Russell Martin’s Future With the Dodgers

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Los Angeles Dodgers’ young catcher Russell Martin ranked among the best at his position in baseball. After two disappointing seasons, including an injury-shortened 2010, Martin is a potential non-tender candidate for the team. Whether or not a non-tender would be the right decision depends on Martin’s likely 2011 performance relative to his salary, where the Dodgers see themselves in relation to contention, and what they think of Martin’s health.

Martin impressed both with the bat and behind the plate in 2007 and 2008. He was durable, as well, starting about 140 games each season at catcher. He started 133 games in 2009, but his offense fell off from his .368 wOBA in 2007 and .351 wOBA in 2008 all the way down to .307 2009 and .306 in 2010. His walk and strikeout rates have stayed above average, but the main problems have been BABIP and especially his power outage, the latter of which began already in 2008. Defense for catchers is hard to measure, but most reports on Martin have been positive.

A wOBA in the low-.300s is pretty bad compared to average, of course, but for a catcher, particularly in 2010’s run environment, it is actually pretty decent. Take a look at Martin’s value breakdown from the last two seasons. In 2009, he was 8.9 batting runs below average, and in 2010 (in limited playing time) he was 3.6 below average. However, in each of those seasons his positional adjustment was 10 and 6.8 runs, respectively. In other words, despite the poor offensively seasons measured against league average, he still well enough to be an above average player at catcher. Even in these down seasons, Martin was around 2 WAR, which is especially noteworthy for 2010, in which he played in less than 100 games. Taking into account recent performance, regression to the mean, aging, and all the rest, CHONE’s last update saw Martin as about a true talent three win player per 150 games. Given that even the most durable catcher rarely plays 150 games and also aging, we’d estimate Martin to be a 2-2.5 win player for 2011. Not a star, but definitely worthy of starting.

Martin’s 2010 salary was a bit over five million dollars in his second year of arbitration; his likely arbitration settlement for 2011 would probably be at leat six million, probably closer to seven million. That’s a fair chunk of change, but that’s probably cheaper than a two or two-and-a-half win player would come on the free agent market. It is not a huge bargain, and if the Dodgers were in the process of rebuilding, non-tendering (or trying to trade) Martin would make sense. However, the team’s moves so far this offseason, e.g., the Ted Lilly contract, seem to indicate that they are trying to contend in 2011. That’s not an unreasonable assessment; the Dodgers won’t be the favorites in the 2011 National League West, but the talent spread in the division is close enough that the Dodgers could be in the hunt. Given the dearth of free agent catchers likely to improve on Martin’s performance for the price, non-tendering Martin would be a strange decision.

The wildcard is Martin’s health. Martin’s agent is naturally eager to downplay the effects of the hip injury on his client going forward. I’m not a doctor, so I’m not going to comment one way or the other on how it might effect Martin. We can only assume the Dodgers are doing their due diligence as well as they try to make a decision on their catcher. But if the Dodgers are serious about contending in 2011, barring some sort of trade, concern about Martin’s ability to bounce back from injury is the probably the only good reason to non-tender him.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

23 Responses to “Russell Martin’s Future With the Dodgers”

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  1. D4P says:

    “We can only assume the Dodgers are doing their due diligence as well as they try to make a decision on their catcher.”

    Ned Colletti? Due diligence?

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  2. Alireza says:

    It seems that only Dodger fans don’t understand what we have – a player who is still among the best options at his position. The idea that Martin will get an automatic raise, one this article seems to share, is really unfounded. He may well stagnate, especially if he signs a 2 year deal as is thought might happen. Also, the issues with BABIP and power are interesting to note. Very few have paid attention to just when Martin’s bat tailed off. Right when Don Mattingley took over. Indeed, he was on pace to better his 2007 season in 2008 when Mattingley’s new approach, which worked well for Ethier and Kemp, seemed to make him too tentative (as opposed to just patient) and seemed to increase the uppercut in his swing.

    He should at least be tendered. There are absolutely zero better options on the market.

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    • B N says:

      “There are absolutely zero better options on the market.”

      That’s the key right there. Unless the Dodgers aren’t planning on competing, who are they going to replace him with? As a Red Sox fan, we’d scoop him up in a heartbeat on the off chance he is even a slightly above average starting catcher.

      People wouldn’t even say this if his first two seasons weren’t so good. He’s still an average or above average catcher, getting paid reasonably. What’s the big deal?

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    • Table says:

      I think there could be an argument for Torrealba on the basis that he could be had cheaper and could provide similar production. If Ned needs the extra cash for a bat, I’m ok wtih going for a cheaper replacement. Otherwise they should bring him back.

