2013 was a tale of two halves for Leonys Martín. The rookie outfielder batted .283 with a .758 OPS in the first half, then slumped to a .238 average with an abysmal .637 OPS following the All-Star break.
What explains the drop-off? It’s hard to say when purely examining statistical trends. Martín’s K% went up by just 0.6 (20.2% to 20.8%) and his line drive rate actually increased (20.3% to 21.7%). Perhaps the most alarming change was a nearly 10 percent jump in FB% (32.5% in the second half, up from 23.8%), which had an understandably negative impact because Martín simply doesn’t have the power to get away with such a high fly-ball rate.
But part of the explanation for the second-half recession also has to include the difficulty of adjusting to major league pitching for an entire season while dealing with the rigors of being a rookie. Maintaining production throughout a full MLB season isn’t easy for anyone, but its especially difficult for those experiencing their first taste of action in the majors. (Yasiel Puig is another excellent example of this point.) Even Mike Trout dipped a bit during the second half of his rookie season (29-point AVG decrease).
Does that let Martín off the hook? Can we expect production akin to his first half totals, or will we see more of the same from his tough second half in the upcoming season? Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives of drafting Leonys Martín, and how you should expect him to contribute to your fantasy team in 2014.
Why to draft Martín:
Martín has the benefit of playing in a ballpark that greatly favors hitters, particularly lefties like himself. That didn’t help his power last season, but it did lead to more extra-base hits (including 14 doubles in 227 second-half at bats), which means more opportunities to score. Martín will also hit ninth in the Rangers lineup, meaning he’ll score plenty of runs thanks to the murderer’s row of batters hitting behind him (Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Alex Rios). Additionally, Jurickson Profar figures to hit eighth for the Rangers, meaning Martín could even knock in a few runs if the young shortstop puts it together offensively this season.
2. Statistical Pedigree
Don’t forget, Martín blazed through the minor leagues, moving all the way up from Rookie ball to Triple-A in the course of one season (2011). In 2012, he started the season in Triple-A, and he batted .359 with a blistering 1.033 OPS in 260 plate appearances. In total, Martín batted .323 across all levels of the minors, including a respectable 16 home runs and 34 doubles, in just 603 plate appearances.
We also saw flashes of what Martín is capable of doing in the majors thanks to his impressive first half stats. Curiously, Martín also saw a huge jump in his RBI total in the second half. Despite recording 11 fewer hits and batting 45 points lower, he drove in more than twice as many runs (33, up from 16 in the first half). That change didn’t come from a power surge, as he hit just three long balls after the All-Star break, and he also had just two sacrifice flies. The most likely explanation is Martín’s ability to take advantage of RISP opportunities; 42 of his 49 RBI (85.7%) in 2013 came with runners in scoring position, a huge percentage.
3. Consistent Playing Time
Last season, Martín platooned a bit with Craig Gentry. He started only 109 games in center field, with Gentry grabbing the starting role in 49 games. Martín started just 125 games in total all season, meaning he wasn’t consistently in the starting lineup. Now, with Gentry gone to the A’s and Ron Washington’s professed confidence in Martín, the young outfielder will have plenty of opportunity to prove his worth.
Additionally, Martín is an excellent fielder. His 14 outfield assists trailed only Alex Gordon in the American League, and he finished second in the AL among center fielders with his 10.3 UZR, behind Colby Rasmus. How does that impact you fantasy-wise? It means Martín will be guaranteed to see playing time, even if he hits a few bumps in the road offensively during the season.
For all the uncertainties that come with Martín in 2014, you can be sure the Rangers outfielder will produce in one particular category: stolen bases. In just 508 plate appearances in 2013, Martín stole 36 bases. Because he’s relegated to hitting ninth in the lineup, he likely won’t see an uptick in PAs, but that doesn’t mean he can’t once again eclipse 30 steals. In fact, 40 wouldn’t be out of the question, especially if Martín can turn in an OBP akin to his first-half total of .336.
