Before the season started, the catcher consensus rankings put Victor Martinez sixth overall and one ranker had him as high as fourth. Now that we’re two months in, Victor Martinez ranks dead last if you’re looking at wins above replacement and if you throw away defensive adjustments, he’s probably second to last, thanks to Miguel Montero.
Martinez owns a career .300/.367/.463 line and as recently as 2011, he hit .330/.380/.470 with a dozen home runs and 103 RBI. As catchers go, this is pretty darn valuable. Coming off of knee surgery that caused him to miss all of 2012, he was looking like a relative bargain, even if he took a little time to re-adjust after all the time off. Well, the time to re-adjust has passed and after 180 plate appearances, we have a catcher-eligible bat who resembles nothing like the old Victor Martinez, with a .221/.278/.307 slash line and a pair of home runs. Is it time to cut bait for owners? Is it time to buy low for the vultures?
There are a variety of places I go sniffing to try and answer these questions, and typically I head for hit trajectory to see if anything is particularly out of whack. Here’s VMart’s hit trajectory this season versus his career:
The line drives and ground balls are down marginally, but mercy, look at that HR/FB rate. Now, we know that his home run totals waned in recent years and you don’t really draft Victor Martinez expecting much more than 14-15 home runs, but 3.3% is just pitiful. If Martinez had a line drive rate down in the low teens, you might surmise that he’s just hitting lazy cans of corn all afternoon. But those figures seem to suggest that there ought to be a few more trips around the bases on the horizon.
Let’s have a peek at his spray chart (as a man with two small boys, spray chart always makes me think of my bathroom floor), courtesy of the good folks at Texasleaguers.com. This is 2010-2011:
That’s about as even a distribution of batted balls you’ll probably see. The heavier cluster of ground outs on the right side is obviously because as a switch hitter, Martinez sees an abundance of right handed pitchers, but overall, it’s safe to say he’s used all fields. Here’s 2013:
Nothing is really different here, save for the fact that there are few little greenies outside the lines. In fact, there’s a little red and black square outside the line, so it looks like some earnest outfielder picked his pockets. And while we’re at it, I can’t speak to the loft, but that strikes me as a helluva lot of outs on pretty deep balls in the outfield. In fact, looking over at Zimmerman’s baseballheatmaps.com, if you look at all his fly balls and home runs from 2010-2011, his average distance was 285 feet. So far in 2013, his average distance on home runs and fly balls is 292 feet, so no smoking gun there necessarily.
And if we’re going to talk luck, we might as well address the BABIP, which currently stands at .225. With a hit trajectory that we have above, his expected BABIP sits at .301. His career rate is .313. You can draw your own conclusions here.
What about contact rates? Here’s 2013 versus his career:
So he’s swinging at more balls outside the strike zone but making significantly more contact on them. His overall contact rates are pretty much in line with his career and his swinging strike rate is miniscule. But the O-swing is something to pay attention to as the season progresses (for what it’s worth, in 2011 when he hit .330, his O-swing% was 30.2%).
Perhaps a little takeaway here is the fact that he’s seeing more first pitch strikes, and as a pretty patient hitter, Martinez rarely offers at the first pitch. So far this season, after an 0-1 count, the end result is a .173/.236/.247 slash line. His career rate at 0-1 is .264/.314/.397. Maybe this is Martinez still adjusting after the long layoff. Maybe he’s just not working counts the way he’s accustomed to. Maybe it’s noise. Maybe he’s eating vegan or vegetarian or whatever diet that giant in front of him in the order eats.
But in watching him hit and in looking at the data, I just have this nagging sense that Martinez is about to start squaring up more pitches and go on a little run, which makes him an interesting buy-low candidate to me. If you like ROS projections, Steamer has him for .284/.346/.434 with nine more home runs and 44/46 runs/RBI for the remainder of the season. As a catcher, that’s pretty handy to have around. The cost can’t be terribly high at this point, so I’d say he’s worth asking about. His ownership rates are starting to slip below 90% in Yahoo and it’s getting close to that level in ESPN. That’s obviously still high, but let’s you know there are plenty of doubters out there.
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