Things have gone completely down hill since Russell Martin celebrated this walk-off home run on June 10. (Image: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE)

Girardi sticks by Martin; does he have a choice?


New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi has all the confidence in the world in starting catcher Russell Martin.  The organization showed hesitation in Martin as a long-term solution this past offseason, instead offering a one-year deal worth $7.5 million. It’s looking like they made the right decision.

Martin enters the four-game series beginning Friday against the Red Sox with a .179 batting average. He is hitless in his last 27 at-bats and 4-for-54 since his two-homer game back on June 10. Girardi believes the drought is going to end soon and will stick by his man, as it truly is his only choice.

“It’s going to end, I know that…I can promise him it’s going to end; Friday would be a great day…” -Joe Girardi on Russell Martin’s season long slump.

Girardi’s right about one thing; Friday would be a great day because there are no other options anytime soon. The Yankees have Chris Stewart as the current back-up with Francisco Cervelli glued to the Triple-A slot where he belongs. Flip-flopping either of these catchers in the backup role is arguable, but neither has the makeup of a full-time starter.

The Yankees system is stocked with catching talent; the only problem is none of the prospects are ready at the moment. Two of the Yankees top catching prospects, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez, may be potential long-term answers to the dilemma, but right now the Yanks are in the mode of year to year fill-ins when it comes to determining who will be the Yankees primary backstop. Martin has been their answer the last two seasons, after Jorge Posada was relieved of those duties during his final year with the Bombers.

Martin came to the Yankees as a free-agent after he was non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers following the 2010 season. Martin’s bat began to slide in the 2009 season and Martin was getting too expensive for the Dodgers’ taste considering his diminishing production. Enter the Yankees, who wanted (needed) a transitional catcher for the complete removal of Posada at the position in the hopes that he could become a full-time DH.

Martin signed for “discounted” $4 million for one season and found his stroke again. It wasn’t quite to the level of his best seasons in L.A., but it was much more than the Yankees expected. The issue is that his 2011 was full of smoke and mirrors. He had an excellent first month-plus of the season and entered a slide which lasted until August when he had another good stretch. His 2012 season looks more like the majority of his 2011 campaign, not the two good months which propped up his counting stats. See the 2011 monthly splits below.

He hit the ball well for 1/3 of the season. He hit the ball so well in the two-plus months that it significantly pumped up his abysmal periods at the plate. His 2012 stats resemble the poor showings in 2011 with no glimpse of getting better.

Shouldn’t we begin to think that the two good months he had in 2011 were the outliers of his last nine-plus? What makes Girardi so certain that Martin is going to come around? Put plainly, he has no other choice. Sometimes managers just have to say the “right” things. What’s he going to say? Martin sucks and we’re going to move Stewart into the role? Or succumb to the ever-present notion that Cervelli is a major league catcher? He can’t do either and look reasonable. Girardi has to live with Martin’s struggles and is masking his confidence in hope.

Up until June, Martin was at least getting on base often enough and it was pointed out that he suffered from an extremely low BABIP, which was minuscule even compared with his recent seasons. His BABIP has been no higher than .287 since 2009, including .252 in 2011. While it is exceedingly low thus far in 2o12, we may just have to deal with the fact that he’s not going to get much better at the plate, especially with a K-rate hovering around the 20% mark.

The fallback for most people who have come to defend Martin is his work behind the plate. Unfortunately, there are some bad trends there as well. He has four passed balls, the same number he gave up all of last season, in half the number of innings. His career high is six.  His caught stealing rate took a major hit after a disastrous two games behind the plate this week against the Tampa Bay Rays. He allowed nine stolen bases lowering his caught stealing percentage to 23.5% (12-for-51) while the league average is 26%. Last season he was at 29.6%, which is nothing special, but was two percentage points higher than the league average. These numbers shouldn’t be deemed poor, but they don’t completely compensate for the weak bat. Is it fair to speculate that his issues at the plate are beginning to affect his abilities behind it too?

I wish that I had some answers for the situation. It is not Stewart (a career .218 hitter before you point out he’s hitting .270 this season), or Cervelli (who is hitting .248 at Triple-A) or anyone else in the minor league system at the moment. I’m sure Martin is banging his head against the wall nightly trying to figure out the problems. He’s fortunate there is no immediate answer to the question or he’d have been benched already. Further, he is painting a largely unpleasant picture of his future right now and with a contract year in effect, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for him. The Yankees have some thinking to do going forward. Based on what they’re getting now for $7.5 million, the Yankees should part ways with Martin (at the current price scale this a no-brainer), but will their catching prospects be ready to shoulder the load? It’s looking like a stretch.

Romine has been on the disabled list the entire season and their next best catcher in the system, Sanchez, is at High-A Tampa of the Florida State League after a recent promotion. Romine was called up last season when the Yankees needed a catcher and they probably suspected he would get some time in 2012 as well, but the injury has significantly hindered that assumption. Romine is only 23, so he has plenty of growth ahead of him, but it remains to be seen how much this injury has affected his path.

With the Yankees in first-place by five games over the Baltimore Orioles, there is certainly no need for panic that their catcher situation is less than optimal. There is reason to believe however, that another stop-gap catcher could be wearing pinstripes next season because Martin is playing his way out of New York, and the players in the lower levels may not be ready. For now, Joe Girardi will stick by the veteran, what other choice does he have?

Tags: Austin Romine Chris Stewart Featured Francisco Cervelli Gary Sanchez Joe Girardi Jorge Posada New York Yankees Popular Russell Martin Yankees

  • Jimmy Kraft

    Chris, great article. It’s nice to read through all the B.S. Girardi is throwing at us concerning Martin. I like Martin, or rather I want to like him, but he’s just looked so lost at the plate and his defense is nothing to write home about. I’m beginning to wonder if his sore lower back is more of a problem than he is letting on.

    There are a few free agent catchers worth looking at this offseason: Mike Napoli (.233/.336/.431), AJ Pierzynski (.287/.335/.524), and Carlos Ruiz (.357/.419/.598 [if the Phillies don't pick up the club option]). All of whom have hit much better than Martin. Pierzynski is lefthanded too, could take advantage of the short porch in right field, like he did a week ago…just sayin’.

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