What Went Wrong: Russell Martin’s first 100 games

Fan Confidence Poll: November 5th, 2012
Scouting The Free Agent Market: Torii Hunter
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

For more than a decade, Yankees fans were very spoiled by Jorge Posada. The switch-hitting backstop was a premium offensive catcher who more than made up for his shoddy defense with his bat. A borderline Hall of Famer, Posada hit .288/.381/.497 from 2006-2010, his age 34-38 seasons. Catchers are supposed to turn into pumpkins at that age. The Yankees replaced Jorge behind the plate with free agent pickup Russell Martin last year, and he had a solid first year in pinstripes. Year two was not as kind.

Martin, 29, spent the vast majority of the season below the Mendoza line. He went deep just four times in the team’s first 50 games, so the power wasn’t there either. The only thing that kept Russ from being a total drain on the offense was his plate discipline, which allowed him the draw nine walks in the team’s first nine games and 22 walks in the first 50 games. Immediately prior to the All-Star break, Martin battled through an ugly 0-for-30 slump. He snapped out of it with a double in his second to last at-bat before the break.

Russ carried a hideous .178/.300/.348 batting line into the second half, which was awful production even considering the low standards at the position. Martin was solid on defense as always, but the Yankees thrive on getting above-average production from up-the-middle positions and he certainly wasn’t providing it. After all the years of enjoying Posada’s offense, fans were annoyed and hoping the club would bring in some catching help at the trade deadline. Instead, none came.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Yankees stuck with Martin in part because they love his defense, but also because the rest of the lineup was strong enough to carry his noodle bat at the bottom of the lineup. His second half started decently, with two homers in his first six games and three homers in his first 11 games, but on July 28th, the date of New York’s 100th game of the season, Martin was hitting just .182/.300/.364 in 283 plate appearances. Add in the fact that he hit just .223/.311/.362 in his final 410 plate appearances of last season, all of the good will he built up in April 2011 was gone. It looked like a mirage.

Now, no matter how much you may dislike a player, I think we can all agree it’s unlikely that someone with Martin’s track record had suddenly transformed into a true talent sub-Mendoza Line hitter. It’s certainly possible, but it seems unlikely. He was still drawing walks (12.4%) and he wasn’t striking out a ton (19.1%) during those first 100 games, so it wasn’t like he was completely overmatched at the plate. Martin did, however, put up a measly .186 BABIP during that stretch, which is so extreme that bad luck absolutely played a part. He isn’t fleet of foot and he does hit a lot of weak ground balls, which is conducive to a low BABIP, but not that low.

The question for the Yankees became this: when will Martin’s luck turn around? It wasn’t guaranteed to happen in 2012. It’s also worth noting that an extremely low BABIP like won’t necessarily be met with an extremely high BABIP when it does correct either. He could have just produced to his true talent level — he had a .275 BABIP in over 1,400 plate appearances from 2009-2011 — and that might not have been good enough to help the team either. Given the lack of deadline activity, the Yankees had faith in their catcher’s ability to maybe not turn things all the way around, but at least contribute more than he had been down the stretch,

Martin did have a signature moment or two in the first half the season — the walk-off homer against the Mets (video) or the game-winning single against the Angels (video) for example — but for the most part he was a non-factor at the plate. With those 100 ugly games under his belt, his season batting line was beyond saving. The Yankees were watching the Orioles draw closer as the division race got tight at this point of the season, and their starting catcher’s lack of production was a big reason why.

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Fan Confidence Poll: November 5th, 2012
Scouting The Free Agent Market: Torii Hunter
  • Eddard

    Yeah, and this is why I wouldn’t give him one penny more than he got last year and it’ll have to be a one year deal if he wants to stay. We can get a .200 average out of just about any catcher. Jorgie must be rolling over in his grave. They forced him out for this?

    • vin

      “We can get a .200 average out of just about any catcher.”

      You probably can, but you’re not going to get his level of discipline, power, and plate discipline. Not to mention his reputation of being a good receiver/game caller and teammate(which the front office clearly values). Chris Stewart can probably hit .220, but he’ll have zero power, won’t draw a walk, and won’t throw anyone out on the bases.

      Martin brings value in ways that aren’t defined by batting average.

    • Dropped Third

      Jorge’s dead?

      • Get Phelps Up

        #Eddardworld

  • Nigel Incubator-Jones

    With my huge ESP powers I predict another entry today entitled:

    What went right: Chris Stewart!

    #tooeasy

    • vin

      What Went Right: Dewayne Wise, Bunter
      What Went Wrong: Dewayne Wise, Hitter
      What Went Right: Dewayne Wise, Pitcher

    • forensic

      I hope this I sarcasm, so sorry if it is. Almost nothing went right with Stewart.

