I was catching up on some recent baseball news last night when I came across the Dodgers top 10 questions going into the 2010 season over at MLB.com. One of the questions was about catcher Russell Martin:
Is this a make-or-break season for catcher Russell Martin?
Management hasn't given up on Martin, but it isn't ignoring his two-year regression. Don't be surprised if A.J. Ellis gets a lot of playing time in Spring Training, and don't be surprised if he makes a serious run at Martin's job. Management likes Ellis' catch-and-throw tools, and he's made serious progress the last two seasons offensively. Meanwhile, management has no answers for what's happened with Martin. His work ethic improved dramatically in '09 and his defense was better, but the offense is nowhere near the level of his Silver Slugger season in '07. With fewer times on base, there are fewer stolen bases, not that it's expected from a catcher but a unique asset he once displayed. And this being his second season of arbitration, he'll need to pick it up offensively to justify a salary headed toward $5 million.
I have been down on Russell Martin for the last two years, and still am, but I was surprised to see Ken Gurnick's response. So let's take a look at A.J. Ellis's minor league numbers:
Ellis is not a power hitter, but has a very good eye at the plate. Here are his KBB rates the last 4 years-53/53 in 2006, 60/61 in 2007, 50/44 in 2008 and 64/44 in 2009. He has also improved his batting average from .250 in 2006 to .314 in 2009, and his OPS is always around .800 with a high of .892 in 2008. His batting eye, and defensive skills will carry alot of weight with manager Joe Torre and hitting coach Don Mattingly, as both love to see hitters work counts.
Meanwhile, Martin has seen his HR/RBI/BA numbers drop from 19/87/.293 in 2007 to 7/53/.250 in 2009. His SB totals have also dropped from 21 in 2007 to 11 in 2009. Bill James predicts Martin to bounce back in 2010 with a 12-71-13-.272-.372-.396-.768 projection.
Fantasy leaguers, and those in keeper leagues, may want to watch the Dodgers catcher battle in spring training before deciding to list Martin as a keeper going into your 2010 draft. Maybe having Martin compete for the starting job in spring training will result in a more focused and more productive Martin in 2010.