Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez is coming off of a horrendous knee injury which caused him to miss the 2012 season in its entirety. The Tigers need Martinez healthy this season so he can provide protection at the plate behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
Martinez used to primarily be a catcher before signing with the Tigers in Nov. 2010, but his bat—not his ability to catch—is the reason why he needs to be in the lineup.
Martinez was never great defensively and only played 26 games at catcher for the Tigers. Coming off a knee injury makes things even riskier because of the additional strain put on a catcher's knee.
The media asked Tigers manager Jim Leyland on March 23 about the possibility of Martinez catching this season due to interleague play and the loss of the DH. Leyland gave an answer, which was quite surprising (via MLive.com's James Schmehl):
"If we felt like there was some real nasty, nasty left-hander and Victor was healthy enough and you felt like you weren't risking anything, he might do it," he said. "And, he'll want to do it, I know that."
Leyland then continued on, sounding more definitive about Martinez potentially catching:
"I don't want to make a big deal about that because we've laid low on it. But, is it a possibility? Sure. Down the road, yeah," Leyland said. "Is it going to happen for sure? I can't answer that, but I think it's a strong possibility."
Let's forget Martinez's health for a minute and look at the facts.
Martinez's career percentage at throwing out baserunners is 24 percent, while the league average for throwing out baserunners is 29 percent. Martinez's best caught-stealing percentage happened back in 2008 (37 percent), but he was only behind the plate for 55 games.
While Martinez's arm has never been considered great, his overall defense is lackluster as well. His career range factor average per game is 6.65, which is lower than the league average of 7.09.
Those numbers are why, even if Martinez had never injured his knee, it is an unnecessary risk to play him behind the plate.
Fans tend to forget that Alex Avila is a strong defensive catcher and was a Gold Glove finalist in 2001 and 2012.
The final reason why Martinez shouldn't catch any games can be found in his career batting average.
Martinez, who is a .303 career hitter, has a batting average of .299 in 835 games at catcher. When he plays first base, he has a batting average of .314 in 143 games. At DH, he has a career average of .317 in 146 games.
That is why Leyland and the Tigers shouldn't risk Martinez's health for a few games in away interleague games.
The only exception when Martinez might be able to play behind the plate is if the Tigers make the World Series, but to be able to get there, the Tigers must keep him healthy.
*All statistics are from baseball-reference.com
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