      The later one with obviously be Russell martins last 62 games…

  • Mr. December

    At the end of the day does this really matter? I mean they won 95 games regardless of Martin’s lack of hitting and made the playoff’s. In general I have nothing against your series of “what went right, what went wrong” posts but I’m not sure how Martin’s lack off hitting during the first 100 games effected the outcome of the ALCS.

    Even more to the point, this is the enigma that the Yankee’s have become. They overcame injury, they overcame bad luck, they overcame Martin hitting well below the Mendoza line for a 100 games. What they didn’t overcome was the Tiger’s who then went on to look as bad as the Yanks in the WS.

    • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

      and that might not have been good enough to help the team either.

    • Nigel Incubator-Jones

      “At the end of the day does this really matter?”

      No.

      Do a lot of us enjoy Mike’s writing and looking back on the season?

      Yes.

      • Mr. December

        I enjoy Mike’s writing as well. Its the choice of subjects I was commenting on not the quality of the writing.

    • forensic

      I’m not sure what you want. Would you actually prefer 700 posts over the next 2 months detailing every bad AB and whiff in the ALCS?

      Something needs to fill the space. Better for there to be some semblance of variety and/or positive recollection (not this post but the obvious followup later today) rather than the same negative all the time.

  • Rainbow Connection (now Big Member)

    Can we expect this afternoon’s content to be “What Went Right: Russell Martin’s last 62 games” ?

    Let’s talk hot stove Axisa!!!

    • Nigel Incubator-Jones

      Are you questioning my powers of ESP! Plus you’re wrong anyway, it’s the last 71 games, not 62. Although really it was just that 163rd game that had a feel good gooey center for Martin.

  • Rich in NJ

    Unless he would take a one year deal, move on.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    It was hard to watch him struggle. He’s a better player than that. I’m glad he was able to provide something at the end, but it was rough going.

    I’m not opposed to his being back for at least a season in order for the team to have a better idea as to what they have in Gary Sanchez.

    A whole lot of fans were spoiled by 15 years of Jorge Posada’s production. Some folks need to be locked in a room with nothing but late-80’s Joel Skinner videos for a while.

    • jjyank

      I do want to see Martin back. There really isn’t another good option, and someone’s gotta squat behind the plate while the burritos are cooking.

    • Rich in NJ

      Except the manager said that he prioritizes defense over offense at catching, and the GM’s apparent valuing of Stewart backs that up. So rather than being spoiled by Posada, it may be that the management “team” prefers another type of catcher.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        The current catcher’s numbers in 2011, while not exactly Piazza in his prime, were far better than what you’d get from a defense-first guy like Stewart.

        The Stewart line is ridiculous. If your BUC isn’t going to be a defense-first guy, what is he going to be?

        • Rich in NJ

          Ridiculous? That’s funny. A LH hitting offensive catcher would be a very good compliment to Martin. Actually, Montero would have been as well.

          • CANOlli

            and if Montero were on the team this year you would have said: “we should have traded him for a SP before the rest of league found out he was a DH when we still had the chance”

            • Rich in NJ

              As if. I hated that trade and thought the Yankees should have added a bat rather than subtract one.

              • jjyank

                But if he was a DH, they don’t really have a place to play him with guys like A-Rod and Jeter. It’s the way the team is constructed right now, it is what it is.

                The trade looks bad right now but it absolutely made sense at the time. If the Yankees thought he could catch, he probably wouldn’t have been traded.

                • CANOlli

                  I still believe that anytime you trade a DH for a potential top of the rotation guy it’s a fantastic trade.

                • Rich in NJ

                  Montero could easily catch 40 games. If the Yankees were so convinced that he couldn’t catch, they should have traded him for a bat.

                  The trade was awful on the day it was made.

                  • jjyank

                    Well then I fundamentally disagree with you on the premise of the trade. Montero is pretty much a DH. They tried to get a potential top flight starter under team control for 5 more years. It didn’t work out so far, but I 100% agree with the logic.

                    • Rich in NJ

                      Pitchers under 26 are the riskiest asset in baseball. That’s why those years are called the injury matrix. This one had prior arm problems and only had a major uptick in velo in recent years. That made him a particularly risky trade target.

                      If player is put at the catching position, he is a catcher, not a DH.

                    • Preston

                      A top flight starter under 26 may be risky, but that is also what makes them more rare/valuable.

                    • jjyank

                      Mike Napoli disagrees with that last statement.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Montero would be the BUC on your team. Really.

            An effective Montero would be playing every day somewhere, perhaps spelling at C, but also DHing. If Montero could handle catching everyday, he’d be your starting catcher.

