The Russell Martin Resurgence

2012 Minor League Awards
Pena in the running to manage in 2013 World Baseball Classic
(Alex Trautwig/Getty)

In more ways than one, the second half of this season has been the polar opposite of the first half. The Yankees were winning games left and right before the All-Star break, but recently they’ve been struggling to string wins together. The pitching staff carried the club for lengths of time back in May and June, but August and September haven’t featured the same kind of effectiveness. A deep and productive lineup carried a weak-hitting Russell Martin early on, but lately it’s been Martin who’s done the carrying.

Martin, 29, had the big blow in yesterday’s 6-4 win over Tampa, a three-run opposite field blast off the hard-throwing Matt Moore. The at-bat was as impressive as the outcome, as Russ battled back from an 0-2 count to work it full before going deep. It was his third homer in his last nine starts and part of a second half surge that has seen him hit .246/.324/.437 with nine homers in 51 games (46 starts). Joe Girardi has been batting his starting catcher higher in the batting order — including fifth against left-handers — and it is not undeserved.

The first half of the season was not kind to Martin, who hit just .179/.300/.348 with eight homers in the club’s first 85 games. He struck out in 20.2% and walked in 12.3% of his plate appearances prior to the All-Star break, rock solid plate discipline numbers. His batting average on balls in play was abysmal though, an unsustainably low .193. Obviously luck plays a major part in any BABIP south of the Mendoza line, but not all of it was undeserved. Here is his day-by-day batted ball profile…

Green = grounders | Blue = fly balls | Red = line drives

Martin was beating the ball into the ground in the first half of the season, and if you watched the games, you know that most of those grounders were weakly hit to the left side of the infield. Smart teams played a bit of a shift on him, exacerbating the BABIP problem.

The second half has been a different story however, as the ground ball issue evened out and his batted ball profile normalized with last year, when he hit .237/.324/.408 overall. That looks quite a bit like his .246/.324/.437 line from the second half of this year, just with a little less power. His strikeout rate (17.0%) also began to approach his career average (14.7%) as well. Martin’s average on balls in play has jumped up to .254 in the second half, which is low for most hitters but probably right in line with his true talent level at this point. He is still prone to the weak ground ball and does hit a lot of pop-ups (especially on the infield), a combination that will forever keep his average in the dumps. There’s no away around that, his days of hitting .280+ like he did in 2006-2008 are undoubtedly in the rear-view mirror.

One thing we’ve learned during Martin’s time in New York is that he’s crazy streaky. He can carry an offense when he gets hot and he’ll turn into an out machine at the bottom of the order when things aren’t going his way. The lows are more frequent than the highs, but the Yankees needed him to perform better in the second half and he’s done that so far. It’s unfortunate that they’ve fallen back to the AL East pack and they’re relying on his production so much, but that isn’t really Martin’s fault. He’s hitting for some more power and a few more hits are starting to fall in, and lately they’ve come at the exact right time.

2012 Minor League Awards
Pena in the running to manage in 2013 World Baseball Classic
  • Robinson Tilapia

    I’m just fine with Russell getting streaky at the right time. Do I hear .220? Maybe I do.

  • Better off Eddard

    He’s been better with the bat but needs to do a better job of calling games. Stop calling for fastballs after Mark Reynolds already hit 3 of them out of the park. Sometimes he just doesn’t use common sense. And he shouldn’t be hitting 5th but that’s the fault of injuries, Andruw and a reluctance to use Eduardo Nunez.

    • Go Back To Syrio Forel

      Trade Russell.

      • YanksFanInBeantown

        And use Nunez at catcher!

      • Henry

        Martin is a free agent after this season. His offensive production has been declining for years. He should NOT be re-signed. He is not worth the money that he will want. The Yankees need to move on. They are lucky that they did not re-sign him before this season.

    • thenamestsam

      This is one of those situations where we have fans have no idea who deserves the blame for something. Questionable pitch selection might be on the catcher, but it might also be on the pitcher who shook off a different pitch, or on the pitching coach who laid out how to attack the hitter, or on the manager who suggested a pitch sequence in between innings, or on the advance scout who wrote the report on that player. It’s not like the catcher is just out their picking pitches out of a hat in a big September game.

      • dp

        Or that Martin just sucks at game calling! Sabathia has gotten a lot worse once Martin started to catch him. Nova comes off the DL at pitches well to Stewart not Martin. The sooner Martin Suck is gone the better.

