Russell Martin’s spot in the Blue Jays lineup


The potential impact of Russell Martin on the Blue Jays was heavily discussed after he was inked to his 5 year, 82 million dollar deal back in November. Much of the coverage was on his gold glove defensive ability, pitch framing expertise, and the many intangibles he brings to both the field and clubhouse.

The addition of Martin and his work behind the plate can’t be overstated, it will be huge for the Jays and their young staff, but his offensive skills present a hitter that could excel in the two hole in the order.

John Gibbons was quick to say that Martin would slot into that spot after the signing, but that was before the Michael Saunders signing, and even giving Dalton Pompey a shot to see if he could succeed there. Yesterday, at the Jays State of the Franchise, Gibbons once again said that he plans to use Martin in the two spot.

Jays Journal co-editor, Shaun Doyle, wrote a thought provoking piece about placing Dalton Pompey in the two hole, and in many ways I agree with him. Pompey’s on base ability, speed, and growing power would be a good fit there if he can prove to handle MLB calibre pitching day in and day out. 

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Along with Pompey, I see Saunders as an excellent two hole hitter. Michael Wray wrote on Saunders a little while back, and although it didn’t focus on his position in the lineup, it did outline his improvements in regards to plate discipline. Combine that with his speed, power, and ability to hit fastballs, and you have a guy that slots in nicely there; however, I’m with Gibby on this one and believe Martin should be the guy, regardless of how spring and the beginning of the season plays out.

2014 represented a career offensive season for Martin, and his .290/.402/.430 with a wRC+ of 140 shouldn’t be expected again in 2015, as his numbers are likely to return closer to his career numbers of .259/.352/.399 (106 wRC+). However, the ability he has at the dish slots in perfectly in front of the trio of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson and we could see him have success there.

Many of his numbers have severely fluctuated, especially his BABIP and ISO rates. They’ve ranged from .336 (’14) to .222 (’12) and .192 (’12) to .085 (‘10) respectively throughout his career. A number of reasons could be causing these fluctuations, including a potential effort to hit for more power (’12), injuries and/or partying too much (’09, ’10), or just plain bad luck. His batted ball profile has stayed steady, without any clear blips that would point to an obvious BABIP reduction.

Despite the varying numbers, his walk and strikeout rates have been steady. His BB% has ranged from 9.6% (’06) to 13.8% (’08) and K% has been between 12.2% (’06) and 21.3 (’13). His K% has been higher the last four years as opposed to early in his career, so expecting a rate around his career mark of 15.8% is probably too high. However, his BB% of 12.8% last year is his second highest in his career, showing his plate discipline is still very much there.

His ability to get on via the walk, produce a high OBP, and the ability to put the ball in play on a consistent basis is something the Jays have always coveted in front of Bautista and Encarnacion. Through slumps and inevitable bad luck, Martin will always have the ability to see pitches, grind through at bats, and put himself on base via the walk for a 3-4-5 combination that has the ability to hit upwards of 100 home runs.

Along with that, Martin has seen 4.21 and 4.01 pitches per plate appearance the last two seasons respectively, ranking him 9th and 43rd in the entire league for hitters with at least 450 PA’s. In seeing more pitches, he’ll allow Jose Reyes more opportunity to use his speed to get into scoring position.

He’s also a hitter who uses the entire the field, and handles the bat very well. Another portion of his ability that fits very well into the two hole. Yes, these are small impacts that may not be seen on a game to game basis, but over the course of entire season, it could very well make a difference. 

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  • These reasons make it easy to like Martin in the two spot, but the biggest reason I like Martin so much in that position is his ability to hammer the four seam fastball. It’s easy to say that all hitters like hitting a straight fastball, but Martin simply destroys them.

    Last year, he posted a .701 SLG and .333 ISO against four seamers. The power was nearly invisible against sinkers, posting a .320 SLG and .030 ISO, but he still managed to post a .290 AVG with a .309 BABIP showing he wasn’t completely inept at handling a good sinker.

    To put the .701 SLG and .333 ISO into perspective, I’ll compare those rates to that of Bautista and Encarnacion, two hitters Jays fans have had the pleasure of watching a lot throughout the last four years.


    2014: .612/.306

    2013: .531/.242

    2012: .587/.317

    2011: .542/.297

    2010: .724/.471

    Bautista’s huge 54 HR season in 2010 is ridiculous, but outside of that year, Martin posted better rates with his 2014. His 2014 slugging actually comes close as well.


    2014: .563/.281

    2013: .632/.324

    2012: .638/.328

    2011: .510/.199

    Edwin and Jose had the luxury of playing half their games at the power friendly Rogers Centre, and while playing less demanding defensive positions.

    Martin obviously had huge success against four seamers in 2014, but it wasn’t an outlier. The three seasons prior he posted these rates.

    2013: .549/.255

    2012: .590/.314

    2012: .519/.256

    Clearly he’s always hit the fastball well, but perhaps it was a change in approach in Pittsburgh that let him reach new heights in 2014.

    In a Fangraphs piece shortly after Martin signed, Jeff Sullivan went over the impact he’ll have on the Jays, and went over some interesting wRC+ splits. His approach could have possibly changed, and that led to him using the whole field more with a focus on driving the ball up the middle and to the opposite field. Combine that with the move to the hitter friendly Rogers Centre, and you could have an up-tick in HR’s.

    A look at Fangraph’s Pitchf/x data reinforces Martin’s dominance against fastballs in 2014. His wFA, which measures how many runs a player produces above average against four seams, was 23.2. That ranked first among all hitters with at least 250 PA’s. Jose Bautista was ranked second with 21.9.

    To paint a bit of a clearer picture of how each hitter did against any particular pitch, you can extrapolate that number per 100 pitches seen, and Martin scored a 3.57 wFA/c. Third best among all hitters with at least 250 PA’s, only behind Troy Tulowitzki and George Springer.

    Both were career highs for Martin, much like a number of other stats in 2014, but even according to these metrics, he’s consistently produced against the four seamer.

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    How reliable are these numbers? Can you expect a hitter to be consistent with these particular metrics? These questions you may be asking are valid, and I may not be able to answer them, but they do provide another picture of the success he’s had and why he should be placed in a position to maximize this strength.

    Of course, looking solely at his 2014 numbers against four seamers doesn’t tell the whole story, but looking at Martin’s package of tools, putting him in the two hole optimizes those strengths by putting him in a spot where they can provide the most value.

    His ability to see pitches and use the whole field are bonuses to his ability to get on base and torch fastballs. He’s already the type of hitter who will put himself in good counts to receive good pitches to hit, by placing him in front of Bautista, Edwin and Donaldson, you have to think those pitches are being thrown at him with more frequency.

    Expecting a duplication of his 2014 is far too optimistic, but I think if he’s given the opportunity to stay in the second spot of the order for the majority of the season, which I’ve expressed is what I believe should occur, the regression that’s expected by many might not be as dramatic.

    Pompey and Saunders gives Gibbons a couple options in case Martin goes down with injuries, good options nonetheless, but Martin’s strengths suggest that the second spot in the order is the place where he can provide the most value, making the entire lineup even more dangerous.

    Next: 2015 Blue Jays Top Prospects: #8 Miguel Castro