            Jesus Montero is also a Seattle Mariner, in case you needed that pointed out to you for the three millionth time. Yeah, I’m not thrilled with it either. It’s been a year now.

            A platoon partner and a true back-up catcher are also two different things.

            • Rich in NJ

              Really. Montero could easily get signficant AB at C, DH, and 1B, and will only be in his age 26 season in Tex’s last year, so he could have been groomed to succeed him.

              As I mentioned, if one was really convinced that he had to be moved, it should have been for another bat, given their aging lineup and lack of ML ready impact bats.

              I don’t bring him up unless the Yankee catching position is raised on a thread. It’s fair to do so.

              • Preston

                Russel Martin was not only a more valuable player than Montero was this season, he was a better offensive player. He is superior in every way as a catcher, he is better at blocking pitches, better at holding and throwing out runners, better at framing pitches, and better at managing a pitching staff. He is a superior base-runner. He took more walks, and hit for more power this season. The only thing Montero did better than Martin in 2012 was BA. And it’s not like Montero hit .300, he hit .260. According to both wRC+ and wOBA Martin was the better all around offensive player. We all keep pretending like Montero’s bad offensive season didn’t happen. But it did, he was worth .4 WAR this season. Montero isn’t a C, and right now he isn’t hitting well enough to DH for a contender. I believe in the kid going forward. But he has no relevance to our discussion of C, where we are actually set up pretty nicely. We are going to bring back Martin, who is a very capable starting C, and we have Romine at AAA, Murphy at AA, and Sanchez at A+, add in Stewart and Cervelli as adequate back-up C’s and we’re sitting pretty good in that department.

  • CANOlli

    My ceiling w/ Martin is somewhere around 2/18-20. Then again, he’s somehow found himself in the position of being the top FA catcher on the market. I wouldn’t be surprised if he found a 4 year deal somewhere, although I think 3 is more likely, and that’s probably what it will take to sign him.

    Couple of potential trade targets to watch:
    -John Jaso
    -Carlos Santana
    -JP Arencibia
    -Nick Hundley

    • vin

      Honest question… what makes Santana and Jaso trade targets? I don’t see either guy getting moved. I’d rather have overpaid Martin for one year (with a QO) than try to swing a deal with Hundley. And the Jays and Yanks don’t hook up often on trades. So Arencibia isn’t happening.

      • Preston

        The Indians may be looking to tear it all down and start over, but even if they did have a fire sale this off-season they would probably still keep Santana. Jaso is just waiting for his job to be taken over by Mike Zunino, who may take the job as early as ST. But I doubt the M’s would look to move him until that actually happens. Additionally JP Arencibia isn’t an upgrade over Martin. He’s just cheaper, except that you’d also have to trade for him, which might make him more costly in absolute terms (not to mention the rarity of inter-division trades).

        • Robinson Tilapia

          I agree that, in the event Cleveland wants to sell additional parts, Santana may be the guy they hold on to UNLESS an offer which sent better parts came along. I don’t think that’s a situation the Yankees would get themselves into. In that case, you stick with a solid placeholder (like Russell Martin) and see if Sanchez takes the steps he needs to take.

  • Robert

    Let Martin go If he was healthy this year than this is what he is and next years line up cannot afford to carry him….
    Stewart Cervelli and Romine can keep the seat warm for Sanchez in 2014

  • Wayne

    My gut tells me Martin won’t be back!

  • CANOlli

    Should have made him a qualifying offer..

    • MannyGeee

      no way… 13.2 is almost 2 seasons worth of pay for Martin.

      • CANOlli

        idk, i could stomach that for one year. the 2013 budget shouldn’t be a problem.

  • Wayne

    Sabathia and cervelli don’t click. We are going to have to make a trade for a catcher. What could we give up for a John buck?

  • MannyGeee

    Three words for you:

    Francisco

    Cervelli

    Fistpump!!!!

    We have too many of theese big relatively average-sized left handed right-handed hairy manscaped monsters French Canadians trying to hit home runs and not pumping their fists.

    • MannyGeee

      /Eddard-World’d

      • jjyank

        Ha well done.

  • Kosmo

    David Ross is being talked up a bit. He could tandem with Cervelli or Romine. It would be great if NY could cats paw Jaso away from Seattle. A righty/lefty platoon would be ideal.

    I like Martin on a 1 year deal for 7 million. If he can do better elsewhere then so be it.

  • Kingslayer

    Let’s not insult the intellegence of Yankee fans. At the end of the day, his overall performance was a bust!! Unfortunately, Yanks have no choice but to keep the bum.

  • Jersey Joe

    WHAT WENT RIGHT: YANKEES’ FIRST 100 GAMES

    It doesn’t matter if Martin wasn’t hitting when the Yankees were 9 games up in AL East.