Russell Martin: We’ve Seen His Best, & It’s Not Coming Back

Russell Martin hit a career-high 21 homers in 2012, backed by a .192 ISO that was eighth-best among catchers with 350 plate appearances. On the surface, that sounds like the mark of a pretty good season, yet Martin was ranked only 18th in Zach Sanders’ end of season catcher rankings, behind even non-starters like Ryan Doumit, Jordan Pacheco, & Jesus Montero. He was behind Brian McCann, who suffered through the worst year of his career while fighting injury, and he was behind former teammate A.J. Ellis, who made a splash in Martin’s old home of Los Angeles.

You probably know where this is going: Sanders was in no way wrong to rank Martin as low as he did, even despite the power. In nearly every other way Martin has continued his freefall from his outstanding first few years in the bigs, and it’s difficult to see him rebounding at this point. Going back to the question Howard Bender asked here in February of “Should You Trust Russell Martin?”, well, no. Remember, this is how Bender phrased his worry about Martin after the catcher’s first year in the Bronx:

There is no question that you have a player in serious decline. Though the numbers are still better than league averages, his BB% has been dropping (save for one season) for the last four seasons while his K% has increased over that same period. His BABIP has steadily dropped, thus leaving his batting average at the rim of the toilet, and his OBP has gradually suffered as well. Look even further and you’ll see that he’s swinging at more and more pitches, both in and outside the zone, is making less contact each year and has seen a steady increase in his SwStr%.

Uh, yeah, about that: Martin’s second season with the Yankees was even worse. Though the BB% held steady, his K% increased yet again to a career-high 19.6%. His BABIP plummeted to .228, and that helped sink his batting average to a lousy .228. Yes, his ISO increased to a career-high .192 as he seemingly regained some of the power that he’d lost at the end of his Dodger tenure, but that’s less about increased power than it is about fewer hits in general. While he offered at slightly fewer pitches than the year before, his swinging-strike percentage didn’t improve any. In two seasons with the Yankees, his line is .224/.317/.405 and even with the low level of production expected from catchers, that’s simply not a player worth heaping a lot of praise upon.

If you’re looking for a small ray of hope here, it’s that Martin ended 2012 on a bit of a power tear, hitting .258/.347/.539 with seven homers in September. Though that helped him get his batting average back over .200 – it was an embarrassing .196 entering the month – it’s hard to put more precedence in 102 September plate appearances against varying expanded-roster competition than two seasons of general mediocrity as a Yankee.

Actually, just looking at his time in New York isn’t enough, because it’s been about four years since Martin was really the talented young star he looked like he’d be after his 2006 debut. In his first 365 games, up to the 2008 All-Star break, Martin’s career line was .289/.373/.450. In 560 games since, he’s at only .239/.338/.364. It’s hard not to blame Grady Little & Joe Torre’s near-criminal overuse of him in Los Angeles for much of that downturn, and even harder to see it turning around as he turns 30 in February.

Because of Martin’s name and the cache of being a Yankee, he retained some fantasy credibility headed into 2012, going at 12th among catchers in ESPN drafts. By the end of the year, he was owned in just 14.3% of leagues, 19th at his position. It could get worse if he doesn’t remain with New York next year and loses the benefit of Yankee Stadium, where he hit 13 of his 21 homers. Headed into 2013, it’s hard to make an argument for him to be considered as anything but a late-round pick or potential waiver wire addition in all but the deepest leagues.




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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times site, and is an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

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