, and he had a cutter at 90 and a slider at 83. This past season in Japan, Martin threw his fastball at 95, with a cutter at 91 and a slider at 84. He also started to show a splitter, at 87. This is all coming from a righty who stands 6’8. Martin just threw one of the better fastballs in Japan, and while the average fastball in the majors, of course, is harder, the stuff is good enough to play. Martin qualifies as a power reliever, with three or four pitches at his disposal. The numbers leave little reason for doubt.

The uncertainty is always the same. NPB isn’t the same as MLB, and so you can’t bring the same hitters over. Martin is going to face tougher competition, and the Rangers are hoping his overall command improvements are real. But, at the very least, Martin deserves this second shot. If a pitcher were this effective in Triple-A, you’d want to see him in a big-league bullpen, and Japanese baseball is better than that. The Rangers in 2016 got a good relief season out of Tony Barnette, who had also just pitched in Japan, and I’m sure that only encouraged them. In a market where everyone wants bullpen help, Martin is a potential bargain. Players from Japan have their prices driven down, perhaps unfairly. Finding inefficiencies is always the goal.

I don’t know if Martin will be good against the world’s best hitters. He was extremely good against the world’s second-best hitters. He’s going to cost a relative pittance. While this probably won’t win the Rangers a World Series, I could never look down on a move like this.

We hoped you liked reading Limited Words on the Rangers’ Newest Reliever by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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John Autin
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John Autin

Jeff, do you have any data on MLB “washouts” like Martin who’ve succeeded in NPB and then come back to MLB? I looked over the Pacific League leaders of the last several years but couldn’t find any.

Also, would you expect a different NPB-to-MLB conversion rate for such returnees than for similar NPB successes getting their first MLB look?

Dave T
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Dave T

Jeff mentioned Vogelsong and Colby Lewis as examples in his recent write-up of Miles Mikolas, who signed with the Cardinals about a day after Jeff’s article – https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/theres-another-starting-pitcher-coming-over-from-japan/

Granted, he didn’t reference conversion rate data. Are there enough pitchers with that profile to be a meaningful sample?