For the past season and a half, Chris Martin has played an important role in the Atlanta Braves bullpen. He joined the team in 2019 as part of a trade deadline push to help bolster Atlanta’s relief corps for their run to that season’s postseason, and things worked out pretty well for everybody involved. If you’re still traumatized by the 2019 NLDS, then one of the moments that helped define the rotten luck that the Braves seemed to have during that series was the fact that Chris Martin never threw an official pitch during that series. The poor guy got injured while warming up for his appearance in Game 1 of that cursed series, and he was sorely missed from that point forward. Although it’s tough to pin a baseball team’s hopes on just one man (especially when it’s a reliever), it’s easy to see that series ending differently had Martin been available to eat some high-leverage innings during that series.
The Braves liked what they saw after that 2019 campaign, and signed him to a two-year, $14 million deal to make sure that he stayed in their bullpen going forward. He spent most of 2020 in a similar role, where he primarily served as the set-up guy. Occasionally he’d get a chance to close out the game, and he ended up being so cool under pressure that he didn’t know that his only save in 2020 was actually a save until he saw his teammates celebrating the win. You don’t know the true thrill of victory until you are legitimately the last person in the building to realize that you’ve actually won.
If anything, that’s an indication of a mentality that doesn’t waver — no matter what inning it is. That should serve him well going forward, since he’s probably going to pitch in even more high-leverage situations for the Braves in 2021. As of right now, he’s extremely likely to continue as either a set-up man or even a closer going forward. According to Mark Bowman, the role will either be his, Will Smith’s or shared by both. Either way, Chris Martin is a solid option for pitching at or near the end of games.
Ever since joining the Braves, Chris Martin’s strikeout percentage has been sitting at a pretty solid 30 percent, and he’s kept his HR/9 rate at around just 0.50 since arriving in Atlanta. With that being said, there’s probably going to be some regression on the way. Martin finished the shortened 2020 season with a paltry BABIP of .171. That brought his career BABIP down to .322, which is a telltale sign that Martin was probably getting a little lucky whenever opposing batters were putting the ball in play against him in 2020. Still, we’re probably not talking about BABIP regression resulting in Chris Martin’s proverbial magic carriage suddenly turning into a pumpkin.
Unless a miracle has happened and Chris Martin has suddenly turned into an absolute monster of a reliever in time for his age-35 season, it’s almost a certainty that he’s not going to end up with a repeat performance of 2020 where his ERA and FIP are in the low 1’s and 2’s, respectively. I’d say that it’s more likely that we’re going to see his 2021 numbers look similarly to how his 2019 numbers looked over a full season. In fact, his xERA in 2020 was identical (3.62) to his xERA from 2019. I’m not saying that he’s gonna pull it off for a third consecutive year, but I am saying that we probably know what to expect out of Chris Martin at this point, and any dramatic changes would be shocking.
If that’s the case and the consistent reliever is the version of Chris Martin that the Braves get for 2021, then he’s a perfectly fine reliever to have. In an ideal world, Will Smith’s 2020 season ends up being a fluke and he ends up pitching like the guy the Braves expected to get when they signed him ahead of last season — that would mean that Chris Martin would continue to serve in a set-up role, and the Braves could still end up having a a decent-enough back-end of their bullpen. Either way, Chris Martin is going to continue tossing high-leverage innings for the Braves during this upcoming season. While relievers are very volatile, it would be shocking if we got anything other than reliable production from Chris Martin in 2021.