Russell Martin will no doubt be a part of an offseason of journalistic rear-view mirror celebration for Pittsburgh sports writers looking for something other than the Steelers to fill their columns. People will cite a career resurgence and his leadership and his defense and how valuable he was to his team. I get all that. But in fantasy circles, we sometimes have to have a colder heart than George Steinbrenner after double header losses and a bad day at the track.
The fact is, Russell Martin was useful in fantasy baseball for about one month, and that was April. To start the season, Martin hit .274/.344/.560, with six home runs 13 runs, and 10 RBI. He was striking out at just shy of 11%, hitting better than 20% line drives, and suddenly Russell Martin was startable again.
From that point on, Martin hit .215/.323/.333 with nine home runs and 45 RBI over 103 games played. Yes, Russell Martin played fantastic defense in 2013. So fantastic, he was even mentioned as a potential MVP candidate on this very site. However, not to go all wet blanket on you — but you should not be looking towards Russell Martin as your starter in 2014 unless your offense is anchored by three or four superstars.
And if you don’t like my opinion, perhaps you will appreciate the mathematical dexterity of our own Zach Sanders who places Martin’s overall 2013 value at the catcher position just a skosh ahead of Ryan Doumit and John Buck. Ahem.
Martin’s line drive rate has been in decline since 2010, with last season being his career low. He’s increasingly become a ground ball hitter, and in the next chart you can see that his HR/FB rate spiked when he went to the Yankees, and I’d be a little afraid that his rate will slip to his career rate (or below) of about 11% and he’ll struggle to top 10-11 dingers.
If you scan his pitch values, plate discipline, and strikeout rates over the past several seasons an interesting trend emerges:
This strikes me as Raul Ibanez-ian. Yes, Ibanez-ian. To me, it’s looking like as Martin ages, he’s simply accepting the fact that his bat is slower and he’s cranking it up earlier, and the outcome is hitting well against a fastball, but getting fooled badly on many other offerings. His K’s are up, overall contact down. Should pitchers sniff that out, Martin might not see many fastballs in 2014, and I could see a bit of a decline across the board.
Martin enters his age 31 season and he really hasn’t been usable as a fantasy starting catcher since 2008. Yes, he’s probably capable of providing double digit home runs but all it takes is a scan to the Steamer projections for you to get your dose of reality that any Pirates hangover may have caused: .229/.324/.373 with 12 HR, 42 runs, 44 RBI. That’s just not enough for you to roster as a starter unless you’re in a league-specific format or a deep league.
The performance of Martin behind the dish in 2013 is a great story, and I like Martin from a fan’s perspective a great deal. But if you have your box of brass tacks as a fantasy manager, you should have a different plan.