2016 Blue Jays Season Review: Russell Martin

By: Jay Blue and @JaysGirlEmily

Blue Jays From Away

Now that the season is over, the crew at Blue Jays from Away will take a look at the Blue Jays one by one and review how each player’s season went, whether he met expectations (or not) and look at how he fits into (what we think of) the Blue Jays’ plans going forward.

In his second year playing in his home and native land, catcher Russell Martin‘s production fell off a fair bit. While some of this fall-off is attributable to nagging injuries and the lack of a real backup, Martin showed some other signs of regression that could be troubling for the 33-year-old receiver.

Martin hit .231/.335/.398 for the season which worked out to give him a 96 OPS+ (his OPS was 4% below league average) and a wRC+ of 99 (creating runs at 1+ below league average). A right-handed hitter, Martin actually hit better against right-handed pitchers, blasting 15 of his 20 home runs and all but one of his 16 doubles against righties.

While least year, Martin caught 44% of runners trying to steal, leading the league, this year, he caught only 15%, which could be indicative of an injury or a severe decline in defensive ability. All of this could have been precipitated by Martin playing 137 games, including 127 behind the plate (starting 119).

A major sign of concern over Martin was that he seemed to catch the strikeout bug that was going around the Blue Jays, striking out 148 times on the season, eclipsing his previous career high mark of 108 by quite a margin in just 29 more plate appearances than in the 2013 season when he set his career high.

In terms of his strikeout rate, Martin struck out in 27.7% of his plate appearances which was offset in part by walking in 12.0%. Martin was clearly more comfortable at home, with a .249/.369/.411 slash line at the Rogers Centre compared to .215/.305/.386 on the road.

Martin got off to a rotten start, posting a .391 OPS in April and he struggled in May too, hitting .230/.284/.345. That said, he took off in June and July with OPSs of .844 and .856 before having a monstrous August. That month accounted for nine of his 20 home runs and he hit .286/.356/.626 before tapering off for a poor September (.625 OPS, which was lower than his SLG in August!).

Martin was 3/33 (.091) with three walks, a solo home run, two runs and one RBI in nine games, extending his difficult time in September into October.

The Blue Jays will likely be looking at easing off on Martin’s workload in 2017, primarily to keep him healthy and productive. Without R.A. Dickey on the pitching staff and with a more offensively adept backup than Josh Thole, the Blue Jays will certainly be able to rest Martin more often in 2017.

Contract Status

Martin is in the third year of his contract that will pay him $20 million a year for the next three seasons.

Emily Says

Russell Martin began 2016 in a massive offensive slump. He didn’t get a hit until his fourth game (and thirteenth plate appearance) of the season, and went 9-for-60 (.150) in April. He only walked four times that month, and struck out 31 times. He shaved his trademark beard off for a change of luck, and things slowly but surely began to turn around for him in early May.

On May 4, he hit a bases-loaded, one-out fly ball single in the bottom of the 9th to walk off a game against the Rangers. On the 28 he was again instrumental in a walk-off – this time scoring the winning run on a Devon Travis single in the bottom of the ninth against Boston.

Martin hit his first home run of the year on May 25th in New York, and hit his second an inning later. In that game, he and teammate Michael Saunders became the first pair of Canadians to homer in the same inning – a feat they’d duplicate later in the season. Martin only hit .230 in May, but his slugging percentage leapt to .345 after sitting at .167 the month before.

In June he hit .262 with three home runs and three doubles, and began taking more walks (13 for the month). July was his best offensive month by far – he slashed .292/.425/.431 in spite of only hitting one home run. One of his best games came on July 3rd against Cleveland when he went 3-for-4 with two walks, a home run, five RBI and three runs scored. July also was his lowest monthly strikeout total, with 20.

He was sidelined for a few games at the end of the month after incurring a bizarre injury – the story goes that he was in the sauna, felt light-headed, then took a shower, passed out briefly and fell, injuring his knee. He apparently also dropped the shower hose on his face in the process.

Martin became the first Blue Jays catcher to have back-to-back seasons of 20+ home runs – this was helped along by a period in August where he hit six homers over a span of six days. He hit nine home runs in the month (also a record for a Jays catcher) and batted .286 with four doubles. A recurring knee injury plagued him throughout September, a month in which he hit .148 and struck out 28 times. One New York series, in particular, saw him lifted from the game after wincing noticeably on each swing.

He finished the season going 2-for-6 with two walks and two runs scored over two games in October. His season slash line was .231/.335/.398 with 20 home runs, 64 walks and 148 strikeouts. Both his walk and strikeout totals led MLB for his position. He also had 74 RBI, more than any other AL catcher.

Martin had the dubious honour of leading the Blue Jays in times hit by pitch – he suffered ten HBP, one more than Josh Donaldson and at least four more than anyone else. He got into it with umpire Vic Carapazza during the marathon Canada Day game and was ejected in the 13th inning after blowing up about the inconsistent strike zone (one of three Jays to be ejected from that game).

Even though he led the league in runners caught stealing in 2015, that ability seemed to fail him this year. He allowed 61 stolen bases, more than any AL catcher, and caught just eleven. However, with just four errors in over a thousand innings behind the plate, he had one of the league’s highest fielding percentages at his position (.996).

He participated in three double plays and routinely made impressively daring catches, such as diving into dugouts in an effort to retrieve foul pop-ups. He made one amusing appearance at each of third and second bases (after the starting players had been pulled for pinch-hitters).

Martin hit .091 as he went 3-for-33 in nine postseason games. He walked three times, struck out fourteen and drove in one. His lone postseason home run was a solo shot in the 1st inning of ALDS Game 3. Later in that same game, he would be the batter whose ground ball Rougned Odor made an error on, avoiding a double play and allowing Josh Donaldson to score from third to walk off the game and clinch the division series. He also threw out two baserunners in the playoffs after struggling with that all season.

Regular Season Grades

Jay: C
Emily: B-

Postseason Grades

Jay: D-
Emily: D