It’s that time of year folks–the time where we can begin wiping away the tears from not winning the World Series, and instead sit back and reflect on the past season. In this series I’ll be grading each starter, their backups, as well as prominent bullpen arms. The only grading scale is that of position demands, past results, and expectations for that particular player. For instance, catchers aren’t expected to hit .290 with 35 home runs and as such won’t be held to those standards when grading them. So, with that knowledge, let’s forge ahead!
We’ll start with Yankee backstop Russell Martin who signed with the team after being non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers before the start of the 2011 season. He shined in his first year in pinstripes, hitting .237/.324/.408 while earning All-Star honors. Martin came to the Yankees as an above-average hitter, with decent speed, but most importantly he played excellent defense. In the 2011 offseason, Martin turned down a three-year extension in hopes that his play will earn him a bigger payday. However, after this season, many might believe that he’s regretting not taking the deal in the first place, even if below the surface he was largely unlucky.
Speaking of the 2012 season, Martin struggled mightily in the first four months. He was constantly hovering around .200 and would follow a mild hot streak with freezing cold streaks that seem to last longer than the Pleistocene era.
Pretty nasty stuff, yes? Many were in favor of him losing his starting spot and finding a full-time catcher who could at least hit a tad better than .200. His luck began turning in August as more hits were dropping in and he was sustaining streaks, rather than going hot and cold almost at an instant. His last two months are more indicative of what Martin truly brings to the table.
It’s easy to see where to start. Look and compare those BABIP numbers from earlier in the season to its conclusion. Martin most likely had trouble consistently putting good wood on the ball, but a sub-.200 BABIP is hard to sustain even for incompetent MLB hitters, which Martin is not. While his average struggled, his power wasn’t lacking. This season marked the first for Martin hitting more than 20 home runs. He came close with the Dodgers in 2007 when he hit 19.
That being said, there is more to catching than just hitting. Perhaps more important for the backstop is defense. We all hear about how pitchers and catchers need to have a good rapport. Being able to trust your defensive battery is paramount for success. Want to throw that breaking ball in the dirt on a 1-2 count to an elite batter with runners in scoring position? You better hope your catcher has the wherewithal to block that, and by all indications Martin was that guy to this staff for the past two seasons.
However, Martin’s defense is beginning to slide. For instance, he actually cost the Yankees seven runs with his defense this season according to Baseball-Reference’s Defense Runs Saved Above Average per 1,200 innings (Rdrs/yr). Conversely, in 2011 he saved the Yankees eight runs. His defensive shortcomings don’t stop there unfortunately. He was also slightly below average this season in throwing out base stealers (24%) when compared to the league average (25%). Martin usually hovers around the 30% mark. He’s had a similar one season write-off in this department back in 2008 when he threw out 25% of runners and then came back in 2009 and nailed 31% of would-be base stealers against a 29% caught stealing league average. Like many defensive statistics, Rdrs/yr has its flaws such as, how well do pitchers hold runners on and the league in which he plays in. One more little tidbit about his defense, he allowed nine passed balls in 2012, which is exactly the same amount he allowed in 2010 and 2011, combined.
With all that knowledge in hand, I give Russell “The Muscle” Martin a D+.
- A pleasure to have in class
- Not working up to potential
- Classwork is incomplete
- Has positive attitude toward work
- Parent conference requested
Russell Martin is a solid catcher, who struggled sustaining momentum in the hitting department. His defensive problems, by the numbers at least this season, is a cause for concner as it shows him regressing a bit. Hopefully, he’s regressing toward the mean and not falling back altogether.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference