With the 2022 regular season over, it is that time for us to go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this season.
Today, we look at relief pitcher Brett Martin.
I spent a fair amount of 2022 arguing with folks online about Brett Martin. It was — and is — my position that Brett Martin is a perfectly acceptable major league reliever. He’s not great, but he’s not bad, either. He’s a useful arm that is worthy of a spot in a major league pen.
There are folks who think otherwise. And that’s been the case for, I think, Martin’s entire time in the big leagues with the majors...he generates a lot of disdain from a fair chunk of the fandom of the Texas Rangers. That was particularly true in 2022, with the angst and anger reaching a crescendo in late July, when Martin, pressed into closer duties because, well, someone had to be the closer, had several blowups.
We talked about this in the Steven Duggar review, but players who are memorably bad at a period of time when we are watching the season fall apart tend to stick in our minds. The badness is magnified, and we associate them with disappointment and failure. We think of them as bad, or at least not good, regardless of what their overall performance is, or has been.
Martin started off his stint as the closer with three straight saves. His next time out, July 12, he allowed the Zombie Runner to score in the 10th inning of what would be a 14-7 12 inning loss to the A’s. You remember, the Steven Duggar four strikeout game where Duggar fanned in the 10th with the tying run at third and no out, and then struck out in the 12th with the bases loaded and the winning run at third.
Martin was victimized by the Zombie Runner again four days later, when, asked to pitch the 10th of a 2-2 game, he allowed the go ahead run to score in the top of the inning, leading to a 3-2 loss. That was game three of what would be a four game sweep at home at the hands of the hated Seattle Mariners, right before the All Star Break.
Immediately after the break, Martin gave up three runs in an inning of work against Oakland — you may remember it as the game where an 11-1 8th inning lead turned into an 11-8 nailbiter, with Martin giving up back-to-back-to-back home runs in the ninth to Sean Murphy, Chad Pinder and Tony Kemp. He blew a game in Seattle where the Rangers had taken a one run lead in the top of the ninth, resulting in him being removed from the closer role. Just a few days later, he combined with Dennis Santana to blow a 7-4 Rangers lead in Anaheim, bringing the tying run in on a wild pitch, and then the go ahead run and an insurance run to score on a Luis Rengifo double.
At that point, on July 30, Martin had seen his ERA on the year blow up from 2.61 to 4.24 in the span of four appearances. His record dropped to 0-7, and while we all know that wins and losses are not meaningful, an 0-7 record still looks ugly. Including Zombie Runners, he had allowed runs in 5 of his last 6 appearances. For those looking for heads to roll after a disastrous 10-17 month of July that ultimately cost Chris Woodward and Jon Daniels their jobs, Martin was a prime target.
When I wrote in late August about the travails of the Rangers’ pen, I noted that the bullpen was weirdly, unusually bad in clutch situations. First and foremost in that group was Brett Martin, who had the worst clutch score at the time of any Ranger pitcher, despite the fact that he was around breakeven previously in his career. That sort of thing is going to earn a player a lot of wrath — in terms of whether it should cost a player his roster spot, however, it is a question of whether you have reason to believe that this is inherently part of who the player is, and thus will continue going forward.
Martin ended the year with a 4.14 ERA in 50 innings over 55 games, after putting up a 3.18 ERA in 62.1 IP in 66 games in 2021. The weird thing, though, is that Martin’s performance, in regards to his peripherals, wasn’t that much different between 2021 and 2022. His xERA went from 3.52 in 2021 to 3.83 in 2022. His FIP and xFIP went from 3.54 and 3.91 to 3.63 and 3.81. He allowed a .305 BABIP in 2021, a .307 BABIP in 2022. His HR/9 was 0.72 in both seasons. His K rate and walk rate both increased by a little over 1 event per 9, and his ground ball rate dropped some, but the seasons were fairly similar, in terms of peripherals.
Chris Woodward said at one point this year that Brett Martin and Dennis Santana were the two guys who got warm quickest in the pen, and that is why those two were the guys he tended to go to mid-inning when someone got into a jam. Martin isn’t someone who is going to come in and blow someone away...he’s a guy you bring in to get ground balls, particularly with lefties due up (LHHs are .242/.297/.332 against him for his career, versus .277/.330/.426 for RHHs) and you need a double play. That’s a useful piece to have in your bullpen...it just shouldn’t be one of your top bullpen pieces.
Martin is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $1.5 million in arbitration this year. Texas could bring him back for something in that ballpark, or they could trade him since they’ve got 40 man roster management issues and a number of lefty bullpen arms, or they could just non-tender him. Regardless, Martin will, if he stays healthy, likely spend another half dozen years or so toiling in anonymity (except when he has a blowup outing) in major league bullpens.
Is Martin a win for the Texas Rangers amateur scouting and player development departments? He was a fourth round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, despite not being ranked on the Baseball America board. Flaming out in AA as a starter, a move to the bullpen suited him, and he’s turned into a major league contributor.
That’s a pretty good outcome for a fourth round pick. Of course, the Rangers haven’t generally had problems generating useful role players with their later round picks. Its that whole swinging-and-missing early in the draft that has been an issue.