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The season that was: Russell Martin

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Looking at Martin’s 2017 season.

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Coming off a 2016 season in which Russell Martin was second in the AL in innings, he caught and came into camp a lighter and in better shape than a year before, we were hoping for good things from the Blue Jays starting catcher.

During spring, he took a few days away from spring training to help with Canada’s WBC team. I though this was a good plan, that Martin was likely to catch a lot of innings and letting take it slow during spring would like be a good thing.

Maybe I was wrong, there was a lot of talk that the Jays slow start was due to the fact that many of our veterans didn’t play a lot in spring training. I don’t know, it seems like one of those correlation doesn’t equal causation things. Or maybe, in this case it does?

                                                                         
Year   Age  G  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2017    34 91 307 49 68 12  0 13  35  1  2 50 83 .221 .343 .388 .731   92

Baseball Reference has him at a 1.5 WAR. Fangraphs likes him a little better, 1.8 WAR, making him worth $14.5 million to the Jays.

He had a .324 wOBA and a 100 wRC+.

Compared to 2016, Martin walked more (13.7%, from 12.0%) and struck out less (22.7%, down from 27.7%).

His line drive rate was up (23.7%, from 17.9), ground balls up (48.2%, from 46.5), fly balls down (28.1%, from 35.6). More of his fly balls left the park (20.6%, from 18.0). His ‘hard contact’ rate was down (30.2%, from 33.5).

His BABIP was down (.261, from .291).

Continuing the trend from last year, he hit right-handers (.240/.354/.417) far better than left-handers (.154/.304/.277).

And, like last year, Martin hit far better at home (.293/.382/.526) than on the road (.167/.316/.282).

He didn’t hit well with RISP (.172/.346/.219).

Russell’s first half (.235/.378/.403) was better than his second half (.198/.276/.360).

Martin by month:

  • April: .219/.367/.391, with 3 homers in 19 games.
  • May: .277/.414/.426 with 2 homers in 14 games.
  • June: .172/.342/.328 with 2 homers in 18 games.
  • July: .241/.326/.405 with 4 homers in 22 games.
  • August: .200/.310/.320 with 1 homer in 8 games.
  • September: .206/.250/.441 with 1 homer in 10 games.

Defensively? Stat Corner didn’t like his framing. They had him at 8.4 Runs worse than the average catcher at stealing pitches. They say he lost .82 strikes per game. At one time he at the top of the league in framing. Perhaps he hasn’t gotten much worse, maybe everyone else has become much better. Or maybe it has to do with the pitchers he is catching.

He threw out 20% of base stealers, up from 15% last year.

It seems like he works well with his pitchers. He made 3 errors. Scorers gave him 3 passed balls and there were 32 wild pitches with him behind the plate (I wish baseball would give up on the d. FanGraphs has him at a 5.4 Fielding Adjustment, putting him well down the list of AL catchers.

Martin also played a little bit of third base. 77 innings. I thought he was ok at the position. FanGraphs has him at a 1.5 UZR/150, though it is too small a sample to mean much.

FanGraphs has him at -1.3 runs as a baserunner. I kind of think he’s a reasonable runner for a catcher.

His longest hit streak was 6 games. Longest on base streak was 20 games. The longest he went without a homer was 13 games.

Martin started games all over the lineup:

2nd 34 games.

3rd 4 games.

5th 6 games.

6th 23 games.

7th 20 games.

Favorite team to face? He had 5 hits, with 2 home runs, in 10 at bats vs the Reds (.500/.615/1.815).

Least favorite? He was 0 for 8 against Cleveland.


Russell isn’t as young as he once was, he’ll be 35 in February. We owe him $20 a year for the next 2 seasons. I’ve said it before, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be overpaying for at least one of those seasons.

We really need to find a reasonable backup for him. He played 91 games last year. I think we would be foolish to think he will be able to catch 200 games over the next two years. So we really need better than Luke Maile.

Maybe Danny Jansen could take the job. Or Max Pentecost? Reese McGuire? Someone is going to have to take the job. Let’s just not have the mess we had this year.

They are going to have to plan to limit his playing time. He’s going to need a couple of days off a week at the best of times.

Russell seems like one of those guys who could become a manager, when his playing days are through, but, he’s made enough money that he would have to really want the job to do it.

Last year I thought he would have a bounce back season. I’m not going to try to guess how his 2018 season will go.