The Russell Martin Appreciation Thread

The regular season is slowly winding down, and the Yankees are just any combination of 14 wins or Rays losses away from clinching a postseason berth. With 23 games to go, they’re sitting in a pretty great spot, and it’s time to start paying homage to those that helped get them here.

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

A little less than a year ago, the Yankees had a choice to make. Actually, it was probably more than a year ago, but the exact time from is not important. Jorge Posada was no longer a viable everyday catcher as he approached his 40th birthday, so for the first time in more than a decade, the Yankees had a hole behind the plate. They could have handed the job to Frankie Cervelli or Jesus Montero, but they instead opted for some experience, inking Russell Martin to a one-year deal worth $4M after the Dodgers non-tendered him.

Martin started the season on absolute fire, hitting six homers with a .333/.410/.722 batting line through the team’s first 16 games, more homers than he hit during the entire 2010 season. The Yankees’ new backstop kept hitting through mid-May (.270/.367/.511 on May 24th), but then he fell into a slump that saw him hit just .147/.261/.200 heading into the All-Star break. Martin was elected to the AL All-Star Team despite his .220/.323/.384 first half performance, but he did not play in the game and it seems like the three days of rest helped rejuvenate him.

In 49 team games since the break, Martin has hit a very respectable .264/.327/.464 with seven homers in 156 plate appearances. He’s already gone deep more times this season than he did in 2009 and 2010 combined (12), and he’s just two away from his career high of 19, set in 2007. With his season batting line sitting at .239/.326/.418 (.331 wOBA), Martin has been middle of the pack offensively among all backstops with at least 300 plate appearances. He’s made up for the lack of average by drawing walks (10.5% of plate appearances) and hitting for power (.178 ISO) while also chipping in on the basepaths (8-for-9 in stolen base attempts).

Furthermore, Martin’s been something of a revelation behind the plate. Granted, our defensive standards for catchers probably weren’t all that high after watching Posada for all those years, but I think Martin has been better than expected at blocking balls in the dirt and especially at framing pitches. Max Marchi ran some numbers at The Hardball Times earlier this year and found that Russ is one of the best at framing pitches, improving the chances of a borderline pitch being called a strike by roughly 20%. Add in a 30.8% success rate of throwing out basestealers (the highest by a Yankees starting catcher in a long, long time), and you’ve got a rock solid, all-around catcher at the bottom of the order.

Last week’s go-ahead double against the Red Sox was almost certainly the biggest moment of the season for Martin, but it was hardly the extent of his contributions. He’s given the Yankees some production with the bat and some comfort behind the plate while fitting right into the clubhouse. I won’t even bother trying to quantify his effect on the pitching staff because I don’t think anyone knows how to accurately do that, but I think it’s safe to say he’s been a positive in that department too. Martin was not expected to be a savior coming into the season and he hasn’t been, but I think he’s exceeded expectations and been a surprisingly key contributor to a team that started the year with so many question marks.

Mariano Rivera and the quiet pursuit of history

Say your prayers... (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

As Yankees fans, we’re privy to seeing a lot of great things on the field and a lot of history being made. Just this year we saw Derek Jeter pick up his 3,000th career hit in a way only one other man has done (a homer), and last year it was Alex Rodriguez‘s 600th career homer. We’ve seen Roger Clemens get his 300th career win and Mike Mussina his 2,800th career strikeout in recent years, but one little piece of history seems to be flying under the radar late this season: Mariano Rivera is closing in on the all-time saves record.

Yesterday’s win gave Rivera his 38th save of the season and 597th of his career. Only the great Trevor Hoffman has closed more ballgames in his time, a total of 601 career saves. Lee Smith is a distant third on the career saves list at 497. With 23 games left to play and the Yankees piling up the wins down the stretch, there’s a pretty strong chance that Mo will become the second member of the 600 save club and even surpass Hoffman as the all-time saves king before the season ends. It’s not a lock, but it’s certainly possible.

Perhaps the lack of buzz surrounding Rivera’s pursuit of the record has to do with saves being a silly stat on a micro level (like wins or RBI). On a macro level though, over the course of an entire career, they do bear some meaning. For one, a saves total of that caliber indicates longevity in an occupation that rarely has any. We see it every year, closers come and go at a moment’s notice, losing their jobs to the next big thing who eventually loses his job to the next big thing, and so on. The heightened awareness of the ninth inning in today’s game puts any closer meltdowns in the national spotlight, so teams are quick to make a change. Longevity and durability in the role with perhaps the greatest turnover in the game is impressive.

On the other hand, perhaps it has to do with the fact that we already know Mariano is the greatest closer of all-time, with or without the saves record. With all due respect to Hoffman, Mo has allowed 73 fewer earned runs and walked 33 fewer batters despite throwing 113.2 more innings (in a tougher division) in his career. That doesn’t even count postseason heroics, which are obviously influenced by the teams they played on. Add in Rivera’s 42 career playoff saves, and he’s at 639 compared to Hoffman’s 605. But again, you can’t hold the fact that Hoffman played on a generally bad to mediocre team against him.

With any luck, Mariano will pick up those last five saves to surpass Hoffman’s all-time record at some point before the end of the season, just so we can watch the celebration and all the recognition that comes along with it. If he doesn’t get it this year, well that’s fine too, because we already know that Mo is the greatest reliever of all-time and don’t need the extra validation. I would like to see him get the record in the coming weeks because Rivera is perpetually humble and always team-first, and I want to see him get honored and celebrated for his accomplishments. Like Jeter and his 3,000th hit, it’s okay for Mo to sit back, soak it all in, and make it all about himself for once.

