The Toronto Blue Jays have several players not performing and Russell Martin is one of them, but are we giving him a free pass?
The Toronto Blue Jays are falling in the standings thanks to some injuries, but also some rather poor performances. Devon Travis was sent down because he seemed a shadow of the hitter we know he can be. I’ve written about Kendrys Morales and what to do with him, as much as I may hate myself for facing the reality. Randal Grichuk has been a lightning rod for criticism since the season began. I’ve written about that HERE and HERE. But, one player who seems to be escaping criticism is Canadian boy, Russell Martin.
It should be noted that I did explore the start to the season for Martin and whether it is that unusual. Turns out, it isn’t. But, we’re half way through May now and the 35 year old is the owner of a .172/.294/.670 line, according to Fangraphs. He’s hit 5 HR and driven in 12. He’s striking out nearly a quarter of the time. Martin is not a stranger to a below average BABIP, but this season he’s experiencing a career low .180. Fangraphs values his offensive contributions at -3.2. His overall fWAR sits at 0.2. Don’t look, but Luke Maile has a 1.0 fWAR.
Looking a little deeper, we see that Martin is making way more soft contact (28.8%) than we’re used to. Over the previous six seasons, he’s never hit even 20% soft contact. He’s seeing a career high groundball rate (54.5%) and a career low line drive rate (10.6%). According to Plate Discipline info, Martin is in the midst of the lowest contact rate of his career: 75.6%.
With such struggles, why are we not talking about this very much? Well, for one, May is traditionally a better month for Russell Martin. He’s a career .271 hitter in the second month of the season. This May has been an improvement over April as he’s seen his average climb almost 50 points to .207 this month. So, the idea of letting him play it out has some kind of merit to it, one supposes. But, should that make him free of criticism?
Well, where Kendrys Morales is in a position to be cast off by the Toronto Blue Jays, Martin is not. Morales is actually hindering roster flexibility. Martin is providing it. His ability to play third base has been highlighted on several occasions this season. He’s made difficult plays look easy. Providing a breather for Josh Donaldson comes in handy. As well, he gives himself a day off from squatting behind the plate. So, just by pure virtue of being positionally flexible, Martin gets a longer leash.
But, that’s not all. If the Blue Jays were to seriously consider giving Martin the
necessary Morales treatment, they would be creating a massive hole in their roster. Sure, Luke Maile is having a career year, but I’m not sure there is anyone on the planet who believes in it enough to give him the everyday job. Beyond that, Danny Jansen is having a rather nice season in Buffalo, but he would have to play absolutely out of his mind to dethrone Martin.
The fact is that Russell Martin is in a position where he can be given the time to figure things out. He has a track record of starting the season poorly, but righting the ship to end up with a nice overall campaign. Will that happen? Well, no one knows for sure. Looking at his numbers, we would think so. He’s making $20M this season and is due to do the same next year. Where Morales is an investment that the Blue Jays should probably cut ties with, Martin is not.
The Toronto Blue Jays are in a position where they may need to make some dramatic, difficult decisions. As much as we would like to fix everything as quickly as possible, the ‘Martin situation’ is not one of those. The team’s roster and the player’s history make this decision less dramatic. Basically, the club needs to ride out any periods of struggle and deal with his back loaded contract. In doing so, they are going to have to hope it doesn’t interfere with their tenuous grip on competing for postseason baseball this year.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.