How Chris Martin put together career year at 37

September 25th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Ian Browne’s Red Sox Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

At 37 years old, Red Sox ace setup man has numbers that jump off the page.

This season, the righty has made 55 appearances, matching his uniform number, and has a miniscule 1.05 ERA. That is best in MLB among pitchers with at least 30 innings.

Martin has logged 51 1/3 innings and given up just six earned runs, with eight walks compared to 46 strikeouts. In his last 20 appearances, Martin hasn’t given up a run. He has given up just one run since June 9, covering 37 appearances.

How does a career year happen at this stage? The best answer to that question is that it didn't happen by accident -- the lanky righty with the Texas twang has earned every bit of it.

For Martin, the seeds for the late-career surge to dominance took place in the first half of last season when he was with the Cubs.

“They put me on the edgertronic machine and we were putting things in slow motion, and I think we started to see some things in my delivery,” Martin said. “I just wasn’t moving as good as I could. Hip movement and things like that. So I started working on that, and it’s a slow process of getting it right. I think slowly, it started to get better there towards the Trade Deadline, and then I got traded over [to the Dodgers].”

Before the trade to L.A., Martin had an unspectacular 4.31 ERA in 34 games with the Cubbies.

The Dodgers helped him take things to another level.

The first pivotal thing Martin did when he got to L.A. was abandon his slider.

“It's the one pitch that I would leave in the middle of the zone too much,” Martin said. “When it got hit, it would get hit for damage. It was never just a single. Or if it was a single, it was an 0-2 hanging breaking ball.”

Then came a game-changing chat with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.

“I remember Dave Roberts saying, ‘Hey, keep doing what you’re doing, we’ll catch the ball.’ I think that first game, I gave up a pretty hard-hit ball in the gap, and Cody Bellinger kind of floated underneath it,” Martin said. “I was like, ‘OK.’  That gave me more confidence to just to pound the strike zone, which is what I'm going to do anyways. And I think that was a big part of why I did so well over there.”

This season, Martin has thrown 249 cutters and 249 four-seamers. He has also mixed in 108 sinkers and 71 split-finger fastballs. Taking away the slider has made him focus on the three different versions of his fastball.

“I’ve got to move the fastball around,” Martin said. “You watch Lance Lynn do it. He’s got a bunch of different fastballs, and he moves it all over the strike zone and it is really tough to cover. You can't cover all of the plate. So, yeah, as long as I'm moving pitches around, up and down, in and out, I should be successful.”

Finally, there was another turning point last winter when Martin drastically altered his offseason workouts.

“Just mobility,” Martin said. “You know, obviously, a lot of guys go into off season and to try to get bigger and faster and stronger, stuff like that. I kind of took this offseason as going to get mobility. Make sure that everything's moving good. Obviously, when you get older, you start to get a little tight. We need to continue to work on that all season.”

Credit Braves trainer George Poulis for being the first to suggest to Martin he go down that road. Martin was a Brave from 2019-21, and it just took him a while to take his old trainer’s words of advice.

“I’d go in the offseason and do my lifts to try to get stronger and I'd just be stiff,” Martin said. “Then, I'd be going through the season trying to get unstiff. Finally, I stopped being stubborn. I was like, 'You know what, I should probably try some stuff here.'"

Not only did Martin try, but he succeeded. 

“It's tedious and it’s time-consuming. It's not the most fun stuff,” Martin said. “But what else do I have to do in the offseason when I'm working out? So, I put emphasis on just taking time early to make sure I'm moving, obviously. I still do my lifts and stuff like that.

“I would just ask the strength coach what I could do to keep my hips and my T spine and all that stuff moving well. And we put a program together. The trainers here [with the Red Sox] are amazing. I can’t forget to mention those guys. They keep me healthy. They work very, very hard.”

The Red Sox signed Martin to a two-year, $17.5 million contract last December. The only thing that didn’t go well in the first season for Martin was team success. He hopes to taste October at Fenway Park in 2024.

“I mean, that's the goal,” Martin said. “I'm trying to have a good season so the team has a good season. This season right now is kind of bittersweet. I’m having a good year, but we're out of the playoffs.”