Cristhian Martinez is something of a forgotten man in the Braves bullpen. Sometimes it seems like his own manager forgets about him.
Don’t get me wrong: Martinez, aptly nicknamed “The Lisp” by Mac a couple years ago, gets plenty of opportunities to pitch. Last season, his 73 2/3 innings in relief easily led the Braves: among other relievers, only Craig Kimbrel and Chad Durbin cracked the 60-innings mark.
But he pitches that much because of his role as the team’s long man, and that role confines him mostly to meaningless moments: 968 of his 1,179 pitches came in low leverage situations. Put another way, Martinez’s gmLI, or game leverage index, was only 0.67 — among all relievers who pitched at least 50 innings, Martinez had the fourth-lowest tally, behind only the immortal Rhiner Cruz, Louis Coleman, and Alfredo Simon.
It’s not quite clear why Martinez got stuck in permanent garbage duty, but Cristhian has never been particularly sought after. He’s from the Dominican Republic, but he didn’t get signed as an amateur free agent until the Tigers picked him up when he was 21. Three years later, the Marlins got him in the minor league Rule 5 draft. Four years after that, the Braves picked him up off waivers.
Whatever the scenario, however, Martinez proved to be pretty effective in 2012. A somewhat mediocre 3.91 ERA masked a much more impressive 3.16 FIP. Meanwhile, the Lisp continued his evolution away from a groundball specialist into more of a swing-and-miss pitcher: despite a fastball that barely rates as average (mean velocity of 89-90 mph), he has learned how to get guys to chase his above-average slider and changeup, and his 21% swinging strike rate in 2012 is well above the league average of 15%.
All told, his 7.94 K/9 and always-excellent control combined to give him a 3.42 K/BB ratio. That mark rated second among the bullpen regulars (third if we count Cory Gearrin), and is worthy of our notice.
In 2013, Martinez will most likely retain his role as the team’s long man, which he has been very good at. For one thing, the team just acquired fireballing righty Jordan Walden, and the bullpen still retains Gearrin, Luis Avilan, and O’Ventbrel. For another, Martinez’s limited appearances in high leverage situations have seemingly (and perhaps not unfairly) scared Fredi away from giving him more of them.
Still, I’d be interested to see the Lisp get in a little more work when the game is in doubt. At the very least, having Martinez should make it unnecessarily for the Braves to obtain another veteran right-handed reliever.
So let’s save ourselves from the Albie Lopezes, Elmer Dessenses, Julian Tavarezes, Tanyon Sturtzes, Scott Linebrinks and Proctorses, and for heaven’s sake the Livan Hernandezes, and just worry about the lineup for a change.