Since Blue Jays All-Star break: Martin up, Saunders down
Baseball has a way of balancing itself over a 162-game season, and the Toronto Blue Jays are not exempt to that. While their starting rotation continues to perform well above expectations, two members of the regular starting lineup have seen their bats return towards career norms.
For Russell Martin, this is good news. The 33-year-old catcher entered the All-Star break with a .228 batting average and .314 on-base percentage. With a salary of $15 million in 2016 that’s about to jump to $20 million for the final three years of his deal, Martin’s early struggles drew a curiously small share of the spotlight.
In his 15 games since the break, Martin has hit .250. It’s not an exceptional jump by any means, but it’s been aided by an increased walk rate as he’s seeing the ball much better.
Martin has walked 10 times in his last 64 plate appearances, good for a walk rate of 15.6%. His strikeout rate of 25.0% is also below his season rate (though still well above his career rate of 17.1%). With a .391 on-base percentage and 118 wRC+ since the break, Martin’s bat is now doing enough to pair with the value of his glove.
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This should help to drag his 2016 WAR up from 0.6. That’s the lowest WAR Martin has posted since his 2009 season with the Dodgers, a mark of 1.2 that he could still fall short of.
Michael Saunders has gone in the other direction after making his first career All-Star appearance. On July 8th, Saunders’ batting average rested at .302 with a .937 OPS, but in his 17 games since July 15th, those balls haven’t been falling.
Saunders has gone just 9-for-62 (.145) in that span, striking out in 34.7% of his at-bats with a wRC+ of 63. He still owns a slugging percentage that is 111 points higher than his career average of .404. His on-base of .356 is also well above his norm, so the remainder of his season will continue to be about sustaining the good (which has been plentiful).
It’s important to factor luck into the equation, however, on both sides of the conversation. Saunders has been hit with a .176 BABIP while Martin has enjoyed a .343 mark (though Martin’s walks are the primary reason for optimism.
Just as the individual players are finding their own balance, their performances balance out roster-wide. As Saunders dips, Martin rises. As Ryan Goins struggled earlier this year, Darwin Barney thrived. As Marcus Stroman struggled, Aaron Sanchez pushed himself into a Cy Young conversation.
Neither sample size here (post-All Star Break) is large enough to treat as a larger issue. With the schedule squeezing up towards September, however, small struggles and successes become magnified.