Montero homers twice as Yanks win fifth straight

Freddy Garcia sure picked a good day to have his worst outing of the year. The bats showed up for both teams on Monday while the pitchers apparently decided to take the day off in observance of our nation’s workforce. Let’s recap the win…

  • Obviously, the big story of the day is Jesus Montero‘s first two career homeruns. Both came off a pretty good reliever in Jim Johnson, who came into the game having allowed just three homers all year (0.35 HR/9), one off a righty. The first one was a fifth inning solo shot on a fastball up that gave the Yankees a 9-8 lead, the second a seventh inning two-run job on a fastball down that extended the lead to 11-8. Both were opposite field out to right (not cheap either), making Montero the first 21-year-old to hit two homers in a game since Manny Ramirez. It was quite fun to watch, I must say.
  • Garcia got bounced after just 2.2 IP, after allowed nine hits and seven runs. Both Nick Markakis and Mark Reynolds tagged him for homers. Not a particularly great day for the starter, who gave way to Scott Proctor. Proctor allowed a game-tying solo homer in Robert Andino in the fifth, his only real blemish in two innings. Then came Aaron Laffey (0.2 IP), Luis Ayala (1.2 IP), Boone Logan (0.2), and Cory Wade (0.1 IP), all generally effective. Joe Girardi said after the game that both David Robertson and Rafael Soriano were unavailable due to their recent workloads, so it was a good day to have some September call-ups lying around.
  • Lost in Montero’s day was Robinson Cano‘s third grand slam of the season, perhaps the most predictable grand slam of all time. I’m not quite sure what Matt Wieters and Chris Jakubauskas were thinking throwing him seven straight 91 mph fastballs, but hey, I’m not complaining. That bomb turned a 5-4 deficit into an 8-4 lead. Mark Teixeira chipped in a solo homer, Curtis Granderson a two-run double, and Andruw Jones a run-scoring single. Every starter had a hit except for Brett Gardner. No nonsense day for the offense, that’s for sure.
  • Things got a little sticky for Mariano Rivera in the ninth, when he gave up two hits and hit a batter (one run), but he stranded the tying and go-ahead runs at third and second, respectively, by striking out J.J. Hardy on a cutter away. Mo’s 38th save of the season is number 597 of his career, so he’s still got a decent shot to tie (or top) Trevor Hoffman’s record of 601 career saves before the season ends.
  • Brett Lawrie and the Blue Jays walked off against the Red Sox, so the lead in the AL East increased to 2.5 games and three in the loss column. The Rays beat the Rangers thanks to yet another Jamie Shields complete game, so the lead on the wildcard spot remained at 9.5. The magic number to clinch a postseason berth dropped to just 14. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights for those that missed Montero’s homers. FanGraphs has some other stuff, and ESPN offers the updated standings.

The Yankees have won five straight (undefeated in The Montero Era!) and will look to extend it to six against the Orioles on Tuesday evening. Phil Hughes will give it a go against Tommy Hunter, and RAB Tickets can help get you in the door if you want to attend.

Nothing but wins on the last day of the season

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 win over Buffalo) they finished the year at 73-69 and in third place in the International League North division
Kevin Russo, LF: 1 for 4, 1 R
Ramiro Pena, SS: 2 for 4, 1 R – gotta figure he’ll be in the Bronx tomorrow
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 3, 1 R – good to see him get his feet wet in AAA at the end of the season
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K – finishes the year with a franchise record 32 homers, also more homers than walks (30) … 83 big leaguers have done the more HR than BB thing over the last 50 years
Jordan Parraz, RF: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 4, 1 K – he’s on his way to New York
P.J. Pilittere, DH: 0 for 3, 1 K – might be his last game ever as he begins the inevitable transition to coaching
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 3, 1 E (throwing)
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 8 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 WP, 11-4 GB/FB – 66 of 109 pitches were strikes (60.6%) … probably his best start of the year, on the last day of the season of the course
Logan Kensing, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 14 of 24 pitches were strikes (58.3%)

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Open Thread: Labor Day

Mitre with the photobomb. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

On the day in which we celebrate America’s workforce, the pitchers sure labored in this afternoon’s game. Twenty-one runs and 29 hits between the two teams combined, including Jesus Montero‘s first two career homers and Robinson Cano‘s third grand slam of the season. Scott Proctor even made his glorious return to pinstripes. Fun game to watch on the unofficial end of summer.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night. The Mets are playing the Marlins, and MLB Network will carry a game as well (teams depend on where you live). Feel free to talk about whatever your heart desires here.

Golson, Noesi, Pena and Kontos heading to New York

The Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees finished up their season with a win today, and Donnie Collins reports that the quartet of Greg Golson, Hector Noesi, Ramiro Pena and George Kontos are heading to New York to join the big league team. We’ve seen Golson, Pena and Noesi before, but Kontos will be the new face. The righty reliever struck out 91 and unintentionally walked just 25 in 89.1 IP this year, his first full season in the bullpen following Tommy John surgery. Kontos would have been Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, and the Yankees will have to make room for him on the 40-man roster.

Betances may soon join Yankees

Via Jack Curry, there’s a chance that Dellin Betances may soon join the Yankees as a September call-up. Brian Cashman told Curry that he wanted to discuss it with Joe Girardi before making the move. Just last week we heard that Betances and Manny Banuelos would not be called up, mostly due to fastball command.

Because he’s already on the 40-man roster, adding Betances to the roster would be a simple call-up without any other maneuvering required. He just pitched last night (5 IP and 101 pitches), so he wouldn’t be a available for a few days anyway. The Yankees called up Andrew Brackman under similar circumstances last year, but he did not pitch. If anything, we’d probably see Betances for an inning or two of mop-up work, nothing too crazy. It would be fun to see him, though.