Locking Up Russell Martin

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Over the last few months, the sabermetric community has made a number of advances in the area of catcher defense. Studies by Max Marchi and Mike Fast on pitch framing and a study from Bojan Koprivica on pitch blocking have begun the process of quantifying the more difficult to measure elements of a backstop’s defense. While these studies are still in their infancy and are likely to be tweaked and altered in the coming months and years, they do provide us with one reasonable concrete lesson: Good defense from a catcher is likely more important than we had previously thought when trying to measure catcher value.

In the past, catchers tended to be put into one of two groups: good defender or weak defender. Sure, you had one or two Gold Glovers at the top and a handful of guys who were execrable enough to be known as terrible at the bottom, but the vast majority of catchers were placed into those two groups. Without any way to truly quantify defense, these broad categories had to suffice, and this resulted in most people evaluating catchers based on their offense. Catcher defense was thrown in at the end of conversations as an aside, possibly with caught stealing numbers and some passed ball data, but little tangible data that would shift an evaluation in either direction. Only those known as excellent catchers would get any sort of boost from their perceived defensive value.

Now, with these new studies, we can begin to quantify catcher defense, and use that to reevaluate the worth of a catcher who performs well behind the dish. As I noted above, one lesson that can be taken from these studies is that defense behind the dish is quite important. Let’s use Russell Martin as an illustration.

While I am far from the biggest proponent of WAR, these new metrics are expressed in terms of runs saved, making WAR a convenient way to weigh the impact of Martin’s defense. Before considering defense, Russell Martin was worth 3.1 wins last season (FanGraphs). However, once you add 1.5 runs saved by controlling the running game, 0.1 runs saved blocking pitches, and 15 runs saved by being among the best at framing pitches (Fast’s research consistently places Martin near the top of the league in this area), you suddenly have an incredibly valuable 4.6 win player. While the first instinct of many is to flinch at the idea that the “unmeasurable” aspects of catcher defense can add that much value, it is important to note that the very best defenders gained at most two wins due to their gloves. That is not much different than the value added defensively by the best at other positions, and catchers are involved on almost every pitch.

The suggestion here is not that Russell Martin is a 4-5 win player, but that he is a very good defender and that has definite value exceeding what some of the value metrics would suggest. Accepting that hypothesis leads me to my point: If the Yankees do not believe that Jesus Montero is their catcher of the future, it would make sense for them to offer Russell Martin a 2-3 year contract extension, either now or at the end of the 2012 season.

While he certainly showed improvement relative to 2009-2010, Martin had a decent but unspectacular season offensively, such that his value is probably not incredibly high at this point. Although he has a reputation as a solid defender, he is not known as one of the best in the sport, which makes it unlikely that he would get a major salary bump on the open market due to his glove. Essentially, if he was a free agent at this moment, he could market himself as a adequate offensive catcher with a solid glove, which is relatively unsexy and would not bring him a major financial windfall.

Being that the market almost certainly will not value his defense quite as much as it should, the Yankees could have the opportunity to lock Russell up at a reasonable rate relative to his value. They could wait until after the 2012 season to sign him, although they might want to avoid the possibility that his price goes up either because 1) he bounces back to 2006-2008 levels offensively, or 2) teams begin to see him as a great defensive catcher. While the latter seems like a long shot, another season of the Yankees getting good performances out of retread pitchers could shine a light on the work that Martin does behind the plate.

Of course, there are downsides to signing Martin to an extension a year early, such as a major injury or a significant decline with the bat that would turn the contract into an albatross. Couple those risks with the fact that the team rarely hands out extensions, and I would bet on the Yankees waiting until after this season to address Martin’s contract. That said, once he does sign on for a few more years, he should provide enough defensive value to help any contract avoid disaster status. Russell’s glove is undervalued, and unless the Yankees believe they already have their catcher of the future knocking on the door, he would serve as an good option to fill the position for the next few seasons.

(Thanks to @jaydestro for inspiring this post)

Report: Braves have interest in Eduardo Nunez

Via John Harper, the Braves let the Yankees know that they have interest in trading for Eduardo Nunez last week. “They need offense, they need a shortstop because they don’t want to bring (Alex) Gonzalez back, and they like Nunez a lot,” said Harper’s source. “They know the jury is out on him defensively, but they think his offense is strong enough that he could move to the outfield if he can’t be their long-term answer at short.”

The two sides apparently did not discuss any kind of framework for a trade, and Harper says no names were mentioned on Atlanta’s side. Feel free to come up with trade scenarios and rosterbate as much as you want, but remember, just say no to Jair Jurrjens!

Open Thread: A Darrell Rasner Follow-Up

(Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

Earlier this week I wrote about former Yankee Darrell Rasner, on the anniversary of the day when his rights were sold to the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. I have two quick follow-up items to post, the first an email from Rasner’s father, Darrell Sr., who was nice enough to clarify what happened to his son this past season…

Mike: Darrell Jr. had a groin pull in early May after a 2-2 start. He returned in mid July as a closer and saved 17 games, 1 hold, 1 win and 1 loss in 22 appearances. He never closed before and considering he had to learn on the fly, not bad. FYI.

