ESPN Yankee stat guru Mark Simon has a terrific piece up this morning over at ESPN New York dissecting Russell Martin’s trouble against breaking balls (esp the curve) this year. Martin’s been something of a dead red hitter in recent months, but he may have made an adjustment. He writes:
This is the first time since June 29 that Martin ended a day with a batting average above .230. He’s now got three homers in his last two games. Perhaps the best thing about the day concerned that first home run, off a hanging curveball from Twins starter Kevin Slowey.
One of the roots of Martin’s ongoing struggles has been his inability to hit off-speed pitches. Since July 23, Martin had made 25 outs and had just one hit (a single against Angels reliever Joel Pineiro) against curveballs, changeups and slider. He hadn’t had a home run against a pitch of that type since June 29 against the Brewers, when he hit a three-run shot on a Shaun Marcum changeup.
But the slow stuff had been perplexing him for quite some time. Since the All-Star break, nearly 70 percent of his swings against off-speed pitches resulted in either foul balls or misses. That’s an increase of more than 10 percentage points from the first half.
That’s why his batting average against such pitches is .175 and his batting average on balls in play against them is .186 (the major league averages are .224 and .283 respectively).
That’s about as granular as trend analysis gets. We may be seeing the first indication of some changes being made by Martin, or just that he guessed right and got lucky. But 3 HRs in two games makes me suspect something has changed. That’s really driving the ball, though it has to be noted that those HRs came off two pitchers (Slowey/Chen) that barely break 90 MPH on the gun. Fangraphs has Martin in negative territory against the fastball this year, while relatively neutral against the curve, cutter and slider. He may have simply decided to stop beating his head against a wall trying to catch up with fastballs and resolved to stay back a bit more.
Chad Jennings notes that Martin has been working with Kevin Long lately, though Martin didn’t offer up much details as to what they worked on, other than “he’s a confidence booster”. Of course, if he’s doing something different he won’t want to tip off opposing pitchers, so he won’t divulge the details. You don’t tell reporters after the game “I’ve closed my stance, moved up in the box and sitting curve”. It will be interesting to see if Martin goes on a hot streak, what types of pitches he’s swinging at and if there’s any discernible difference in his stance at the plate or approach. It usually takes a while for the advance scouting reports to catch up with changes like these when they occur. Stay tuned, folks.
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