We first started hearing the whispers as early as April 12, which seemed unreasonably harsh. It is becoming widely known that Toronto is a very hard sports town, often full of overblown expectations and quick trigger fingers, but to start criticizing a player after the Blue Jays had only played six regular season games? Unfair.
But after big-ticket offseason acquisition Russell Martin went 0-for-3 in Baltimore and saw his numbers fall to an .063 average and .301 OPS with 8 strikeouts in 16 at-bats you could hear the whispers.
After another 0-for-3 on April 21, Martin’s stats were downright ugly (.132 average, .622 OPS, 14 strikeouts), and the whispers were no longer quiet. People were starting to shout.
You didn’t have to scroll through Twitter long to find comments like “overpaid”, “bust”, “bum”, “waste”, and “Toronto’s new David Clarkson”. The locals were restless and they’d seen enough.
But here’s the thing about baseball fans: for being so knowledgeable, a large amount of them can be really, really stupid. After the April 21st game, the Jays still had 148 games remaining. That is a lot of baseball, which also means a lot of time to turn things around.
Not surprisingly, Russell Martin has….big time.
Since that aforementioned game against the Orioles, Martin has gone on an absolute tear. In a span of 14 games from April 22 to May 6, he is hitting .413, has an OBP of .491, an OPS of 1.360, and has swatted 5 HR with 10 RBI. He has also cut his strikeout rate way down, from 36.8% on April 21, to 26.2% today. As of right now, his 1.4 WAR ranks T-8th among all position players in the AL.
The turnaround has been monumental, and can’t be a shock to anybody (it shouldn’t be a shock at least). Not only did Martin join a new team, he also joined a new league, returning to the AL after two years in Pittsburgh. That meant not only did he have to learn a brand new pitching staff (one full of four rookies, don’t forget), but he also had to figure out how to hit pitchers he either hasn’t seen for two years, or has never seen at all. Add the fact that a) he was a huge free agent signing, b) he is a Canadian returning to Canada, and c) he was joining a team that hoped to be a contender. Just a small, tiny bit of pressure…
But fans, especially fans in Toronto, lose sight of stuff like that. They also lose sight of the fact that Martin was a career .259 hitter coming into 2015, with a career .759 OPS. And that’s based on 4,000 AB over 9 big league seasons – not a small sample size. Obviously he was not going to maintain a batting average of .063.
It might not be a stretch to say that Martin’s resurgence is the only thing keeping Toronto afloat. Reyes is injured again, Bautista and Saunders are not 100%, Encarnacion is scuffling, and the pitching been woeful. If not for Martin, Donaldson, and Travis, Toronto might be in Brewer territory, with a record closer to .350 than .500.
So to all of you foolish fans who booed, doubted, and crucified him: take a moment to really understand and appreciate what “the next David Clarkson” has done over the past few weeks.
And welcome back to the Russell Martin bandwagon.