Russell Martin had a huge game last night to help the Jays end a two game losing streak in Atlanta and to help him end a personal mini-slide. He was just 4 for 25 in his previous 8 games, and many of his outs were made with the Jays threatening to score runs. Because of that, I was starting to sense a slightly increased amount of irritation growing among Jays fans.
Yes Russell Martin can be a streaky hitter, with both amazing stretches and abysmal stretches flowing one after the other. And yes he has a propensity to hit into a lot of double plays (20 of them, 5th most in the American League).
But let’s not forget that Russell Martin is a catcher, and catchers take a ton of punishment and abuse. I think we all forget that sometimes when we see guys like Encarnacion and Donaldson go on offensive tears.
So I think it’s time that we take a step back and appreciate just how good Russell Martin has been this year, his first year as a Toronto Blue Jay. Let the appreciation begin!
In order to really understand how good Martin has been this year, we need to compare him to his peers. In the American League there have been five catchers who have been behind the plate for 900+ innings in 2015, so those will serve as his contemporaries. Aside from Martin, we have Salvador Perez (KC), Brian McCann (NYY), Mike Zunino (SEA), and Kurt Suzuki (MIN). We can exclude some of the other big-name catchers for a variety of reasons: because they platoon (Chris Iannetta, Jason Castro), because of injury (Yan Gomes), or because they aren’t full time catchers (Stephen Vogt because < 75% of his at-bats have come as a catcher).
There are two ways to measure a catcher’s value: through his defense and his offense.
Catcher ERA = ERA of pitchers while catcher is in the game
Runner Kills = Total baserunners thrown out by the catcher
DEF = Fangraphs Defensive Runs Above Average
dWAR = Baseball Reference’s defensive WAR
Extra Strikes per Game = a pitch framing statistic calculated by StatCorner.com that tells how many additional strike calls a catcher is responsible for due to his receiving skills
As evidenced by the above chart, Rusell Martin is pretty damn good defensively. He ranks second (in our sample) in Catcher’s ERA at 3.92, second in Runner Kills with 36, and second in Extra Strikes per Game with 0.27. He also leads all catchers with am 11.9 DEF and a massive 43.5% caught stealing percentage. Based on the number of yellow boxes Salvador Perez might be the best defensive catcher in the AL, but Russell Martin is a very, very, very close second.
oWAR = Baseball Reference’s offensive WAR
wRC+ = weighted runs created, which measures a players value based on the outcome of each hit, rather than having all hits and times-on-base treated equally. It is scaled so that 100 is average.
Once again, look at the chart and tell me that Russell Martin isn’t an elite offensive catcher. He ranks second in OPS, first in OBP, second in HR, second in RBI, first in oWAR, and a slight second in wRC+. Similar to the defensive stats, Martin might be a nose behind Brian McCann for the best offensive catcher, but the difference is almost negligible.
But here’s the kicker. Russell might very well be the second best defensive catcher and the second best offensive catcher, but put everything together and he has to be the best all-around catcher in the American League. Perez is outstanding defensively and can hit for power, but has a woeful OBP and a below average wRC+. McCann is a great hitter but throws out runners at a significantly lower rate than Martin and doesn’t frame pitches very well.
To me it’s a no-brainer. Russell Martin is the best in the business.
I think we all knew that already, but a refresher never hurts.