TCN Blog 2016 Top Story #5: Martinez Means Ace

Once upon a time, it seemed almost sacrilegious to note the decline of the great Chris Carpenter while in the same sentence mentioning the rise of young Adam Wainwright. While there was no firm date on the calendar when the designation of the ace of the St. Louis Cardinals passed from one to the other, it did happen.

reyes-martinez-waino-usa-200The next occurrence of that event came during the 2016 season, in my view. In 2015, when I first named Martinez as The Cardinal Nation St. Louis Starting Pitcher of the Year, any real competition was non-existent. After all, Wainwright made just four starts due a foot injury that ruined his season. The two leading the rotation that season were Martinez and veteran John Lackey.

However, Wainwright was back at full speed in 2016, but suffered through his most inconsistent year since reaching St. Louis over a decade earlier. In times both good and bad, the 35-year-old said all the right things, but his body often balked. The bottom line was his worst showing of his 11 years as a Major Leaguer, with an ERA almost a run and a half above his career average.

On the other hand, Martinez cemented his standing as the team’s best starting pitcher. Among the rotation members, the 25-year-old pitched deepest into games, averaging 6 1/3 innings, and both won the most games (16) and posted the top winning percentage (64%).

Martinez also led the 2016 rotation in quality starts (20), quality start percentage (65%), ERA (3.04), Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP at 3.61), Wins Above Replacement (fWAR of 3.3) and strikeout rate (8.0 per nine innings). His only non-dominant area was a rotation-high walk rate of 3.2 per nine innings.

The next step for Martinez may be to strike a long-term deal with the Cardinals, just as Wainwright did as he moved into arbitration eligibility did nine years ago. Prior to the 2008 season, Wainwright inked a four-year deal plus two option years that bridged him all the way through 2013.

It is what Cardinals aces do.

(There’s more! To read my detailed analysis on what the parameters of a Martinez long-term contract might entail, head over to The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today and receive 50 issues of Sports Illustrated along with your annual subscription, special ticket discounts and more.)

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 10 stories of the year countdown

Follow me on Twitter.