There’s no question that Russell Martin’s power resurgence last season came as a bit of surprise. Obviously a move from pitcher-friendly Chavez Ravine to hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium (along with that surrounding Yankee lineup) was promising, but to watch a guy whose ISO went from .176 down to .085 over a four year span, there had to be some serious doubts in his ability to produce again. Overuse and injuries were likely to blame for the decline, in part, but as we move forward and examine some of Martin’s other numbers at the plate, there certainly has to be a reasonable amount of doubt in anything close to a repeat performance. Or is there…?
If you simply take Martin’s 2011 HR total and .170 ISO mark out of the equation, so to speak, 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%.
So where is this power surge coming from? The new ballpark? Possibly. Martin did return to a 33.4% fly ball rate, the highest it’s been since 2007 (the year he smacked 19 home runs), so he’s getting back under the ball more than before. Couple that with him being such a strong pull hitter and the 317 foot line down the left side of the stadium and that certainly helps the rationale with his .175 home ISO last season in 226 plate appearances.
As for his road home runs, seven of the 10 also came in strong hitter’s parks as well, so while park factors definitely play a part here, it can’t be the only reason. The NL has it’s fare share of hitter friendly parks and in the years of Martin’s power outage, he was still seeing plenty of action in places like Chase Field, Coors Field and Great American. So there has to be more involved, right?
And that’s likely where health and overuse come into play. From 2007 through 2009, Martin saw virtually all of his playing time from behind the plate. He had 36 at bats as a third baseman in ’09, but had accrued over 1500 at bats as a catcher over that period. The body was breaking down and fast, as we saw plenty of time missed in 2010 and a much needed surgical procedure on his hip.
So is he healthy now? It appears as though he is. Atleast enough for the Yankees to use him for 125 games (412 AB) behind the plate last year. He struggled around mid-season with a back issue, but for the most part, the hip…and the knees….seemed fine.
Which brings us back to the original question of whether or not you can trust him to repeat his totals from last season, or atleast come close. Obviously park factors and health are playing a major role for him, and the fact that he’ll also be playing for a new contract won’t hurt. But with all of the other declining numbers we’ve seen and the usual wear and tear for aging backstops, I can’t help but be skeptical. If he continues to keep his fly ball rate up, maybe he can still launch a few easy ones, but with so much else working against him, it’s hard to see him reaching that 2011 mark again. Perhaps a .240 average with a dozen home runs is more of what you should be expecting, and if that’s the case, there are plenty of other backstops you might want to look at instead.