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Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Pedro Martinez's Phillies expectations


As a lifelong fan of the world champion Philadelphia Phillies -- hey, why not milk that for as long as I can, right? -- I didn't see the need for the team to sign Pedro Martinez. The future Hall of Famer hasn't pitched to the level of that moniker in years. He'll tax the bullpen and has never been known as a good clubhouse presence, and ultimately, I'm not sure he's anything better than the team's current options for the fifth-starter role. Alas, here he is. Should fantasy owners be skeptical as well?

The Phillies didn't spend a great deal of money to sign Martinez, only a million bucks in actual salary, with the rest based on incentives, so this is basically a no-risk move. If Martinez pitches well, good for the Phillies and good for fantasy owners who take the chance. If he does not pitch well, it's not as if the Phillies spent so much money that it makes acquiring Roy Halladay impossible. $1 million is a lot to normal people, but in baseball, I understand the reason behind adding an available three-time Cy Young winner for two-plus months of a season when he passes the team's tests for performance in simulated action as well as doctors' poking and prodding him. Plus, the Phillies can keep all their prospects.

The problem is expecting Martinez to be any more successful these final 2½ months than Rodrigo Lopez had been, or whomever else the team would throw out there, including Drew Carpenter and Carlos Carrasco. Sure, Lopez had pitched only twice for the Phillies, but he wasn't walking anyone in the majors or minors, and the former Oriole has a couple of 15-win seasons on his résumé. He's not Pedro, but the Pedro we saw with the Mets last season wasn't Pedro, either. From a Phillies standpoint, they must feel that Lopez, whose ownership in ESPN.com standard leagues peaked at 0.7 percent last week, can't pitch effectively for 10 more weeks, and that Carrasco needs more work in the minors. Fantasy owners tantalized by Carrasco's potential will need to wait awhile.

On the surface, it sure appears that Martinez got strafed last season, despite a good defense and a terrific pitchers' park behind him (5.61 ERA and 1.57 WHIP). You know how sometimes writers can make numbers tell the story and make the point they want? It's tough to make these numbers look good.

Then again, Martinez made seven starts in August 2008, going 2-1 with a 3.83 ERA and a usable strikeout rate. We assume he's merely a five-inning pitcher, but that month, he averaged more than six innings per start. His WHIP was 1.29. He wasn't that bad. Even I was surprised when I did further research. He was bad in June and September but did fine in August. Maybe the Phillies believe he can recapture that magic in August, and the low risk of adding depth was worth it. Again, I see that as a possibility.

Martinez hasn't even met his Phillies teammates, and he's already on the disabled list with a mild shoulder strain, but I consider that more of a procedural move. The team clearly wants him on a rehab assignment rather than just starting randomly in the minors, but fantasy owners need not read into this. It doesn't affect his timetable to the majors. He would need to make a few starts somewhere before joining the major league club anyway, so Lopez will get a few more chances to prove himself.

In terms of what to expect statistically, the Phillies claim Martinez has thrown well recently and has kept himself in good shape. If either of those weren't the case, I doubt he would have been signed. It's not as if they wanted to keep him away from the Mets, you know. Maybe we should broaden our horizons and expect a decent performance from Martinez, possibly similar to what Lopez has done in two starts. If he makes 10 starts in two months, can we hope he throws 60 innings, strikes out 50 and keeps his peripheral numbers in a place that wouldn't hurt fantasy owners, like an ERA around 4 with a 1.35 WHIP? Sure, I suppose I could see that. Maybe Martinez tired this past September, and that was the reason he permitted 19 earned runs in 22 innings that month. If anything, the current state of his arm should be good because he has had 10 months of rest.

I don't think there's a ton of upside here for anyone in fantasy, especially for those in 10-team standard leagues. If you're in an NL-only league or a 20-team mixed format -- with pretty much every starting pitcher owned, including the likes of Lopez -- I suppose it's not a bad idea to stash Martinez away in case he performs well. That is assuming that, like the Phillies, it's a no-risk proposition for you. Don't drop Kyle Lohse or Randy Wells for the honor of owning Martinez, but like anyone else, if you have a bench spot open, take a look and see what happens. I've been down on the possibility of his signing with the Phillies, but even I have to admit this could work out in the short term.