Russell Martin: 5th Best Catcher in MLB?

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The MLB Network has a “statistical analysis” machine  called “The Shredder” that uses pure stats to determine the top 10 players at each position.  The “Top 10 Right Now” show consists of analyzing The Shredder’s list as well as analysis from two real-life human beings, Brian Kenny, and a guest analyst.  (h/t to Jason Rollison of rumbunter.com)

Previously, we saw that Jose Bautista is the 2nd best right fielder, Jose Reyes is the 4th best short stop, and Edwin Encarnacion is the 6th best first baseman (even though he’ll likely see more time at DH).

The following installment looks at the Top Catchers in Major League Baseball. According to The Shredder, Toronto Blue Jays’ C, Russell Martin is the 5th best in all of baseball.

Thanks to a great 2014 season, Martin has earned himself a shiny 5yr/$82M contract. Tomorrow, he turns 32 and the Blue Jays will be paying him into his age 36 season. All reports point to this signing being more about his ability to impact a clubhouse and help out his pitchers by stealing a few strikes. His offense (more on that in a moment) is an added bonus that rounds out the justification for such a hefty contract.

Part of the reason for his success as a catcher is his ability to frame pitches and receive the ball. He has a unique ability to wait on pitches and allow them to work their magic before snatching them out of the air. Below is a perfect example of this:

In the above example, the pitch may have been actually a ball, but Martin showed where the pitch was going and reached out at the last second and made it look like it was there. Rather than leaving his glove in the strike zone and adjusting to the downward motion of the ball, he brought his glove up. This may be a subtle difference, but it is enough to convince the eye of the umpire. In May, 2013, Ben Lindbergh did a Q & A with Martin about his framing. His piece shows several examples of Martin’s ability. 

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According to Lindbergh, Martin (at that time) earned his team 0.23 runs per 100 pitches. According to statcorner.com (h/t Ian Hunter) , in 2014, Martin earned his pitching staff 88 extra strikes, which worked out to nearly 12 runs saved. This number put him 10th in baseball. For comparison, Miguel Montero put up 180 extra strikes for 24 runs saved. So, while Martin has been lauded for his pitch framing, he is not leading the league. However, given that Dioner Navarro actually LOST 150 strikes and cost the Blue Jays 20 runs, Martin is going to be a breath of fresh air.

Offensively, Martin sets himself ahead of the pack. Or, so you would think. If we compare him to other catchers in 2014, he was 7th in avg (.295), 1st in OBP (if you exclude those with minimal at bats) at .406, 15th in SLG (.437), 13th in 2B (20), 16th in HR (11), 5th in RBI (67), 3rd in BB (58) all while finishing 17th with 373 at bats. His total combined offensive numbers don’t scream “Top 10”, but his ability to get on base (career OBP of .354) and his low K% (career 15.8%) create a package that is difficult to pass up. The Blue Jays lineup is indeed better for having him in it. If he can stay there…

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  • Last season played in his fewest games since his injury plagued 2010 season. His 111 games played came with just 21 games missed due to a left hamstring strain. That means that he was given 30 days off in the run of the season. In a 6 month season, that works out to 5 days per month. This rest may have a lot to do with his successful offensive season. If the Blue Jays are going to maximize his contributions, they may look into keeping Dioner Navarro on hand.

    Regardless, this signing is certainly an injection of top tier talent at a (somewhat) watered down position. The Blue Jays appear to have themselves a top notch catcher. We shouldn’t get to caught up in the dollar amount associated with it. Once the season begins and Martin dons the blue and white, we’ll forget all about how much it cost to get him. We can just sit back and enjoy the show.

    Next: 2015 Blue Jays Top Prospects: #3 Dalton Pompey

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