With the American League East being wide open as the 2015 season approaches, the Blue Jays have fired the first salvo, signing free agent catcher Russell Martin to a reported five-year eighty-two million dollar contract. This is important for a variety of reasons but since Dioner Navarro was not a complete offensive black hole, it points to the fact that the Blue Jays are looking to not only upgrade with Martin’s defense, but they covet his ability to frame pitches and command a pitching staff. One of the overlooked nuances in baseball is the ability of a catcher to not only call a game, but work with his pitching staff and steal strikes. According to BrooksBaseball.net, in 2013 alone Russell Martin was able to catch 155 extra strikes for his staff which resulted in saving 16.6 runs for the season. As it stands now, three of the five probable Blue Jay starters (Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison) are presently 22,23 and 24 years old. I understand that the Blue Jays may sign a front-line pitcher or at least one more starter to give them more experience and depth, but a veteran presence like Martin will have an impact on the young core of starting pitching that money cannot measure.
This move only enhances Martin’s fantasy value, just make sure not to overreact. The “never pay for a career year” phrase comes into play here. Thanks, Matthew Berry. Will he be moving to a better hitting environment? Yes. Are there going to be more opportunities to drive in runs and pad his counting stats? Yes. But there is a blueprint here, as Russell Martin did spend two years in the Bronx, another notorious hitter’s ballpark. As a starting point, here are the averages from his Yankee years (I did the slash lines myself for a point of reference):
Russell Martin Average Year in NY: 129 G, 54 R, 19 HR, 59 RBI, 7 SB .224/.317/.405
To be honest, Martin did struggle a bit in New York with his BABIP, so I am willing to boost his average in Toronto due to maturity as a hitter, but the other numbers above may represent his ceiling in Toronto. This is fine. Remember, this contract is as much about defense as it is offense. How good was Martin last year you ask?
Russell Martin 2014: 113 G, 45 R, 11 HR, 67 RBI, 4 SB .290/.402/.430
For his career, Martin has a slash line of .259/.354/.399. I am willing to pay for that entering 2015. Last year, Martin was able to draw more walks and cut down on the strikeout but his totally unsustainable BABIP of .336 is not coming back. The upgrade by hitting in Toronto will definitely boost his homer totals since his average standard distance in 2014 was 305.9 feet with his average speed off the bat 107.2 MPH. That is higher than Jason Heyward’s, who was profiled earlier today. Here are his home runs from last year with Toronto’s Roger Centre as an overlay:
Russell Martin hit balls in the strike zone at an unconscionable rate that he will be hard-pressed to replicate in 2015. Offense may be secondary for him this season, as he inherits a young pitching staff and will be looked at as a stabilizing force in that arena. In his first seasons with the Yankees and Pirates he batted .237 and .226 respectively. While this is not a guarantee, to invest in anything near .290 is fool’s money. I am comfortable projecting numbers very close to his Yankee days, if not a bit better due to his maturity and approach. During his two seasons with the Yankees, Martin had HR/FB% rates of 15.9 in 2011 and 19.8 in 2012. Since his career HR/FB% is 11.5, I agree that this number will progress back toward his Yankee day which should result in a boost in his power numbers to 15-19 home runs. It will be interesting to see if this move will spike his numbers in ADP or if he can remain a solid buy later in drafts. Last year, Martin was the 15th catcher drafted at pick 260 but finished as the 6th catcher on ESPN’s Player Rater. I honestly see him moving up to a point where I may wait on him but if I can get him at a solid price, I’m buying.
Statistical credits: Baseball-reference.com, ESPN.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/c6TrJY
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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!