Good to hear he’s doing well, minus the groin injury. Secondly, NPB Tracker reports that Rasner and Rakuten have agreed to a new contract for next season, which will pay him $1.5M plus performance bonuses. That’s exactly why guys like D-Ras head to Japan, to land paydays they were unlikely to find here. Good for him, that’s some pretty nice scratch for a year’s work.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. There’s a bunch of college football on, plus all three hockey locals are in action. You can talk about anything your heart desires here, it’s all fair game.

New CBA will include HGH testing, eliminate Elias rankings

Baseball’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement has not been officially announced just yet, but details of some rather substantial changes have started to leak out. Here’s the latest….

New CBA will include blood testing for HGH

Via Michael Schmidt, the new CBA will include blood testing for human growth hormone. The testing will begin when players report to Spring Training in February, and a positive test will result in a 50-game suspension. Minor leaguers have been getting tested for HGH for two seasons now.

This is obviously a significant step for baseball and a major concession by the union. None of the other major North American sports leagues allow blood testing, though the International Olympic Committee does. Players that participate in the World Baseball Classic are subject to IOC rules and tests.

Type-A free agent relievers and Elias rankings will be eliminated

Via Ken Rosenthal, all remaining Type-A free agent relievers will not be subject to draft pick compensation this offseason. Teams will not be required to forfeit draft picks to sign them, though their old team will still gain a pick somehow. I’m guessing it’ll be just the supplemental first rounder. Click here to see all the Type-A and B free agents. Other Type-A free agents (Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, etc.) will still require a team to surrender a draft pick to sign them.

The Elias ranking system will be completely eliminated next offseason. In order to receive draft pick compensation for a top free agent, the player’s team will need to tender them a qualifying offer of at least $12M per season. I’m curious to see how they decide who is and who isn’t a top free agent, that should be interesting. Reportedly, the Yankees will still gain a supplemental first rounder if Type-B free agent Freddy Garcia signs elsewhere this offseason.

Cashman: Market moving at “glacial speed”

It’s been a very slow offseason for the Yankees so far, save for the Mike O’Connor signing and yesterday’s Rule 5 Draft moves. “The free agent [market] is moving at a glacial speed,” said Brian Cashman to Dan Martin. “And the category I’m shopping in, I don’t believe guys are jumping off the board this week. The players I’m interested in won’t be coming off the board anytime soon. But trade stuff is different. That can move fast, if someone finds the right match.”

“I made trade proposals that were rejected and received trade proposals that I rejected,” added the GM. “The free agent guys haven’t made me any offers.” Cashman also confirmed that he has not yet followed up with C.J. Wilson and his agent after they asked to visit the Yankees in New York. I expect things to pick up a bit once the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is announced next week, since teams will know exactly what is going on with Type-A and B free agent compensation. The winter meetings are two weeks after that, and that’s when all hell breaks loose.

Open Thread: Juan Miranda

(Kathy Willens/AP)

With the light at the end of Jason Giambi‘s contract tunnel starting to draw closer, the Yankees made a move to bring in someone they hoped could be their first baseman of the future. During the 2006-2007 offseason, they signed Cuban defector Juan Miranda to a four-year Major League contract worth $4MM, hoping he’d be able to step in for Giambi when his contract expired after the 2008 season.

Miranda, reportedly 23 at the time, mashed at two minor league levels in 2007 and was anchoring the Triple-A Scranton lineup by Opening Day 2008. He hit .287/.384/.449 with a dozen homers that season, then got his first taste of the big leagues (14 plate appearances) that September. Miranda’s shot at becoming the full-time first baseman disappeared when the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira the following offseason, a move that sentenced Miranda to two more years in Triple-A with intermittent call-ups. He hit a respectable .253/.330/.458 with four homers in 94 plate appearances spread across three seasons in pinstripes, with his most memorable moments being this walk-off single against Kyle Farnsworth, this moonshot against the Rays, and this walk-off walk against the Red Sox.

One year ago today, the Yankees traded the out-of-options Miranda to the Diamondbacks for Single-A pitching prospect Scottie Allen. Allen was a total disaster in 2011 (7.52 ERA in 93.1 IP), but Miranda finally got his first chance at extended playing time in the bigs. He started out very well, hitting .270/.387/.539 through Arizona’s first 51 games, but he stopped hitting after that. Miranda finished the season with a .213/.315/.402 batting line in 202 plate appearances, and was taken off the 40-man roster in June. He remains in the D’Backs’ system.

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Here is tonight’s open thread. None of local hockey teams are in action, so there’s not a whole lot going on in the New York sports scene. You can talk about anything you like here though, have at it.

Yankees, Rafael DePaula still waiting on visa

One year ago today, the Yankees agreed to sign Dominican right-hander Rafael DePaula for $500k, pending a work visa. VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed to Ben Badler that DePaula still hasn’t been able to get the visa, so he remains stuck in limbo. He spent this past season working out at the team’s academy in the Dominican, but he is not allowed to participate in games since his contract is not yet official.

DePaula, 21 in March, had been suspended by MLB for a year after lying about his age and identity. His actual age and identity was confirmed by MLB’s verification process last summer, allowing him to sign. Unfortunately, the U.S. government doesn’t like the idea of letting people who lied about their identity into the country, especially after Sept. 11th. DePaula may never get a visa, but the Yankees also don’t have to pay him unless he does. The 6-foot-3 righty was said to be able to run his fastball up to 97 last year.