Fantasy owners may have seen Russell Martin as a top three catcher heading into last season, but after an extremely disappointing 2009 his value has taken a big hit. A deflated value on draft day 2010 will be tantalizing for owners looking for a bargain. Will they find a bargain in Martin?
Despite a regression in counting stats, there are several factors that point to 2010 as being a comeback season from this former top tier catcher.
Last season Martin played in his fewest games since 2007 and caught his fewest innings since 2006. This, actually, could end up being a good thing. Martin’s regression in power and speed may very well be a direct result of workload behind the plate. Since his first full season, Martin has either led or been in the top three among catchers in innings caught. Even during interleague play, Joe Torre decided to keep Martin behind the plate rather than use him as a DH . With no World Baseball Classic to prepare for in 2010, Martin should enter the season with much fresher legs and the motivation to prove 2009 was a fluke.
The fall-off in speed is a concern for fantasy owners when assessing Martin’s 2010 value. His stolen base totals have dropped from 21 to 18 to 11 over the past three years. It is important to put that into perspective though; his 11 steals in 2009 still led all Major League catchers. As stated above, there will be no team Canada in 2010 and that should result in an increase in steals, albeit not quite to the 20-plus range.
Not to harp on the whole “WBC effect”, but could that have affected Martin’s power output too? Maybe Geovany Soto would like to comment. Martin hit about the same amount of fly-balls as he did in 2008 (139 to 130), yet he saw his home run per fly ball rate drop from a career rate of above 9 percent down to 5.4 percent in 2009. Out of the four years of Martin’s career MLB data, his 2009 HR/FB rate looks like it could end up as the low-end outlier.
It seems more likely that his power numbers bounce back than regress or stay the same.
Martin may not hit a ton of fly balls, which is mostly a good thing, but he has had a three-year progression in line-drive rate. Given his 2009 line drive rate of 20.5 percent, his BABIP of .285 can be deemed as “unlucky”. Expect his BABIP to head north toward .300 or above in 2010 and his AVG to rise to at least .275-.285.
With regards to plate discipline, Martin is among the best in baseball. His 2009 BB/K rate ranked him in the top 20 among Major League regulars. He is a very patient hitter (3.86 pitches per plate appearance) and does not swing at many pitches outside the strike-zone (under 20 percent). That skill set makes Martin much less risky than someone who strikes out a lot, frequently swings at bad pitches or doesn’t draw many walks.
While part of Martin’s regression could be based on workload behind the plate, he is entering 2010 at a prime age of 27. Combine his relative youth with all of the factors listed above, especially his great plate discipline, and you get a player who is a prime bounce back candidate. When it comes to drafting Russell Martin in 2010, take advantage of his deflated value and do so with confidence.
Charlie Saponara is the owner/author of fantasybaseball365.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org