August 27th, 2015
By Tyler King
Canadian Baseball Network
If I asked you whether or not Josh Donaldson was having a great season, chances are you’d have an immediate response.
“Where the hell have you been?” you might say with disgust. “He leads the league in RBIs (101) and runs scored (97)! He’s the MVP, I don’t care what Gregg Zaun thinks!”
And what if I inquired about that Bautista guy?
“Jose? Come on, man ... 30 home runs and 87 RBIs. What’s not to love?”
You could probably also tell me that Edwin Encarnacion is the hottest hitter in baseball right now, and that his 22-game hit streak is the longest in the majors this season.
“GIMME MORE ED-WING.”
But what would you say if I told you that Russell Martin was having one of his better offensive seasons?
(Yes, you heard me.)
You’d probably freeze for a second. “Oh ya... Russ. Gee, I had almost forgotten about him.”
You may even snicker, “What’s with that batting average?”
Here’s the thing:
I wasn’t joking.
At the beginning of April, it seemed that every Blue Jays fan became familiar with Martin’s whole life story - from his birth in Toronto, to his father playing the saxophone in the Montreal subway, to his ultra successful big league career.
Every fan thought they knew exactly what Martin was going to bring to the club. When the Jays acquired him during the off season, the feeling surrounding the team seemed to instantly change (bringing in a winner can do that sometimes).
There’s no denying that Russ Martin is a winner. Just look at his postseason track record. With seven playoff appearances in nine years (COME ON RUSS, MAKE IT EIGHT OUT OF 10), it seems the Canadian catcher has had that unmistakable - albeit somewhat intangible - effect on all of his clubs.
Of course, there were some people who took issue with his five-year, $82 million contract. But, at the time of his signing, it was clear that majority of fans were just happy that the Jays had signed one of the best catchers in baseball.
(And make no mistake about it - he is one of the best catcher’s in baseball.)
Yet - surprise - it’s August, the Jays have a 1 1/2 game lead in the AL East, they’ve scored a million more runs than everybody else... yet still, all anybody is talking about are all those “intangibles”.
He’s a leader. He’s great with the young staff. He plays through injuries.
“That’s why the Jays got him,” many experts like to say.
(No. It’s really not. They got him because he’s good.)
Well ... call me crazy but let’s say screw the intangibles for a second. Forget all those nice human interest stories! Instead let’s remember, the guy can flat out PLAY. Despite what you think you see on the stat sheets, he’s been PLAYING all year long.
Still, for whatever reason, there remains this overwhelming misconception that Martin is having a really down year offensively.
It’s almost like this lingering feeling that you can’t quite place, nor really explain. Perhaps it has something to do with Jays fans not seeing much of Martin when he was in the National League (he spent all but two seasons with the Pirates and Dodgers).
Without anything to compare his 2015 season to, all fans are left with is that hype from the beginning of the season - something Derek Jeter in his prime wouldn’t have lived up to.
But if the stats tell us anything, it’s that Martin is actually not having a bad year at all.
Over his 10 seasons, Martin is a career .257 hitter. He has a .352 OBP, .402 slugging, and .758 OPS in 1267 games.
In 2015, heading into the weekend series against Detroit, his average and OBP are slightly lower at .240 and .329. But he also as a .428 SLG and .758 OPS - his second highest totals in the past seven years.
Even when factoring in games played (he has played in 80% thus far) Martin is on pace for 20 home runs. The only time he hit more than 20 was in 2012 with the New York Yankees, when he hit 21.
He is also on pace for 69 RBIs - the second highest total of his career.
(And since people are all of a sudden obsessed with this “RBIs are more about the team than the individual” thing, Martin is hitting .275 with runners in scoring position.)
If you want to get all “sabermetric” with it, Martin has a WAR of 2.5. In 2006, when he batted .282 with a .355 OBP, his WAR was only 1.9.
There are a bunch of other sabermetrics that indicate Martin is having a more than decent season at the plate, but frankly I would just be pretending to understand half of them - and (don’t lie to me!) chances are you don’t have the faintest clue either.
However, what I do know is that not only is Martin not playing poorly, he is actually having one of his more statistically well-rounded and productive offensive seasons.
Among the 15 American League catchers with more than 200 plate appearances, Martin is first in runs scored (60 - the next closest has 49), second in OBP (.342), second in walks (49), third in OPS (.758), fourth RBIs (52), fourth in home runs (15), and fourth in SLG (.428).
On the defensive side, Martin’s game has never really been in question.
OK ... things do get a bit dicey when RA Dickey is on the mound - although I’d still rather Martin in the lineup than Josh Thole.
Martin has gunned down 28 base runners - far and away the most in the AL. His .418 caught stealing percentage is also tops in the league, the next closest being James McCann of Detroit at .404.
So the experts can talk all they want about Martin’s qualities in the clubhouse. It’s time the fans start re-focusing their attention to his qualities on the field.
And be realistic about it!
In the end all that really matters is that the Jays have a .625 winning percentage when Martin starts. When he doesn’t? .552.
But with all the hype after he signed in Toronto, there’s no doubt Martin’s full contribution hasn’t been realized by Jays fans quite yet.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if Martin preferred it that way.
In typical Canadian politeness, he’s probably happy to leave the spotlight for somebody else.
Follow Tyler and #Section108 on twitter: @tylerjoseph108.