Blue Jays: Gibbons overvalues Martin’s offensive contribution
Russell Martin’s bat has been highly valued by manager John Gibbons since signing with the Blue Jays three years ago. However, has he hit well enough to deserve that reputation?
Let me start by saying I think Russell Martin is a great baseball player, and signing him before the 2015 season was a great move, even if he’s expensive now. He’s been everything the Blue Jays have hoped he would be and arguably more, providing expert veteran guidance for a young pitching staff, excellent clubhouse leadership, and has chipped in admirably on offence as well. The Blue Jays simply don’t make the playoffs in either 2015 or 2016 without him.
There’s also the fact that he contributes at an solid rate on offence when it comes to catchers, bringing above average skills at the plate in addition to his value behind it. He’s hit 56 home runs over the last three seasons, and was a particularly big threat in 2015 when he hit 23 home runs, was an All-Star, and even garnered a MVP vote. Taking all of this into consideration, I’m not at all saying that Russell Martin is bad at baseball, that I don’t like or value him, or anything silly like that.
Now that we have that out of the way I’ll get to the main point of this article, so here goes: I think Russell Martin is overrated and/or overvalued on offence by the Blue Jays. Once again, I’m not saying that he’s some sort of detriment to the lineup at all, but rather that I think John Gibbons and company view him a little too highly.
More from Jays Journal
- Matt Chapman has been exactly what the Blue Jays needed
- Blue Jays: The goalposts are moving in the right direction
- Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays advance to the Championship Series
- Blue Jays: Comparisons for Alek Manoah’s Second Season
- Blue Jays: Adam Cimber, the unlikely decision King
Take last season as one of several examples. I’ll concede that the Blue Jays were dealing with an onslaught of injuries that forced John Gibbons’ hand in getting creative, but he definitely tried to get everything he could out of Martin’s bat. In fact, when you look at the Blue Jays’ most common batting lineups in 2017, Martin was hitting 2nd in four of the six of the most frequently used (according to www.baseballreference.com). There was a point last year that Gibbons felt keeping his bat in the lineup was so important, that he played third base in an effort to rest his legs from the rigors of catching, but still remain in the lineup.
In 2016, Martin was used as the fifth hitter in three out of the six most frequent lineups, and was sixth in two others. In 2015, he appeared as the sixth hitter most frequently, landing there in four of the six lineups employed.
On Friday we got the closest look at a “big league” lineup that we’ve seen thus far in Grapefruit League action, with all nine positions filled by expected starters, minus Troy Tulowitzki of course. Things have been shuffled around a bit and Gibbons seems to like the idea of Curtis Granderson and Devon Travis ahead of Josh Donaldson in the lineup, and there were a few other noteworthy things as well. Hitting 5-6-7 were Martin, Kendrys Morales, and Randal Grichuk.
On Saturday the lineup was a little different with Smoak getting the day off, but Morales was moved up to 4th in his stead, and Martin was back as the fifth hitter again, where it looks like Gibbons has him slated for this season.
This doesn’t mean that any final decisions have been made, and we have to keep in mind that using one lineup isn’t possible in the best of years. However, it would appear that once again Martin is highly regarded by Gibbons for his offensive skills. Let’s have a look at his numbers and see if that makes sense:
2017 (91 games): .221/.343/.388, 13 home runs, 35 RBI, 12 doubles
2016 (137 games): .231/.335/.398, 20 home runs, 74 RBI, 16 doubles
2015 (129 games): .240/.329/.458, 23 home runs, 69 RBI, 23 doubles
By comparison, Kendrys Morales slashed .259/.308/.445 with 28 home runs and 84 RBI. Granted, his on base percentage is lower and he’s a plug on the base paths, but the numbers outside of the on-base percentage are just fine. Troy Tulowitzki could be a candidate for that fifth spot as well when healthy, but he’ll have to perform better than he did last year.
I understand that Gibbons may want to split up his switch-hitters, preferring not to use Smoak and Morales back to back, but I would prefer to see someone else used in that spot. Personally, I’d like to see Grichuk slotted there, but I understand that his .285 OBP from last season could land him lower in the order as well. That said, I like the speed element that he could provide between the two plod horses in Smoak and Morales, especially if he can apply the training he’s worked at this offseason and be more selective at the plate.
However things shake down, I hope the Blue Jays don’t put too much weight on Martin’s shoulders offensively this season, as they were forced to many times last year. As a 7th or 8th hitter in the lineup he’s a tremendous asset, but if you’re hoping for a performance worthy of being in the middle of the order, you’ll likely be a bit disappointed. And for one final time, that doesn’t mean he’s not an asset.