Toronto Blue Jays season preview: Russell Martin
At the dish in 2015, Martin exceeded expectations and had a very productive slash line of .240/.329/.458, to go with 23 home runs and 77 RBI.
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Russell Martin joined the Blue Jays on a 5 year, 82 million dollar free agent deal at the beginning of the 2015 season with one prominent goal in mind: returning to the playoffs. Although the Blue Jays fell short of the ultimate prize, the mission of ending a 22-year drought was accomplished.
The Canadian-born catcher is entering his second season as a Blue Jay, and the hope is Martin will continue to help lead a talented staff and roster back to the playoffs to finish what they started in 2015.
2015 Performance Recap
Martin was signed for a number of reasons, but chief amongst them was his elite ability behind the plate as pitch caller, framer, and his ability to neutralize the running game. Martin brought all of that and more for the Jays in ’15, throwing out 44% of would be base stealers (against a league average of 32%), and logging 117 games behind the plate.
At the dish, Martin exceeded expectations and had a very productive slash line of .240/.329/.458, to go with 23 home runs and 77 RBI. Martin began the year hitting 2nd in the lineup, but later with injuries and trade additions, he settled around 6th or 7th most games, leading a highly productive bottom third of the lineup and finishing with a WAR of 3.3.
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2016 Role and Steamer Projections
Steamer tabs Martin to take a slight step back in 2016 with a slash line of .237/.331/.415, 17 home runs and 55 RBI. They projects a season of 3.4 WAR, with a slight reduction in plate appearances at 459, down from his 507 in 2015.
Martin will be once again to asked to maximize the talents of the pitching staff, and hopefully continue to contribute with the bat at an above average clip for a catcher. Despite the success of many young Jays’ pitchers like Roberto Osuna, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez in 2015, Martin’s most important role may be helping them navigate the upcoming season. With the footage and scouting reports a little more advanced on each young arm, they’ll all benefit from the guidance and defensive skills of the experienced backstop.
What Could Go Wrong?
Russell Martin turned 33 in February and has enjoyed a long and successful career since entering the league at age 23 with the Dodgers. Throughout that time Martin has been considered an elite catcher and has always logged significant miles behind the plate each season. While there is no reason to expect a breakdown in 2016, Father Time hasn’t lost yet, and catchers have arguably the most difficult battle because of the physical demands of the position.
Last season Martin had the luxury of sharing the catching responsibilities with Dioner Navarro, an experienced and above-average back up, arguably capable of starting for other MLB clubs. With Navarro having signed with the Chicago White Sox as a free agent, Martin will likely be flanked by R.A. Dickey‘s personal catcher, Josh Thole. While Martin will benefit from being relieved of catching Dickey, he’ll be counted on as much or more than he was in 2016. The health of the veteran receiver may be one of the most important factors for a successful upcoming season.
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What Could Go Right?
As stated above, Martin has been a very healthy and productive player throughout his career, and there’s no reason to expect otherwise in 2016. He adjusted well to coming back to the American League, and the majority of pitchers on the staff raved about his abilities as a receiver, and in keeping the opposing team’s speedsters at bay.
He also produced a career high with 23 home runs, and will likely continue to add a bit of a pop to an already loaded lineup in the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. Having a lineup dangerous enough to warrant a hitter like Martin batting the projected 7th hitter takes all the pressure off of Martin, and allows him to do what he does best. He comes into the season healthy and likely without the task of catching the knuckleball, and another year more familiar with his staff and the AL East lineups.
The Bottom Line
While Martin will likely slow down before his five-year contract with the Jays has come to an end, there’s no reason to expect a significant step back in 2016. He joins a cast of talented teammates that have proved they can win in a talented AL East, and are no doubt hungry to bring the World Series back to Canada for the first time since 1993.
Martin and the Jays may miss the presence of Navarro a bit this season, but this was always Martin’s team and he has given the Jays no reason to doubt him after a highly productive first year. Barring injury, expect Martin to likely hit in the bottom third of the lineup (poor opposing pitching staffs), and continue to provide elite productive behind the plate.