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The season that was: Russell Martin

Looking at Martin’s 2016 season.

MLB: ALDS-Texas Rangers at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Martin was Alex Anthopoulos’ biggest free agent signing, with Russell getting $82 million over fives seasons (back-loaded, so that the Jays are paying Martin $20 million per over the next three seasons).

We liked the deal. Our poll ran 66% liked it, 15% hated it and 20% neutral. Most of us felt it was a good signing, even though Dioner Navarro (Alex’s big free agent signing from one year before) had a good offensive 2014 (.274/.317/.395) and that his signing cost us our first round pick (number 17 overall) in the 2015 draft (we picked up a replacement first round pick when the White Sox signed Melky Cabrera). Navarro’s defense left many of us cold.

Russell’s 2015 season had us feeling we were right to like the deal. Martin hit .240/.329/.458 with 23 home runs and he played great defense, showing the framing ability we were looking for, being far more athletic than Navarro and shutting down the running game, throwing out 44% of base stealers.

And, we made it to the playoffs, so we happy with everyone.

This year:

Year   Age   G  AB  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+ GDP HBP
2016    33 137 455 62 105 16  0 20  74  2  1 64 148 .231 .335 .398 .733   96  12  10
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Baseball Reference had him at a 1.7 WAR. FanGraphs 1.9 WAR, making him worth $15.1 million to the Jays.

He had a very rough time in the playoffs, hitting just .091/.167/.182 with 1 home run and 1 RBI.

Russell had a .322 wOBA and a 99 wRC+.

Comparing to 2015 Martin’s walk rate was up a bit (12.0% up from 10.5), but his strikeout rate was up a lot (27.7%, up from 20.9).

He had more line drives (17.9, up from 16.4), fewer ground balls (46.5%, from 50.6) and more fly balls (35.6% from 33.0%). Fewer of his flies left the park (18.0%, down from 20.7).

His BABIP was up (.291, up from .262).

In a switch up from normal, Russell hit RHP (.234/.336/.408) better than LHP (.220/.333/.367). We seemed to have a few like that this year.

Like many of our hitters, he was much better at home (.249/.369/.411) than on the road (.215/.305/.386).

He hit better with RISP (.261/.367/.479). I didn’t think we had anyone that hit well with RISP.

He was better in the second half (.234/.359/.464) than the first half (.228/.314/.341).

Russell by month:

  • April: .150/.224/.167, 0 homers, 4 RBI in 20 games
  • May: .230/.384/.345, 3 homers, 10 RBI in 26 games
  • June: .262/.398/.446, 3 homers, 15 RBI in 22 games
  • July: .292/.425/.431, 1 homer, 10 RBI in 18 games
  • August: .286/.356/.626, 9 homers, 22 RBI in 24 games
  • September: .161/.315/.310, 4 homers, 13 RBI in 27 games

If you could get rid of the first month and the last month, it would have been a great season. June, July and August were very good. He had a sore neck to start the season, he didn’t get hitting until that let up, and then, at the end of the season, he seemed to have the general aches and pains that a catcher picks up in a season. If we had a better backup, he could be rested more.

Defensively? Stat Corner has Russell slightly better than average at framing pitches (2.5 runs better than average), but not near the top of league, which is where he was a couple of years ago. I’m not sure if he has gotten worse, or the rest of the league has gotten better. Or, perhaps it has more to do with the pitchers he is catching. I do think that some pitchers are easier to frame than others. I’d think that Aaron Sanchez would be harder to frame than J.A. Happ (for example).

Martin also had a much harder time throwing out runners, compared to last year. He threw out just 15%, down from 44% last year. The 15% is the lowest percentage of his career. I thought that it was caused by his early season neck problems, but the number didn’t improve as the season went on. I don’t know the reason why, and I don’t know that he won’t be back to throwing well next year.

The rest of the life of a catcher? I think he works well with his pitchers. We heard that only Navarro could catch Marco Estrada, but it didn’t seem that Marco was harmed by throwing to Martin.

Martin continued to be very athletic, he was quick to jump on balls that didn’t get far from the plate. His jumping up on the railing, in front of the dugouts, was very cool and I wish he wouldn’t do it anymore. He made 4 errors, for a .996 fielding average, about the league .994. He was awarded 9 passed balls and had 39 wild pitches happen while he was behind the plate.

Baseball Reference has him at a 0.4 dWAR (for whatever that is worth). And FanGraphs has his defensive adjustment at 2.7 (down from 12.2 last year).

FanGraphs has him at -1.7 runs as a baserunner. He had 2 steals and was caught once. I generally say that he runs fairly well for a catcher.

His longest hitting streak was 7 games, longest on base streak was 14 games. The longest he went without a home run was 37 games, right off the start of the season.

He started games in all the lineup spots from 4 to 8. He hit best in the 6th (.316/.439/.646) and the 4th (.299/.393/.558) spots. Worst in the 8th spot (.149/.216/.149).

His favorite team to face? Martin hit .318/.400/.727 with 3 home runs in 6 games against the Astros.

Least favorite? Well he was 0 for 7 in 2 games against the Dodgers and he was 0 for 10 (with a walk) in 3 games against the White Sox. He was 1 for 14 in 3 games against the Giants.

Martin is always going to have a special place in my heart after watching him play in Montreal and seeing the love from Montrealers for him.

I don’t know why his ability to throw out base stealers dropped off so dramatically, so I don’t know why it wouldn’t come back some this year. The pitch framing stuff is more of a problem, to me. The last two seasons he hasn’t had great pitch framing numbers and I don’t see that improving.

I do think we need to find a reasonable backup catcher. Maybe it could be A.J. Jimenez. I feel confident that he could handle the job defensively and I’d expect him to be at least as good a Josh Thole with the bat.

I’d like if Russell could have a couple of days off a week. Plan for him to play 110 games on the season, and come up with a plan that would make that work. Maybe DH him some, but more often let him have a full day’s rest.

Martin will be 34 this year, and we have him for 2 more seasons after that. I’m hoping that, by the end of the his contract we will have someone sharing time with him (maybe Max Pentecost?).

I often think that Bautista and Donaldson are the most intense players I’ve ever seen, but Martin comes in close behind. He really really wants to win. And he has played 57 playoff games in his career, which gives him a fair bit of street cred. I’d love to see him get in 11 more playoff games next year.

He seems like the type of catcher who should be able to play to age 36. How effectively is a good question, but I’d think he could still do the job at that age.

Next year, I’m hoping is a bit of a bounce back year. Better defense, or at least better throwing. Maybe not such a slow start with the bat. And enough rest to keep him healthy to the end.