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2023 In Review: Clocks Stand Still For Chris Martin

Chris Martin was Boston’s most reliable reliever in 2023. What happens in 2024?

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Boston Red Sox Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

2023 In One Sentence

Chris Martin joined Boston’s bullpen and was a fantastic eighth-inning, high leverage option.

The Positives

One of the most well-received offseason moves made by former Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom (doesn’t it feel great to read that?) saw then-36-year-old reliever Chris Martin head to Boston on a 2 year, $13 million deal following a successful 2022 outing with the Cubs and Dodgers. (His resume also includes time with the Rockies, Yankees, his hometown Rangers, some time in Japan, and a role on a World Series title team with the Atlanta Braves in 2021.) With the pairing of other free-agent acquisition Kenley Jansen in late-game situations, the Red Sox improved a bullpen that had the fourth-highest ERA and eighth-most blown saves in baseball (remember that stat from last week?)

Given that his ERA coming into 2023 was on the high side at 3.84, some lamented that Bloom again followed a familiar pattern of picking a guy up off the scrap heap; but most rational people recognized Martin as an immediate improvement over the likes of Hirakazu Sawamura, Hansel Robles, and Ryan Brasier. The move paid off.

Chris Martin placed second (third if you count Nick Pivetta) in the Sox bullpen with 1.4 WAR in his 51 13 innings. The 6’8” righty walked just 8 batters all season, and although he gave up hits, he kept the base paths from third to home clear, having both a 20-game scoreless appearance streak to close out the season and a separate 17-game streak earlier in the year. He ended the season at a 1.05 ERA (though he got some luck, as his FIP was a bit higher at 2.44.) Plus, at 37, his fastball still reached 96 MPH, and his overall pitch selection of his six (!) pitches was masterful. Not much to complain about!

The Negatives

Well, you can’t write about him without making reference to Coldplay and about how A Rush of Blood to the Head is one of the best albums ever recorded, and then you’ll get discourse from Parachutes enjoyers — or worse, a Viva La Vida fan. That’s pretty much it for negatives.

Best Game/Moment

Let’s, uh, take it back to the start (sorry...) of August against the Mariners. Look how he makes fielding this comebacker look like nothing, when it could have very easily skipped past him. Not impressed? Here’s him sitting Anthony Volpe down to end a game, a trend I hope every Red Sox reliever for years to come will continue.

The Big Question/2024 and Beyond:

The question: He can’t possibly keep this up for another season, can he?

Honestly? Probably not, but don’t count it out. But even if his stats regress to career norms, he’ll still be a valuable piece of a hopefully improved pitching staff.

If he does keep it up (notably, in his contract year) he’ll be a prime candidate to get moved in July if the Sox aren’t in postseason contention. Leveraging a guy playing the best baseball of his career in his late 30’s for a piece for the future seems reasonable. Martin ranked 6th in BB/9 innings in 2023 out of any pitcher to throw at least 50 innings, and even that was a tick over what he’d been throwing for his entire career. It seems as though Martin is in the waning years of his career, but his productivity is outstanding, and comes on a relatively low-risk contract. It’s almost as if picking up recognizably reliable arms pays more dividends than hoping that a damaged waiver wire claim turn good, or, as a certain British alternative pop-rock vocalist says: Look at the stars, look how they shine for you.