2010 Boston Red Sox Preview: Victor Martinez Has Huge Shoes To Fill

Jeffrey BrownAnalyst IMarch 4, 2010

Victor Martinez has huge shoes to fill behind home plate at Fenway Park. His predecessor was team captain, backstopped two World Series championship teams and is the only catcher in the history of the game to have caught four no-hitters.

With Jason Varitek now relegated to part-time duty, many pundits are wondering aloud whether Martinez will prove to be an adequate replacement with the bat and behind the plate.

When reviewing Martinez’ numbers they provide a contradictory picture as to what the Red Sox and Red Sox Nation may be able to expect from him over the course of a full season for the Olde Towne Team. For his career, he has hit .299, with a .372 OBP, and a .465 slugging percentage (for an .837 OPS); but there is a significant variance in his performance depending on his defensive position in a ballgame.

As a catcher, he has hit .297, with a .369 OBP and .460 slugging percentage (.828 OPS); but as a first baseman he has hit .313, with a .383 OBP, .493 slugging percentage and .876 OPS...that is nearly a 50-point difference in OPS.

His .837 OPS is even more impressive when you consider it was compiled playing half of his games at Progressive Field, routinely one of the best pitcher’s park in the major leagues (according to ESPN’s Park Factors , it ranked as the second-best pitcher’s park in baseball in 2009).

Last year, the difference was even more dramatic before the trade to Boston. With Cleveland he hit a dismal .247 as a catcher, with a .333 OBP, .371 slugging percentage and a pedestrian .704 OPS...but when he played first base for the Tribe he hit .329, with a .413 OBP, .553 slugging percentage and a robust .966 OPS.

After arriving in Boston, his offensive production exploded—his batting average increased from .284 to .336, his OBP went from .368 to .405, and his OPS exploded, going from .832 to .912. Surprisingly, his greatest production with the Red Sox came when he played backstop, not first base (though the splits were very close).

Wearing the tools of ignorance, he hit .333 / .411 / .496 / .907… but when he wore the first baseman’s mit he hit .329 / .387 / .506 / .893. This in spite of the fact he only has an .819 OPS at Fenway Park in his career.

So the Red Sox don’t know exactly what they can expect from him coming into the 2010 season. This may be the reason the ballclub has been reticent to sign him to a long-term deal prior to the beginning of the season—they may want to see what he does over the course of an entire season before they make a multi-year commitment. Of course, that’s the approach they took with Jason Bay—and we all know where THAT got them!

Jorge Posada signed a four-year, $52.4 million contract a couple of years ago with numbers that are inferior but somewhat similar to Martinez—so that should be the neighborhood where the Sox should be prepared to go with V-Mart.

With that said, Martinez is considerably younger than Posada was at the time he signed his deal, and Victor may feel he is entitled to an additional year or two). So there is a decision to be made by both sides: Victor can take the security or roll the dice on finding a team that will give him an extra year or two. It says here the Sox need to sign V-Mart...NOW...before his price goes up.

So, what kind of numbers will he put up in 2010? As I’ve mentioned previously in this series, I am not a devotee of the most widely-used projection systems: CHONE, Bill James and PECOTA. They all have problems. CHONE projections tend to be strong for hitters but weak for pitchers. The PECOTA system has the opposite problem—it is strong for pitchers, but weak for hitters. And while Bill James is well-known and an employee of the Red Sox, his annual projections are consistently overly-optimistic.

I prefer the work done by Ron Shandler (who is the godfather of ‘fanalytics’) and Mike Podhorzer (the new kid on the block).

Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster is must-reading for any baseball fan, especially if he/she is a fantasy baseball aficionado. Shandler and his minions do great work. They can be found at BaseballHeadquarters.com .

Podhorzer’s predictions at fantasypros911.com went 42-0 when compared head-to-head with other projection systems last year. Seriously, folks, if you don’t know about fantasypros911.com , it’s time that you take a look. Great stuff!

So what do these two systems project for Martinez for the upcoming season?

Shandler: .295, 20 HR, 99 RBI
Podhorzer: .295, 20 HR, 100 RBI

As much as I rely on Mike and Ron, I think they under-appreciate the benefits Martinez will enjoy in Fenway Park...that said, I think many other pundits have over-valued the impact of the home field.

I see V-Mart’s average edging over the .300 mark...and due to the hitters batting in front of him I project his production will be significantly higher.

SOX1FAN projection: .303, 25 HR, 117 RBI


For you Yankees fans who might object to my comment that Posada’s stats are inferior to Martinez, consider this:

Since 1900, there are 117 catchers who have reached the 2,500+ at-bats plateau by the age of 30...of those who qualified at this level, Martinez has the 10th-highest OPS in history . Five of the others are in the Hall of Fame...two others (Joe Mauer and Mike Piazza) will likely be in the HOF eventually. (Joe Torre is one of the other two catchers on the list, and he might end up there as well, but as a manager)

Those already in the Hall of Fame: Yogi Berra, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk and Gabby Hartnett.

The other guy? The immortal Spud Davis .