Russell Martin was on top of the baseball world not long ago. Thought of as one of the best young catchers in baseball, Martin was the face of the Los Angeles Dodgers youth movement, at least until Manny Ramirez stepped onto the scene. At this point Martin might be asking himself who pulled the extension cord out of the wall on his bat, because the power is gone.
Despite nearly identical BABIP, Martin’s ISO is almost half of 2008’s total. The leading reason seems to be a reduced number of home runs per fly ball hit. Last year about 9% of Martin’s fly balls went for home runs, this year less than 4% are landing in the bleachers. This is peculiar because Martin is A) hitting more line drives than before, B) hitting about the same number of fly balls, C) still making the same amount of contact, and D) not at the age where you would expect the average player to lose his pop.
But Martin isn’t the average player, he’s a catcher, a full time one on top of that. He’s started 135+ games behind the plate the past two years and should break the 100 starts mark on the season this week. Still, if you glance at the ISO leaderboard for catchers with 200+ plate appearances, the bottom five are (in descending order) Koyie Hill, Yadier Molina, Ryan Hanigan, Martin, and Jason Kendall; meaning he appears to carry the light stick even amongst players with the same bumps and bruises.
HitTracker’s numbers don’t speak too well for the homers Martin has hit either. The three have an average distance of 394.3 feet; in 2008 his home runs went about three feet further; in 2007 about 14 feet further. I’m willing to accept that he’s not a 405+ feet home run hitter, but I do think he’s going to start hitting more than three of every 100 fly balls out of the park during any given season.