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Projections & Victor Martinez

Over the last four or five years, Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, and Victor Martinez have been the gold standard for fantasy catchers. Jorge Posada was a fine fourth wheel for a while, and now Buster Posey is forcing his way into the picture, but for the most part it’s been those three and everyone else. We have every reason to expect Mauer and McCann to continue their greatness in 2011, but what about the new Tiger V-Mart? The various projection systems aren’t bullish on him this year. Let’s round ’em up…

Bill James: .298/.369/.472, 19 HR, 88 RBI, 69 R (572 PA)

Fans: .297/.362/.467, 20 HR, 93 RBI, 79 R (603 PA)

Marcel: .286/.349/.448, 16 HR, 74 RBI, 63 R (536 PA)

ZiPS: .286/.346/.454, 17 HR, 74 RBI, 59 R (521 PA)

CAIRO: .291/.350/.464, 19 HR, 82 RBI, 65 R (547 PA)

I’m not going to bother to mention stolen bases since that’s not Martinez’ game, and I’ll leave his now-released PECOTA projection out since it’s behind the pay wall. The system hates him though, it’s easily the low man. If we do a real quick and dirty average weighed by PA, we get: .291/.356/.461, 18 HR, 83 RBI, 67 R in 557 PA.

For a catcher, that’s studly and you’d take it every day of the week, but it’s a bit of a downer by Martinez’s standards. Last year he hit .302/.351/.493, his lowest OPS and second lowest wOBA (.364) ever (min. 300 PA), though he did miss time with the thumb fracture. Over the last four years he’s hit .299/.365/.475, and that’s really dragged down by 294 PA with a .308 wOBA in 2008 (elbow surgery). The projections clearly foresee a step down for V-Mart, though he’s unlikely to turn into a total pumpkin just yet.

The obvious change is the ballpark. Going from Fenway Park (104 RHB/106 LHB wOBA park factors according to StatCorner) to Comerica Park (96/104) will certainly chip away at Martinez’s production some, there’s no way around it. He won’t be able to count on the big handball court in left field to turn a few routine fly balls in doubles.

The other big difference is the players around him. The Red Sox and Tigers posted nearly identical OBPs as a team last year (.339 to .335), but Boston had a major edge in wOBA (.345 vs. .329) because of power. Again, the ballpark factors into that, but a less potent offense around Martinez means the fewer RBI and runs scored opportunity he’ll have.

And, of course, we can’t ignore the age factor. Martinez turned 32 last month, and most catchers tend to show signs of decline and significant wear-and-tear right around that age. He’s spent considerable time at first base over the last few years, so perhaps V-Mart can stave off Father Time for the time being. It’s worth keeping in mind, though.

The projection systems are fun and great tools but they aren’t predictions. Martinez is still a tremendously valuable fantasy asset, especially since he has catcher eligibility and figures to get a ton of DH time in 2011, but it’s very likely that his best years are behind him.

Click here to submit your fan projection for Martinez.