Russell Martin: Snakebitten in 2012?


The catcher position isn’t one teams rely on for any huge offensive production. Most teams, especially National Leagues teams, regard this position as a defensive one, and any offense they can provide is viewed as a plus. Times have changed though, and it’s especially important for American League clubs to have a catcher who can hit, and that’s who the Yankees thought they were getting with Russell Martin a year ago. While he hit decently last season (for a catcher), he’s been abysmal for most of the year in 2012.

However, over the past two weeks he’s provided some great production hitting in his usual bottom-of-the-order spot. With the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays nipping at the Yankees heels, the boys in pinstripes are going to need some production from unexpected places, and Martin is provided just that right now.

Martin has been doing this much more often and it’s good to see…finally (Image: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE)

Over the last 14 days, Martin’s slash line reads .333/.436/.576. I know, do a double take, rub your eyes, and let your jaw drop because this is a pleasant surprise. This line is a far cry from his season totals (.209/.313/.386). His OPS has exploded to 1.012, whereas his season total rests at .699. He has eight RBI in that span and four of his 11 hits have been for extra bases, two of which landed in the seats.

In a recent column by Mike Vaccaro of the NY Post, Martin recognized his issues this year and put it plainly:

"“A humbling game, and an unforgiving one.”"

Perhaps it’s been bad luck for the Yankee backstop this season. A closer look into some advanced statistics shows his BABIP (.225) is way below average. However, that can be controlled somewhat by the contact he makes. But, his groundball (47.5%) and line drive (20.4%) rates are in line or better in 2012 than his career numbers. Most peculiar.

An even closer look at his plate discipline numbers reveals that he has in fact been snakebitten all year long. His time with the Yankees looked like this:

As you can see, there’s really nothing out of the ordinary for him this season. In fact, I would venture a guess and say his 2012 plate discipline is actually a tad better. He’s swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone (also swinging at fewer inside the zone), and he’s making contact with fewer pitches outside the zone, which lead to bad contact and deflates batting averages and BABIP totals. Furthermore, he’s getting ahead in the count more often, but overall he’s leaving the bat on his shoulders more frequently this year, as evident by his Swing% and SwStr% numbers.

Overall, I think Martin is a victim of bad luck this season, which has turned many Yankees fans against him. He’s good behind the plate, has a good rapport with pitchers, and plays good defense in a defensive position. The game of baseball is indeed – and will continue to be – a humbling and unforgiving game; sometimes those two traits need to befall a fanbase in order to see how a particular player fits in the overall scheme.

Martin might have been bad this season, but there are far worse options out there. Also, he’s not the future, so there’s no money or development time tied into him. That said, let’s enjoy the next few weeks and hope Martin’s success at the plate continues.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs