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The Anatomy of An Inning: Chris Martin Closes the Door

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

I wish I was more well-versed in Coldplay’s discography. If I was, I would write an intro chock-full of song titles and lyrics to introduce the most dominant reliever in baseball, Chris Martin. If that intro sounds appealing to you, harass Fitzy Mo Pena on Twitter, I’m sure he has one on the shelf, itching to be published.

Coldplay references aside, Martin has been the anchor of the Red Sox bullpen for the entire season. Late in a game, Martin jogs out from the bullpen, throws nothing but strikes, walks to the dugout, and calls it a night. He’s getting up there in age at 37, but hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and is under contract for another year. Going into next year, he should remain a late-inning option to keep the bullpen strong.

The Situation

September 14. Top of the ninth. Nobody on, nobody out with a five-run lead. Some people (me) would wonder why Martin is pitching with a five-run lead in the first game of a doubleheader, but at this point, the wins don’t really matter.

AB #1: Anthony Volpe

Martin starts the inning with a sinker on the hands for a called strike. It’s his bread and butter against right-handers. It’s not designed for swings and misses, but rather to jam same-handed hitters.

The first one worked, so why not go back to it? Volpe would really need to sell out to get to the pitch, and even then he would have a hard time keeping it in play.

After missing with the sinker, Martin goes to his cutter on the outer half of the plate. Out of his hand, it looks very similar to the sinker but breaks in the other direction. Like the sinker, it’s not designed to get whiffs. He uses the sinker and cutter to get called strikes and weak contact, and goes to his four-seamer and splitter for whiffs. Volpe sees the pitch and likely thinks it's going to come inside, but it stays away. He hits it off the end of the bat to Trevor Story who makes a nice play for the first out.

AB #2: Jake Bauers

Against a lefty, Martin puts the sinker on the shelf in favor of the four-seamer and cutter. Throughout the season, he’s been tougher on righties but effective against lefties as well.

97 on the black. Strike one.

Much like the first at-bat, he tries to double up on the first pitch and just misses. 1-1.

A third fastball from Martin, this time low and over the middle. He wants the ball on the outer half and it leaks back over the middle. Bauers is a touch late and fouls it off for strike two.

Here’s our first look at the cutter against a lefty, executed perfectly. It’s up and in, making it very difficult to square up and leading to a lot of broken bats. Bauers fouls this one off to stay alive. Obviously, you’d like that pitch to result in an out, but foul balls are fairly frequent with this approach. That’s good hitting by Bauers.

Here’s a splitter in the dirt from Martin at 1-2. You can almost think of a splitter like a changeup. It looks like one of his fastballs, comes in a few miles an hour slower, and the bottom falls out of it. For Martin, it’s a pitch to use ahead in the count to get a punch out. This one is non-competitive as he spikes it. One of the supposed downsides of using a splitter is that it can be difficult to command; Martin has been using the pitch for several years, so I’m sure he’s not too worried about that, especially with the bases empty.

Back to the four-seamer at 2-2. This one catches more of the plate than he’d like, but Bauers makes weak contact toward Urias who makes the easy play. Not the best pitch, but Bauers may have been thinking cutter, causing him to keep the barrel inside and make contact with the end of his bat for the second out.

AB #3: Oswald Peraza

Against a righty, we see another inside sinker. Peraza fouls it off his foot for strike one. Perfect pitch to start him off.

Fastball, right past Peraza to get to 0-2. Again, it catches more plate than you’d like to see, but a strike is a strike.

Here’s another four-seamer, this time away that gets called a ball. After this pitch, you could throw a high four-seamer, a backdoor sinker, or even a splitter. Peraza was late on the first four-seamer and has struggled with fastballs this season, and while I normally don’t like tripling up on a pitch, it's hard to resist challenging him with another fastball.

Martin does challenge him with a fastball, but not where he wants it to be. Connor Wong sets up away and the pitch ends up upstairs. It’s not a bad miss by any means, it just wasn’t Martin’s intention. Ideally, a miss here would be even further above the zone and Peraza punishes the mistake. In a five-run game, you can’t be too upset with this pitch.

AB #4: Oswaldo Cabrera

Runner on first, up by five, you can act like that runner isn’t even there. No change to the situation whatsoever for Martin.

First pitch, backdoor cutter for strike one.

At 0-1, Martin tries to throw that cutter up and in. He doesn’t get it far enough inside, but he keeps it high enough to where it’s a fine miss. Cabrera swings and fouls it off. At 0-2, I typically say Martin can throw whatever he wants. Here, after back-to-back cutters, I would advocate for a high four-seamer or a low splitter.

He does go to the splitter, but it’s too far in the dirt to get a swing. Now, you either throw a high fastball to change the eye level or another splitter.

And there’s the high fastball. Cabrera manages to fight it off, but it’s a good pitch regardless. Still 1-2, it’s the same situation where you can throw a high fastball or a low splitter.

There’s the splitter, and it’s a good one. Unfortunately, it’s better hitting by Cabrera who seems to have a read on Martin’s gameplan. That does, however, leave the door open for a new option. If a hitter is going to let low pitches go, knowing they’re going to fall out of the zone, why not throw a low pitch that doesn’t drop?

That’s exactly what what Martin does, but Cabrera is ready for it and shoots it out to center field. I don’t hate the sequencing in this at-bat one bit. Props to Cabrera for a sound approach at the plate.

AB #5: Everson Pereira

With a righty at the plate, Martin once again goes to that inside sinker. Pereira literally breaks his bat and grounds out to end the game.

This is pretty much exactly who Martin has been throughout the course of this season, with a little bit of command issues. His four-seamer, cutter, and sinker all look virtually identical while having very different movement profiles, leading to a ton of weak contact. Not all relievers need to come in, throw 99 MPH, and strike out the side. Martin does it with elite command and clever sequencing.