If your league counts all players that have started once at a position as eligible there, well then Victor Martinez can catch for you next year. And you’re luckier for it. But anyone else that played him at catcher this year was enjoying the last vestiges of V-Mart as a top-five player at any position. And though he provided value with a strange mix of skills, here’s betting he can be valuable again next year, even as a first baseman.
Given the level of offense at first base, being the 17th-ranked first baseman is no offense, badumching. That likely makes him a top-ten utility bat, even. Even with the soon-to-be 35-year-old’s power waning, he can still put up a strong batting average. In a full season (>500 PA), Martinez has only failed to put up a .300 batting average once. In his rookie season. Since then, he’s managed to be a league-leading asset in that category.
Since he doesn’t have the speed to turn infield squibblers into hits (more like the speed to turn wine into vinegar), and he doesn’t have the plus-plus power to turn line drives to short into doubles off the wall, Victor Martinez is entirely dependent on two things for his batting average: his ability to put the ball in play, and his batted ball mix.
The first could suffer a lot of erosion before it’s in peril. Since 2005, he’s got the 14th-best strikeout rate among players with a better-than-league average isolated power rate. Even if strikeout rates usually get worse in the mid-thirties (Martinez has somehow been improving his), V-Mart has a long way to go before he even approaches a league-average strikeout rate. Putting all those balls in play means his batting average will regress more towards his batting average on balls in play than other hitters. More *balls in play* obviously.
But if that BABIP were no good, he could still have a mediocre batting average. Though you have to dive fairly deep to find Martinez on the BABIP leaderboards, his .316 career number (.319 since his sophomore year) is above-average. He does it mostly with line drives. His 20.8% career number is above average, and he’s only been under 20% once since 2005. He’s been over 21% six of his eight years since, too.
That alone suggest he can keep it up, but since we know that line drives are a subjectively-recorded stat with inherent bias, it’s nice to look at the other components of his batted ball mix. Does he keep it on the ground? Check (1.19 career ground balls per fly ball). Does he avoid the pop-up? Check (8.7% career rate, average is around 10%). Is he an extreme pull hitter? No (45.5% pull career, 39% is league-average, top-25 pull hitters all >47%). By all accounts, he’s got a level swing and isn’t a great candidate for the shift.
The best news is that none of this has changed much recently, even as he’s gotten older. His rates this year were all basically right on career norms. Looks at this year’s GB/FB (1.19), pop-up rate (6.7%) and pull rate (39.1%), and you see that he’s managed to stay in his career neighborhood in those key areas.
So, yeah. Victor Martinez won’t be a catcher again. His power has waned, and he’ll be lucky to get you 15 homers next year. But he should be able to help in one key category, even as a second first baseman, utility bat, or corner infielder. So don’t leave him off your board just because he’s left the catching gear at home.
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