Martín also managed to steal 17 bases in the second half of 2013, despite reaching base much less frequently than in the first half, when he stole 19 bases. That means he gained even more confidence swiping bags in the latter half, a positive sign for the upcoming season.
5. Low Cost
According to NFBC ADP data, Martín’s average pick is 129.42, right between Desmond Jennings and David Robertson. That means you’ll be able to grab him in the later rounds of the draft, and he won’t cost you much. For the guaranteed steals and potential upside, that’s a steal in my book.
Why NOT to draft Martín:
No matter how you spin it, Martín’s second half was disappointing, and the decline provides a great deal of worry for the upcoming year. His batting average and OPS fell by 45 and 121 points, respectively, after the break, and his second-half BB/K ratio was an alarmingly low 0.21. The drop-off was severe, but it's important to remember that Martín still improved in a few non-percentage categories, as previously mentioned, such as RBI and doubles.
2. Poor Plate Discipline
Plate discipline is arguably Martín's greatest weakness as a player. Pitchers learned to exploit this massively in the second half, as the rookie outfielder drew just 11 walks after the break for a 4.3 BB%, and an overall season total of 5.5%. There's some potential for an improvement in this category, however, as Martín has posted respectable BB% totals in the past. (He finished at 9.2% in Triple-A and climbed as high as 11.1% in Double-A.) But the caliber of pitching in the majors is obviously entirely different from that of the minors, and Martín will have to adjust his approach at the plate accordingly this season.
3. Lack of Power and RBI
As the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, Martín won't get much of an opportunity to drive in runs, especially with Geovany Soto (one year removed from a .270 OBP) hitting behind him. (Though Jurickson Profar could prove to create some RBI opportunities, as previously mentioned.) Martín also hit just eight homers in 2013, with an ISO of .125. He did hit 16 homers in essentially a full season of plate appearances in his minor league career, but with last season's power outage, don't expect more than 10-15 home runs from Martín.
Two last (minor) things to consider:
1. During his rookie season, Martín had to deal with a lawsuit against Estrellas del Baseball, a company that helped him defect from Cuba in 2010. The company sued Martin in 2012, and Martín filed a countersuit that basically alleges that he and his family were held in Mexico and Miami until Martín "agreed to pay 35 percent of his baseball salary as compensation," according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. While this could be a bit of a stretch, this does relate to fantasy baseball because the whole incident had to be a tremendous off-the-field distraction. Without such an issue this season, Martín can once again focus on playing baseball.
2. Martín saw his BABIP dip from .345 to .295 between halves. It’s too early to tell which number is closer to his future career average; BABIP doesn’t always average out to .300—many players have career BABIPs well above or below that total. But in this case, it’s reasonable to assume that Martín was the victim of a bit of bad luck. As previously mentioned, he actually increased his LD% in the second half. He also saw his BUH% (bunt hit percentage) get more than slashed in half (54.5% to 26.3%). With the amount of luck that goes into bunting, that's another instance of bad fortune.
ZiPS projects Martín to post a .264/.318/.406 line with 9 HRs, 55 runs, 48 RBI and 25 steals. However, he'll likely exceed each of those counting stats because ZiPS says Martín will have just 451 plate appearances, which is ridiculously low. Yes, Martín will bat ninth and thus see fewer trips to the plate, but he'll also bat more than the average No. 9 hitter because the Rangers have the best lineup in the majors (in my estimation).
I'd say you can safely expect a .260 average, 35 steals, 65 runs and 10 home runs from Martín in 2014. But there’s potential for the Rangers outfielder to finish with higher totals in all of those categories, without much chance of finishing worse. There's really no telling whether Martín will play like he did in the first or second half, other than a few statistics and other factors that point toward a return to first-half success. But isn't the fun of fantasy baseball taking calculated risks like this? With the opportunity to snag Martín late in the draft, why pass up the opportunity?
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.