Jays From the Couch brings you a look at what to expect in 2017 from Toronto Blue Jays catcher, Russell Martin
With Blue Jays Spring Training workouts under way, it is the time of year where we start to get excited about the upcoming season. Baseball is back! In looking ahead, there will be lots of chatter about what we can expect from certain players. To that end, we’ll be taking a look at the different projections for the Toronto Blue Jays to give you an idea of what you can look forward to.
If the Blue Jays make the playoffs for the third consecutive year, this guy will have something to do with it. Russell Martin is entering his 11th year in the big leagues and his teams have only missed the playoffs twice. Martin makes $20 million in 2017 and with no heir apparent in sight, he’ll be the team’s starting catcher. He is reportedly coming off a minor offseason knee surgery, according to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi.
Russell Martin had an odd year. It’s impossible to understand the season he had just looking at his slash line for the full year. He got off to an excruciatingly slow start, slashing .172/.243/.180 and a wRC+ of 15 through his first 39 games. On May 25th, he looked to break through, hitting two jacks against the Yankees en route to an 8-4 win. Martin caught fire, slashing .281/.386/.531 with a wRC+ of 146 over his next 76. He went from hitting below replacement level to hitting like a star.
When September rolled around, Martin – like the rest of the Blue Jays bats – went cold. Martin finished the year with a wRC+ of just 65 in his last 22 games.
Oddly enough, Martin walked more and struck out less in those 22 games. From May 25th to September 6th, his BB% was 12.9 and his K% was 25.9. From September 7th to the end of the season, his BB% jumped to 16.7 and K% dropped slightly to 25.6 (Graphics via FanGraphs, May 25-September 6 at the top).
It would be easy to look at the graph above and just point out his low BABIP as the reason for his struggles, but there was a reason why his BABIP was that low.
Martin saw success spraying the ball all over the field with an average exit velocity of 91.5 MPH during that 76 game stretch. In his final 22 games, his exit velocity dipped to 86.1 MPH (exit velocity information via Baseball Savant). Not only did his exit velocity dip, he hit the ball on the ground and pulled it more. That would definitely cause somebody to see their numbers plummet.
While Russell Martin tearing the cover off the ball like he did for a stretch in 2016 would be welcome to Blue Jays fans, nobody at FanGraphs is expecting him to post a high wRC+ this season. The projections look similar to what he ended the year with, but I don’t think his unsightly numbers to start and finish the year will continue. Martin won’t be asked to be one of the heavy lifters in the lineup – and he probably won’t come close to a 144 wRC+ – but his bat still has a lot of hits left in it.
You don’t need much offence from your catcher, but Martin will still be able to chip in a little offensively. If he can get back to hitting the ball all over the field and provide good defence like he has in the past, he will easily surpass these projections and finish with a fWAR in the mid 3’s.
I’m not sure what effect his surgically repaired knee had on his struggles near the end of the season and I won’t speculate on it, but if his health is what the difference was between July Martin and October Martin, Blue Jays fans have even more reason to be excited going into 2017.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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