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Martinez heads to Detroit

Posted By Mike Axisa On November 26, 2010 @ 11:16 am In Catchers | 4 Comments

The first big name free agent came off the board earlier this week, when the Tigers finalized a four-year, $50MM contract with catcher/first baseman/designated hitter Victor Martinez. GM Dave Dombrowski confirmed that his latest pickup will serve as the team’s primary DH in 2011, with a few catching and first base assignments mixed in every so often. The move obviously improves Detroit’s offensive attack, but what does it do for Martinez’s fantasy value?

V-Mart has been one of the game’s top three fantasy catchers over the last six or seven years, with just one season below a .358 wOBA during that time. He hits for a high average (.303 AVG since 2005) and has always batted in a lineup spot conducive to RBI and runs scored. Aside from a broken thumb this year (suffered on a foul tip) and surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow in 2008, Martinez has been pretty durable as well. Moving from a hitter friendly park in Boston to the exact opposite in Detroit is sure to sap his numbers, however.

Just for fun, here’s V-Mart’s 2010 Fenway Park spray chart overlaid onto Comerica Park (via Katron.org, blue are hits, orange are outs)…

Just eyeballing it, there’s what, six balls that cleared the fence in Fenway (homers are dark blue) but would not have done the same in Detroit? Who knows how many doubles off the Green Monster would have been routine air outs elsewhere. This highly unscientific look doesn’t have any analytical value, but geez, it really shows how big the right field difference is between the two parks.

ESPN’s park factors have Fenway inflating overall offense and doubles production by 7.7% and 39.3% over the last three years, respectively. Comerica inflates offense just 2.8% and suppresses doubles to 96.4% of the league average, so for all intents and purposes we can consider it a neutral park in those regards. Martinez is more of a doubles hitter than a homerun hitter, with no fewer than 32 two-baggers in six of the last seven seasons (he’d have gotten there in 2008 if it wasn’t for the elbow). As he begins his age 32 season next spring, it’s fair to assume that his extra base pop will suffer, but that’s not enough to completely negate his value.

If Martinez goes from a 32+ double, ~20 HR guy to a ~25 double, ~17 homer guy in Detroit, he’s still a top tier fantasy catcher for 2011. Spending more time at DH should theoretically help him remain productive and avoid nagging injuries, though it’s entirely possible that Alex Avila loses the starting catcher’s job by June, forcing Martinez into regular backstop duty. With Miguel Cabrera hitting either directly in front of or behind him, the opportunity to score and drive in runs should be plentiful.

V-Mart certainly remains a top notch fantasy option because he retains catcher eligibility, but expect his numbers to take a bit of a hit because of the change in ballparks. I wouldn’t let Comerica (and, of course, age) related expected decline be enough to deter me from drafting Martinez early on. Joe Mauer and Brian McCann are still the only other backstops worth drafting ahead of him.

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