Russell Martin looks bad on the outside, but not much has changed in his peripherals. We should see improvement very soon (Image: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE)

Sabermetric Outlook: Russell Martin

Poor Russell Martin. The New York Yankees catcher is having a downright awful season, and when players on the Yankees have downright awful seasons, they get torn apart by fans. Now of course, Martin is performing very badly, and fans are right to be frustrated, but rather than blame him for not working hard enough, I prefer to look at the stats, and see what has gone wrong, and what he needs to do to get better.

If you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to first check out the primer that I wrote for this series, which outlines some of the most important statistics that I’ll employ in this post and others. If you’re unfamiliar with sabermetrics, or you’re not sure about a particular statistic I mention, check out that post (if you still don’t understand, please leave a comment below or email me and I’d be happy to help).

Previous players:

Mark Teixeira
Robinson Cano
Derek Jeter
Alex Rodriguez

Let’s start by looking at Martin’s overall stats this year compared to last year and his career.

Looking at Martin’s peripherals, we don’t see that much difference between this year and last. His walk rate and strikeout rate are both up, but not by a lot, and his isolated power (ISO) is about the same. In other words, he’s walking a bit more, striking out a bit more, and hitting for a bit more power. After those three, however, is when we see the big difference. Martin’s BABIP is absurdly low at .185, bringing down his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage all in one fell swoop.

If Martin’s BABIP was at last year’s level of .252, or even a little lower than that, his batting average would be similar to last year and his OBP and SLG would likely be better than last year and his career. He would be closer to an average or above average hitter, which, at catcher, is very valuable. So why the low BABIP? Is there some difference in Martin’s approach that’s causing so few of his batted balls to fall in for hits?

Take a look at Martin’s batted ball profile, again comparing this year to last year and his career:

Interestingly, Martin is hitting a very similar proportion of line drives, ground balls, and fly balls to last year and his career. There are slight differences, but none significant enough to explain the drastic difference in BABIP from last year and his career.

It’s possible that Martin just isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he used to, so the ground balls that would have been hits last year are turning into outs this year. However, that seems slightly strange given that Martin’s power is fairly similar, or even better, than previous years. He seems to still be hitting the ball as hard as before, and hitting a similar proportion of line drives, ground balls, and fly balls, but he just can’t get hits.

Even based on a very complex formula that takes a player’s standard and batted ball data and estimates their expected BABIP (xBABIP), which you can find more information on here, says that Martin’s BABIP should be about .282, a full 100 points higher than his actual BABIP! Now this formula is not perfect, nor is my rudimentary analysis of Martin, but by any measure I can think of, Martin should be hitting far better than he is now.

Unfortunately, it’s now been almost two years since Martin has had a normal BABIP, so there is a good chance that something about his approach or the way he is hitting the ball is just preventing his batted balls from turning into hits. However, a BABIP this bad, especially given Martin’s power and batted ball profile, is just not sustainable. Going forward, we should expect more of Martin’s balls to fall in for hits, thus raising his batting average and making him a valuable piece of the Yankees going forward.

His line at the end of the season will still look very bad, but instead of looking at what’s he done, let’s look at what he does going forward. I’m confident that Martin will start to catch some breaks, get more clutch hits, and raise his confidence. Once he does that, I fully expect him to be the player that he was last year for the Yankees: a solid hitter with patience and power at a tough position.

Tags: BABIP Batting Average Catcher New York Yankees Power Russell Martin Sabermetrics Slump Yankees

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