When there’s pitching, there’s no hitting, and when there’s hitting, there’s no pitching. This best summarizes the Yankees 6-12 record since landing in Oakland on July 19th. While it’s clear that Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano have started to hit over the last week, Russell Martin has quietly increased his batting average from .184 to .194. Since mid-July, the catcher has bumped his batting average from .176 to .194, and over the last ten games, he’s 9 for 32 (.281 BA) with 6 walks (.395 OBP) and 2 homeruns. As silly as it sounds, the player who’s been under the Mendoza Line since June, might be able to carry the team through the final stretch of the season.
From a statistics point of view, Martin’s numbers are astonishing. Despite a .288 career BABIP, the catcher is only at a .203 BABIP for 2012. Even last year .252 BABIP could be considered unlucky from a batted ball rate standpoint, but since then he’s only improved those numbers. His 2012 batted ball rates are 48.8% groundballs, 31.3% flyballs, and 19.9% linedrives, all of which equates to an expected BABIP of .324. So why is the actual batting average down .121 points from what’s expected?
In calculating xBABIP, the accepted batting average on batted ball types is .240 on groundballs, .150 on flyballs, and .730 on linedrives. While this is the typical league average, Martin has batted .112 on goundballs, .222 on flyballs, and .650 on linedrives. Martin is seeing a higher than expected batting average on flyballs, however he is getting a ridiculously low batting average on groundballs, and seeing more linedrives caught. Considering half of his batted balls are groundballs, and only about 1 in 10 are resulting in hits, this is the biggest factor in his low BABIP.
Before claiming that a low BABIP equates to bad luck, there could be three circumstances to create this problem. First, Martin could be hitting the wimpiest groundballs in baseball and running slower than Ernie Lombardi. There is no way to prove this without HITf/x, but Martin has stated multiple times that he’s in the best shape of his life, and the high linedrive rates and stolen base numbers suggest that there is no such decline his ability. Second, he could be facing the greatest infield defense in baseball history. Considering his role as the everyday catcher, and the sample size of numerous defenses he’s faced, the .112 average on groundballs is far too low to come from this circumstance. Third, he could be unlucky.
Even by the eye test, 2012 Martin looks unlucky. It seems that linedrives never seem to fall, and groundballs never seem to find the right hole. A statistician would expect Martin’s BABIP and batting average to increase by the season’s end. It might be impossible to reach that .324 xBABIP, but if regression toward the mean holes true, Martin certainly has the ability to carry the team. Aside from a slightly high K%, almost every other number indicates that 2012 Martin is a better hitter than any point in his career. Remembering back to April of 2011, Martin kept the Yankees afloat, and the team needs that boost again. If bad luck could step aside for the next two months, as it has over the last couple of weeks, maybe Martin will unexpectedly and earnedly rebound at the perfect time.
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