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Catcher Profile: Russell Martin

Despite a big increase in 2014 production, don't expect similar things from Martin in 2015

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014, at 31 years old, Russell Martin enjoyed the best season of his career. In 460 PA, Martin achieved heights he’s never reached before, including an incredible .402 on base percentage. Martin’s on base percentage was fourth best in baseball (minimum 450 PA) and his 140 wRC+ was top 20, ahead of notable stars Robinson Cano and Hanley Ramirez.

Here’s a look at Martin’s 2014 season in comparison to his career prior:

Table 1

Year(s)

AVG

OBP

SLG

BABIP

wRC+

2006-13

.255

.349

.396

.284

102

2014

.290

.402

.430

.336

140

Table 2

Year(s)

K%

BB%

2006-13

15.6%

11.5%

2014

17.0%

12.8%

Table 3

Year(s)

LD%

GB%

FB%

2006-13

19.1%

49.4%

31.4%

2014

19.3%

49.0%

31.7%

Martin significantly improved his career AVG, OBP, SLG and wRC+ while keeping his other peripherals like K%, BB%, LD% GB% and FB% virtually the same. His production increase in 2014 was largely BABIP driven.

The puzzling thing is that Martin’s BABIP had been trending downward since his Dodger days. In the 3 seasons prior to last year, Martin ran a BABIP of .247. That makes his 2014 jump in BABIP to .336 look crazy extreme.

So what accounted for the rise in BABIP?

Was Martin hitting the ball harder?

A spike in hard contact can equal a spike in BABIP because hard contact is more difficult to field and turn into outs than softer contact. If Martin began crushing the ball in 2014, it would explain a rise in BABIP, but that didn't happen:

Year

Hard hit rate

League average

2014

17.0%

17.2%

2013

16.7%

17.2%

2012

19.9%

20.8%

2011

24.9%

20.8%

2010

21.8%

20.8%

2009

21.6%

23.4%

2008

21.9%

23.4%

2007

23.9%

23.4%

Martin’s hard hit rate has stuck around league average consistently, so that doesn’t explain the increase in BABIP.

Martin’s infield hits were significantly higher in 2014

Russell Martin had a gigantic increase in infield hits on grounders in 2014 in comparison with the rest of his career.

Year(s)

Infield hit rate

2006-13

5.2%

2014

11.3%

Here’s an example of that:

Tell me which player on this list sticks out like a sore thumb:

Top 15 players in infield hit percentage, 2014 (Min. 450 PA)

Player

Infield hit rate

Mike Trout

15.9%

Starling Marte

14.5%

Rajai Davis

13.5%

Lorenzo Cain

12.9%

Carlos Gomez

12.7%

Andrew McCutchen

12.6%

Adam Eaton

12.2%

Corey Dickerson

12.1%

Yoenis Cespedes

11.8%

Jose Reyes

11.8%

Dexter Fowler

11.3%

Russell Martin

11.3%

Dee Gordon

11.3%

Billy Hamilton

11.2%

Yasiel Puig

11.2%

Martin is sandwiched between Billy Hamilton/Dee Gordon and Dexter Fowler/Jose Reyes for infield hit rate. He had two less infield hits in 2014 than 80 grade runner Billy Hamilton.

Fortunate batted ball placement, such as these dribbling infield hits, are the primary explanation for the huge jump in BABIP for Martin in 2014. This type of BABIP increase is not sustainable. Martin's numbers are going to go down in 2015.

What can we expect from Martin in 2015?

I labeled Martin in my "catcher's to avoid" list, but that's not because I think he'll be a bad player, I just think he'll be overvalued based on last season. Despite moving to an excellent hitter’s park in Toronto, Martin will regress to something near his career norm. Steamer currently has him at .242/.341/.405 with a 111 wRC+. That sounds about right.

Martin is still a solid catcher option at the back end of drafts, but only draft him if the value is right. Don't overpay for him based on 2014. You'll get burned.

. . .

Talk baseball/fantasy with Tim on twitter at @TimFinn521