Earlier this season, I took a look at Russell Martin‘s numbers, when he was off to such a hot start with the bat. Back in late May Martin was batting .266/.370/.504 and looked like he was back to the form he had in his early years in Los Angeles. At the time of the post, I concluded that Martin’s numbers would deflate. I predicted he would finish the season with an SLG around .460. After Sunday’s game Martin is batting .227/.330/.375. A .460 SLG is a dream. What happened?
The basic answer is that Martin front loaded a lot of his performance this season so his recent struggles are actually a reversion to the mean. Russell hasn’t posted an SLG above .400 since 2007. While it certainly seemed like he’d rediscovered his power stroke when he got off to such a hot start this season, in retrospect it was wishful thinking to believe that the older, surgically repaired Martin would suddenly morph back into the .350+ wOBA player that he once was.
Digging deeper, however, there are some positive trends in his numbers. First of all, as anemic as it may seem, Martin’s .318 wOBA on the season is actually his best since 2008 and his 1.6 fWAR is fifth best in the AL. Russell may have posted sub .300 wOBA’s in June and July, but he’s been a respectable option behind the plate. Furthermore, his numbers suggest he may end strong.
Martin’s ISO is currently .148. His AVG is low, so that doesn’t translate into high numbers overall, but that is actually the most pop he’s shown with his bat since 2007, when his ISO was .176. In 2010 and 2009 Martin’s ISO was no higher than .085, so while he has struggled recently, he has actually hit with more power this season. The culprit behind his poor numbers is certainly bad play, but it may also be a bit of bad luck. Martin’s BABIP was .233 entering Sunday’s game. In 2010 and 2009 Martin’s BABIP was at least .284. Given that his walk and strike out rates are in line with his career norms, it is reasonable to expect Martin to get hot again sometime before the season ends.
The one red flag that is cause for some alarm moving forward, however, is Martin’s struggles against the fastball. Martin has been worth -9.6 runs against the fastball this season already. Typically, players are nearing the end of the line when they struggle against the heat so badly.
I like Russell Martin as a player, but I don’t know why. He started great, but has struggled mightily since May. Usually this kind of performance would turn me against a player, but there’s something about Martin I respect. I have no evidence to support it, but he seems to work hard and looks like he’s a solid defensive catcher. For these (completely unscientific) reasons I can’t help but give Martin the benefit of the doubt. For the time being I’m willing to bet that his BABIP will pick up, despite his inability to hit the fastball, and he’ll end the season on a high note.
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