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  3. Ray says:

    what the big deal-the Dodger will get nothing for him now and he still could get back to being one of the top catchers in the game–nobrainer–keep him

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  4. CesarV says:

    He just needs to rest after Torre rode him to the ground.

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  5. Andrew says:

    Russell Martin reminds me of a younger Craig Biggio. For those who remember Biggio started out in the bigs as a catcher for the Astros. After a couples of season he was moved to the infield to prolong his career. I think the Dodgers should take a page from the Stros and move Martin into the infield and take advantage of his quickness at third base maybe. When the Dodgers drafted Martin, he was an infielder I believe he played SS. I’m not saying that Martin is washed up as a catcher, but he might be better off in the length of his overall career with a move to the infield now verses latter. I certainly believe that Martin is very capable behind the plate and above average for a MLB catcher. I just believe that Martin will breakdown sooner rather than latter in my opinion.

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    • Bob Dole says:

      Martin was originally a third baseman when he started in the minor leagues. Torre actually used to give Martin “off days” by playing him at third base during the 2008 season.

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    • chuckb says:

      The only reason that Martin has value is because he is behind the plate. A guy w/ a .300 wOBA would be one of the worst 3B in baseball, even if he was an average defensive player, and there’s no reason to believe he would be anything but poor at the hot corner. You’d have to think that moving him to 3B would reduce his value a minimum of 7.5 runs positionally, plus he he would go from being at least an average defender to probably 5-10 runs, at least, below average defensively. Moving him from behind the plate to third would cost the Dodgers about 1.5 wins at a minimum, and possibly more.

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    • Griggs says:

      At 3b he is a poor mans Brandon Inge (if you can imagine such a thing). He needs to Catch. chuckb and Klaassen have this figured correctly. Martin is an above average catcher because of his defense.

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  6. NEPP says:

    Sometimes catchers take longer to mature than other position players. Its possible that’s the case with Russell. I wouldn’t non-tender him. Besides, the bar for catcher is quite low and he’s still a legit option for starter at a very thin position.

    He’s entering his Age 28 season so he could be poised for a breakout (or in his case a return to his early promise). He’s still got a very solid arm (39% caught stealing rate in 2010) and his defense isn’t terrible overall.

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  7. Nick says:

    Off teh roids.

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  8. James says:

    Sounds like a good Salty platoon candidate.

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  9. Joe R says:

    As someone said before, if the Dodgers want to non-tender Martin (please do, I’m sure you can find better, cheaper options on the market), I’m all for it as a Red Sox fan. Bring in a catcher who, at the very least, has a solid OBP and defense. Bostonians won’t get excited (because most people here are wannabe-experts who still can’t wrap their head around RBI’s not being a great statistic), but it beats trading for Napoli.

    BTW, is it hilarious that no one has ever slapped the non-tender threat on James Loney (.267/.329/.395), but they have on Russ Martin (.248/.347/.332), while Loney is an average-ish 1B v. a relatively good C in Martin?

    Actually never mind, this is the Dodgers. How much warm and fuzzy you generate is more important to Colletti than how good at baseball you actually are.

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    • NEPP says:

      If stats like WAR, OPS and OBP were important, they’d be on the scoreboard.


      Not Serious

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    • JD says:

      Not sure what’s with the Napoli hate. The guy can flat out rake. The fact he’s stuck behind Mathis is one of the most inexplicable things in baseball. It doesn’t seem like it’d take much to get him considering how much his manger likes to not actually play him.

      Martin reminds me of Jason Kendall as a comp, both in terms of skill set and in terms of how far he was driven into the ground by a crazy manager.

      Jason Kendall got that ridiculously huge contract that sunk the Pirates for years. I’m expecting that Russell Martin extension from Ned that basically does the same thing. Seems more likely than a non-tender.

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      • Joe R says:

        Not Napoli hate, just when I have the option of giving up players, or giving up money, I’d rather give up money. Martin would make more sense than trading for Napoli, but I’d welcome him aboard too.

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      • NEPP says:

        Calling a guy Jason Kendall isn’t exactly an insult. Kendall was a pretty good catcher in his prime. Good enough to accumulate 42.2 Wins and have 6 seasons with a WAR over 4 (2 of which were over 5).

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  10. sdfadfasd says:

    n Kendall isn’t exactly an insult. Kendall was a pretty good catcher in his prime. Good enough to accumulate 42.2 Wins and have 6 seasons with a WAR over 4 (2 of which were over 5).
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