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J.D. MARTIN IS JOHN LANNAN REDUX

[October 25th] -- In 2007, John Lannan came out of nowhere.

An 11th-round afterthought in 2005, Lannan climbed the minor league ladder quickly, going a combined 12-3, 2.87 before finishing the season with the Nationals where the 22-year-old went 2-2, 4.15.

Since then, Lannan has won 18 games and been the team’s presumptive ace.

Man, if the Nationals could find just one more pitcher to come out of nowhere, 2010 could be a fun year to watch.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet J.D. Martin, the next John Lannan.

It’s not that Martin wasn’t a known commodity in the baseball world. The Cleveland Indians chose the high school pitcher in the first round of the 2001 amateur draft, using their compensation pick for the departed Manny Ramirez.

Martin had tremendous control and a good fastball with movement when he began his minor league career. In his first two seasons in the Indians organization, he went a combined 19-6, 3.17, allowing 2.5 walks per nine innings while striking out 11.

In other words, he was dominant.

However, his strikeouts all but disappeared in 2004 as he toughed through an 11-10, 4.39 season in the high-A Carolina League. His strikeouts per nine innings dropped to six and his arm felt sore towards the end of the season.

There were signs of an arm injury, but it was hoped that an off-season of rest would help Martin regain his strength.

And it seemed to. Ten games into the 2005 season, Martin was 3-1, 2.38 and was again striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings. However, the sore arm returned and he was forced to under go reconstructive “Tommy John” surgery that July.

He returned late in 2006, and over the next three years crafted a record of 15-8, 3.31, with 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

However, in 2008, his last year with the Indians, he was primarily a reliever; the team didn’t feel he was good enough, or strong enough, to be a starter any more.

Believing that he could still be an effective starter, Martin left the Indians as a six-year minor league free agent and signed with the Nationals last winter.

He quickly became the team’s premier minor league pitcher, going 8-3, 2.66 in 15 starts with Class-AAA Syracuse.

But he was not the same pitcher anymore. Martin began pitching to contact and threw strikes, lots of them. With Syracuse, he struck out six per nine innings while walking just one, an amazing walk to strikeout ratio at any level.

In nine minor league seasons, Martin had compiled an outstanding record of 56-28 with a 3.29 ERA and yet he’d never had the opportunity to pitch in a major league game.

That changed, however, when the Nationals’ Scott Olsen was lost for the season with a arm injury and the team desperately needed a fill-in arm.

Enter J.D. Martin.

In 15 starts in 2009, Martin went 5-4 with a 4.44 ERA. He showed he had the ability, the tenacity, and the desire to succeed at the major league level. He didn’t do any one thing particularly well, yet by the time he walked off the mound, he more often than not had his team in a position to win.

But let’s look at his internal numbers and compare then with the aforementioned Lannan, the Nationals’ best starter:

Hits per 9 innings
Lannan: 9.2
Martin: 9.9

Homers allowed per 9 innings:
Lannan: 1.0
Martin: 1.6

Walks per 9 innings:
Lannan: 3.0
Martin: 2.8

Strikeouts per 9 innings:
Lannan: 3.9
Martin: 4.3

Baserunners per 9 innings:
Lannan: 1.35
Martin: 1.42

In virtually every category of statistical significance, the two were nearly identical. It would seem that the Nationals have indeed found their second out-of-the-blue starting pitcher.

But the news just gets better, just as Martin did as the season progressed.

In his first four starts, Martin gave up 13 runs, 24 hits, and five walks in just 16 innings. Since then, however, he might have been the best pitcher in the rotation. Take a look at Martins numbers compared to Lannan’s in their last 11 starts:

Innings Pitched
Martin: 60
Lannan: 63

ERA
Martin: 3.71
Lannan: 4.95

Hits per nine innings
Martin: 10.1
Lannan: 10.2

Walks per nine innings
Martin: 3.0
Lannan: 2.6

Strikeouts per nine innings:
Martin: 2.1
Lannan: 2.0

Batting average-against:
Martin: .264
Lannan: .263

On-base percentage allowed
Martin: .330
Lannan: .332

Slugging percentage allowed
Martin: .455
Lannan: .437

Percentage of strikes thrown:
Martin: 63%
Lannan: 63%

Line drives allowed
Martin: 17%
Lannan: 25%

Team record in starts
Martin: 8-3
Lannan: 4-7

Once Martin gained some experience at the major league level, he was able to stay with Lannan pitch-for-pitch over the last third of the season. So what’s the difference between team “ace” John Lannan and Martin?

About 55 career starts.

Should Martin repeat his rookie effort in 2010, the Nationals will have two very solid—though not spectacular—young pitchers who should be the No. 3 and 4 starters for the team once Stephen Strasburg makes it to the big leagues and Jordan Zimmermann returns from injury.

Most of us have scoffed at former general manager Jim Bowden’s penchant for signing minor league pitchers off the scrap heap. It just never seemed to work.

This time, however, Bowden was right.

J. D. Martin might not be a sexy choice for the rotation in 2010, but he is a solid choice. He outpitched the team ace for most of 2009; what else does he have to prove?

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