To say Russell Martin has had a bit of a down year would be a gross understatement. After a successful first season in the Bronx in 2011, there were relatively high expectations for Martin heading into 2012, but never really got going after a glacial start—not the best idea for a guy heading into free agency this year. That said, Russell Martin’s struggles this season might be beneficial for both Martin and the Yankees, and despite the ugly numbers, could result in Martin back in pinstripes in 2013.
Though Martin has never had an exceptionally high batting average, he does contribute significantly to the offense. In 356 ABs in 2012, Martin has just 73 hits. However, he has 15 doubles and 16 home runs, as opposed to 17 doubles and 18 homers in 2011. Particularly, the home run numbers have returned since the move to Yankee Stadium after dropping into the single digits his final two years in Los Angeles. To that end, his SLG % has increased 50 points in 2012 and almost 70 points in 2011, aided by the Stadium’s dimensions. Outside of the injury-shortened 2010, Martin has been consistently good for 50-60 RBI (though I generally dislike the use of that stat). Finally, even though Martin’s OBP numbers have dropped, along with the batting average, since 2007, his strikeout numbers have remained roughly the same, falling into the range of 80 Ks per year.
This is less indicative of Martin’s plate patience and more to do with BABIP and sheer terrible luck, as fellow YGY Staffer Jimmy Kraft explained here. In 2011, Martin’s BABIP was roughly .200; in 2012, it was roughly .175, while the league average is .300. In other words, Martin has had some terrible luck in that he puts the ball in play—right at a defender. It’s not that Martin can’t hit well (see the power numbers), but rather that the vast majority of his contact is poorly placed.
Defensively, Martin is a solid, if not stellar fielder. His fielding percentage is stellar (.993), and only has six errors through September 16th. Over the past two seasons in New York, no less than 92% of all balls fielded have resulted in outs (F20%), and allowed only 7 passed balls in 2012, 4 in 2011- this is especially interesting when noting that Martin caught the infamously wild AJ Burnett. Once the runner is on base, Martin also does his part to prevent the runner from advancing. In 1359 Stolen Base Opportunities (SBO) in 2012, only 60 runners have advanced on the bases, representing roughly 2% of all base-runners. With the Yankees clawing for every win (and seemingly every run with those RISP issues), Martin also succeeds in the Caught Stealing Leverage Index (CSlev). If an average situation rates as 1.00, the importance of the context where a runner was caught by Martin is a 1.26. In other words, in the context of importance and increased pressure of the base-runner, he succeeds in preventing runners by advancing via a stolen base.
All of that said, it really wouldn’t be a surprise to see Martin back in the Bronx next season. Coming off the worst season of his career in 2012, it would be unlikely that there’d be an extraordinarily high demand for Martin’s services, so he should be relatively affordable (he is making $7.5 million in 2012). Despite a decreasing batting average, he brings some power numbers offensively in extra-base hits and home runs on a team that is dependent on the home run to score runs.
Most importantly for the Yankees: there really isn’t anyone to replace Martin. Chris Stewart isn’t an every-day catcher, and neither is fan-favorite Francisco Cervelli, who lost his roster spot in spring training despite serving several years with the big league club. Catching prospect Austin Romine missed most of 2012 with a back injury, and despite making a solid appearance in the big leagues during September, 2011, is still a good way off from permanently making the major the club as a full-time player. Romine could also remain trade bait- catching prospects are hard to find- and he also has been touted as a more defensive catcher without the projection of high offensive output. The Yankees’ highly-touted catching prospect Gary Sanchez is only 19 years old and hasn’t played above A+ ball in Tampa. Realistically, he probably wouldn’t reach the Bigs for another 3 years, and even his defense need extensive development. A three-year deal with Martin could serve as a stop-gap until either Romine or Sanchez is ready to action at the major league level.
Despite the bad numbers this season, Martin is still a solid all-around catcher. Admittedly, it was a bad year, but he positively contributes to the team. Moreover, given the lack of catching options for the Yankees (barring a trade, which always remains a possibility, but a realistic target is unclear at this point), it’s likely that Russell Martin is back in the Bronx in 2013, and possibly beyond.