      • Ted Nelson

        This plus conventional wisdom dictates that you throw a few fastballs… vary speeds, location, break. Unless you have a knuckleballer or some other very unique P out there, it’s pretty ridiculous to say that a P should just not throw any fastballs period.

  • Joe

    I’m fine with his production right now. In reality we have no other options. We traded that option to Seattle.

    Martin is going to get re-signed because there’s no other options. He knows the pitchers already. Why bother sign a guy who will come in here clueless, who will produce just as much as Martin? Just doesn’t make sense.

    New York needs him to continue this as the team heads down the final few weeks of the year.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I mean… never know where another option will come from. There aren’t obvious great options available via free agency unless you want to enjoy Mike Napoli turning into a pumpkin.

      It wouldn’t surprise me to see Russell for one or two years while the team prays and hopes for Sanchez to get to the majors. Will I like it? I have no clue.

      I try not to cry sour grapes on Montero very often. In his absence, though, Romine’s recurring injury and inability to push Martin in that spot is just huge.

      • Joe

        “It wouldn’t surprise me to see Russell for one or two years while the team prays and hopes for Sanchez to get to the majors. Will I like it? I have no clue.”

        Me either. With the self-imposed cap I doubt we sign a big name. Thing is we don’t need a big name. We need the prospects to pan out.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          But prospects, by definition, are likely not to pan out. It sucks, because we get more attached to them than ever in the age of sites like this, but it happens. Doesn’t mean you don’t try your damndest to develop them, though.

          It would probably take a bullish year from Sanchez for him to be ready for early 2014.

          Depth disappears for various reasons. Keep that in mind the next time you hear the names Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez.

          • Joe

            I know. It’s just in our minds we feel we got a prospect who can take the spot of a starter. In reality that’s probably not going to happen.

            It does suck.

        • Monty

          Forget about Jesus Montero… Gary Sanchez is our Messiah.

    • LarryM., Fl.

      There is no problem calling for a fastball to Reynolds after hit homers. Its about location and pitchers need to hit their marks. Martin could have called a curve and location was off and hit it for a homer.

      Arod is a hitter who stills hit fastballs and still strikes out on fastballs. Pitchers only have so many types of pitches in their arsenal. They have to throw them even if they are clocked at 88/89.

      Mike your assessment of Martin was spot on. I wonder if it will continue through the end of the season and into the playoffs, hopefully.

    • Ted Nelson

      Going to depend on what other offers he gets. If his price is high, there might be better values out there.

  • Rey22

    If he can have something similar to the April he had last year it will come at a huge time. The Yankees need productive hitters right now when they’re fighting for a playoff spot. I’m more than willing to ignore the rest of the year if he comes up big in September/October, and I have a feeling most Yankee fans will too.

  • Mister D

    I really wish the draft pick comp number weren’t > $12MM per. RNJCMJr would be a nice guy to throw a win-win arbitration offer at.

    • Ted Nelson

      Overpaying him for one year might not be the worst thing for the Yankees, between having a few close prospects and the looming 2014 budget.

  • The Angry Troll

    I predicted this several weeks back in one of the game threads. The Canadian will deliver!

    • Joe

      Ohhh Canada!

      • jjyank

        I blame them.

  • paul a

    Hes making his free agent push, but he already blew that when he turned down the Yanks multi year offer last year and opted for arbtration. Problem is there aren’t any much better free agent options available. No way I’d spend of bucks and years on Napoli

  • RetroRob

    Just as long as Russ keeps hitting through October, the first half will be forgiven.

  • Reggie C.

    With Napoli likely to still to seek a 4 year commitment, opting to stay with Martin on a 1 year, $8 million deal remains the saner course. The team’s impending pricy decisions to make on both corner OF spots and 2B probably keeps the Yanks in the Martin “sweepstakes” and likely the favorites. I think Martin really does like it here in NYC and would take a stab at a 1 year deal with a high base salary.

  • dp

    Martin stinks…trade for Doumit.

    • Ted Nelson

      At least you’re not a bandwagon jumper, but Doumit’s fWAR is literally below Martin’s this season. Not sure he’s the solution you’re looking for. He’s barely a C, and not that great a hitter either.

  • FreeAgentSignee

    I agree Mike.