Russell Martin: The All-Star Who Got Away?


AP Photo/Elaine Thompson - Courtesy of FOXSports.com

The other day I went to the MLB website to see who was on the final rosters for the All-Star teams. I love to find the guys whose names look just a little out of place in an All-Star roster. Those guys always fascinate me. Are they a fluke? Are we seeing a potential perennial All-Star? Who did they beat out to win that spot?

So I went there intending to play this little game until I was stopped almost right away by a name from the past… Russell Martin.

Hearing the name Russell Martin makes me a little sad. When Martin first came up with the Dodgers, he won me over immediately. A young guy at a premium position who had a great work ethic, awesome attitude, burgeoning leadership abilities and was great with the pitching staffs and the media… what wasn’t to like?

Soon, he had won over all ofLos Angeles. This likeable young catcher was a Rookie of the Year, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and two-time All-Star by the age of 25. He was going to be the next great Dodgers catcher, carrying on the tradition of Campanella, Roseboro, Yeager, Scioscia, and Piazza.

But he never became that guy. After two great years, he began looking less like Scioscia and more like Paul Lo Duca – another Dodgers fan favorite whose production started hot but cooled significantly, leading to his unceremonious exit. By the end, Martin’s play had regressed enough that after playing out the final year of his contract, the Dodgers chose to non-tender this 27-year-old two-time All-Star catcher, meaning, essentially, they were unwilling to guarantee him a raise. They did offer him a 1-year, $4.2 million contract, seemingly to give him one last chance, but he spurned their offer and chose to accept an offer from the Yankees’ for 1 year, $4 million + $1.2 million in incentives.

Here we are, mere months later, and Martin has been named to the American League All-Star team. In a season of horrors for the Dodgers, this was like adding insult to injury. Did they give up on this young catcher too soon? Did their once-beloved prospect truly turn his career back around? Would the Dodgers be a different team – a team with real hope – if he were in the lineup? The answers to these questions, I think, are debateable.

To answer these questions, I wanted to start by comparing Martin’s 2011 numbers against this own career stats to determine whether he had indeed returned to his 2006-2008 form. Then, I wanted to see how Martin’s current season stacks up against the current Dodgers catchers and compare them on a month by month basis to see just how much they miss him. Here’s what I found.

I’ll draw you attention first to the HR and RBI totals. After two years with single digit homers, he’s already put up 10 in a half season. If you extrapolate his 2011 HR and RBI totals over the course of the season, you’d get around 20 HR and 70 RBI. That puts him in line with his All-Star year of 2008 and his Rookie of the Year numbers in 2006. That must mean he’s bounced back, right? Well, no.

Let’s look keep looking at his numbers a bit. His OBP (on base percentage) is .323, the lowest of his career. His SLG (slugging percentage) has jumped back up to .384, but this is still below his 2006-2008 numbers. A more accurate picture of his performance is his OPS+ (park adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage). Right now, it sits at 91. This is much closer to his OPS+ of his “down” years of 2009-2010. When we look at his one year with NY and compare them with his 5 years as a Dodger (the circled numbers in gray), he is well below his numbers as a Dodger.

What about his defensive numbers? Let’s take a look.

What we see here is that his best defensive years were in 2007 and 2010. He had his greatest positive defensive effect according to both Total Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved in those two years. He also, not coincidentally, threw out his highest percentage of baserunners and had his most pickoffs in those two years as well. When we look at how his defense this year compares to previous years, it’s not favorable. He’s throwing out the lowest number of baserunners in his career, has the lowest combined Rtot+Rdrs of his career (-4) and does not have a single pickoff. When we look at the table below, which combines his defensive and offensive contributions into one number – Wins Above Replacement (WAR), we see that Martin is projected to have a WAR of 1.6. This is not close to his numbers as an All-Star, and is worse than his 2010 WAR of 1.8.

It would seem that Martin’s numbers this year are a complete mirage. His “All-Star” year of 2011 is WORSE, so far, than his “down” year as a Dodger last year. How, then, is it possible that he’s an All-Star? Well, I think there a few reasons.

1)      He plays for the Yankees. These guys just get more attention. There’s no two ways about it.

2)      His HR and RBI totals look better. Despite the fact that the HR numbers are clearly inflated by playing in a hitter’s park and the RBI totals are inflated by hitting in a stacked Yankees lineup, people still drool over these two numbers for some reason.

3)      His torrid first month stuck in people’s minds. During April/May, Martin really DID look like an All-Star.

When we compare Martin to the 3 Dodgers catchers this year – Dioner Navarro, Rod Barajas and AJ Ellis – he has definitely still produced more than they have. Here’s a look at their contributions by month.

All four catchers have been below average offensively (compared to ALL position players), but Martin has been the least detrimental. However, that result is almost entirely dependent on his first month when he was on fire. What happens when we remove that month?

Yikes! Since the beginning of May, Russell Martin has been worse than Barajas and Ellis, and in the short month of July, he’s been worse than all 3 (Barajas hasn’t played and therefore has not been able to hurt the Dodgers).

All this is to say that Dodgers fans shouldn’t feel like Dodger management let one get away. (But criticize away for everything else, by all means!) Martin’s “All-Star” production isn’t more like his All-Star years of 2007-2008. It’s much closer to the Martin we all saw in 2009-2010, and while that may be worth a win or two more over the course of the season vs. what the Dodger have now, he certainly would not have been a difference maker.

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Comments
3 Responses to “Russell Martin: The All-Star Who Got Away?”
  1. L says:

    Great analysis! A mirage of an All Star perhaps…

    • Thanks Lisa 🙂

      I’m rooting for Russ – he was one of my favorite players – but I just don’t think he’s the same guy he once was. I hope he proves me wrong!

  2. degree says:

    very nice submit, i actually love this website, keep on it

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