Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
After a 2015 season during which he made his first All-Star team and lived up to his star prospect billing, Carlos Martinez went into 2016 simply trying to repeat his success. Instead, in a season where the Cardinals went to battle without John Lackey for the first time since July of 2014, saw Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia, and Adam Wainwright significantly regress, and failed to get much return on their investment in Mike Leake, Martinez became the unquestioned ace of the Cardinals’ staff and established himself as one of the top starters in the National League.
Had it not been for an extremely rough month of May (1-5 record, 5.18 ERA, 1.39 WHIP in six starts), Martinez likely would have been an All-Star and a contender for the NL Cy Young. For the season, Martinez went 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 174 strikeouts in 195 1/3 innings over 31 starts. His season was highlighted by a dominant June in which he posted a 1.31 ERA and 1.05 ERA while averaging nearly seven innings per start. According to Baseball Reference, Martinez also finished eighth overall among National League players and fifth among NL pitchers in WAR.
Martinez was relatively valuable as a hitter, too, posting a .237/.246/.254 line while driving in six runs in 65 plate appearances.
While he’ll presumably face some competition from Alex Reyes in the near future, it looks as if Martinez has a shot to be the Cardinals’ best starting pitcher for a long while. Everything’s looking up for the 25-year-old, and it’s difficult to imagine how much of a mess the Cardinals’ rotation would have been in 2016 if he hadn’t been there.