MLB Handicapping: Martinez and Schmidt
by Trevor Whenham - 7/21/2009
It's deja vu all over again. A few years ago Jason Schmidt and Pedro Martinez were among the elite pitchers in the league. Various hardships - and the inevitability of age - have made them mostly irrelevant recently. After long roads back, both guys have made their return to the big leagues in the same week. Schmidt returned to action for the Dodgers on Monday night - his first start in two years. Martinez has signed with the Phillies for the stretch drive, though he was immediately put on the DL to buy a bit more time to get ready.
Both guys have names and reputations that will jump out for the casual public bettor, so it will be especially important to determine if the value will be in betting on them or against them. Here's a look:
Jason Schmidt - The Dodgers certainly have done a great job of getting value for money this year. Their highest paid player, Manny Ramirez, took a 50-game vacation through the late spring. The second highest-paid player, Jason Schmidt, was out of action for two full years until Monday night. Schmidt is back from shoulder surgery, but it's hard to know for sure what he has left to give this year. He was expected back in the rotation this year, but was not good in spring training, so he was forced to continue rehabbing in the minors. You can't directly translate minor league performance to the majors, but Schmidt was solid through the spring. In seven starts at two levels he was 3-1 with a 3.65 ERA. That's far from what he could do at his full capacity, but he could be a fair bit worse than that in the majors and still be a welcome addition to the Dodgers. The most encouraging stat was that in his six games in Triple-A he struck out 25 in 32 innings while walking just seven. That solid ratio is pretty consistent with what he offered in his prime.
The Dodgers could certainly use some help in their rotation. The problem is that Schmidt probably isn't in a position to offer the help they need. Their starters have been decent, but they haven't been pitching deep into games at all. That means that the bullpen has been forced to carry a big burden for the team. That has obviously worked well so far given their record, but the pen is showing real signs of fatigue, and that's a scary thing to see at the end of July.
Schmidt only pitched beyond the sixth once in the minors, and it seems unlikely that he will be asked to go beyond five or six in the majors - at least early on. Beyond that, though, the Dodgers would be well served if Schmidt can add some depth to the back end of the rotation. The top three starters - Billingsley, Wolf, and Kershaw - have been consistent and regular, but beyond that it has been a revolving cast of characters. Schmidt, even at 80 percent, would be an upgrade over almost every other option.
Schmidt's first start against the Reds wasn't spectacular. He allowed three runs in five innings, and he walked three while striking out just two. After a disastrous first inning, though, he settled down and looked quite comfortable, and he earned the win. There was nothing in that start that raised any alarms, and I don't see any reason why you would treat Schmidt as anything other than he is - an older pitcher with a history of injures but with some real talent. Don't bet him just because he's Jason Schmidt, but don't let him scare you away, either.
Pedro Martinez - This one is more difficult to figure out. Martinez was signed by the Phillies this week, though he's on the DL and could still be a couple of weeks away from a return. He hasn't been idle, though. On Tuesday he threw more than 60 pitches in a simulated game. He says he felt great afterwards, but a simulated game proves absolutely nothing. He's due to pitch from a mound again on Thursday, and he could make a minor league start on Sunday. He'll be back at some point, but will he be any good once he gets there?
I'm not optimistic. Martinez hasn't pitched in the majors since last September, his shoulder isn't completely healthy, and he hasn't been completely dominant since 2005. He's 37 years old and clearly in decline. He's still probably better than your average journeyman, so I would have no problem with the Phillies bringing him back and spacing out his starts a bit. There's a problem there, though - he is consistently much better on five days rest than he is on extra rest. Philadelphia will have to figure out the best balance - using him often enough that he is sharp, but saving him enough that he lasts until the stretch when they will likely need him most. That's a tough balance to strike, but Martinez is only costing them $1 million, so the downside is low.
My suspicion is that Martinez isn't going to add a whole lot to the Phillies. The public will jump at his name - especially early on - and that could provide some value on his opponents. That won't necessarily be the case, though, if the Phillies maintain their red hot offensive pace through to when he makes his debut. My general inclination is to back off and let Martinez do his thing without having my money on the line.
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