Keeping Russell Martin Would Not Have Solved the Problem That is the 2013 Yankee Offense

Some fans seem to believe that Russell Martin would have been the solution to the team's offensive woes in 2013.  (Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr).

Some fans seem to believe that Russell Martin would have been the solution to the team’s offensive woes in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr).

With the well-documented ineffectiveness of the Yankee offense, many fans have been vociferously lamenting the fact that Russell Martin was not re-signed this offseason.  The party line is that the Yankees failed to re-sign Martin because either Brian Cashman was inept or the Steinbrenner boys were too tight-fisted.  Either way, the proposition being set forth is that the 2013 Yankee offense would not be struggling so severely had this apparently keystone player been retained.

At times like this, I am reminded of the Billy Joel lyric “[t]he good ole days weren’t always good” because it appears that many fans have a romanticized recollection of what was the 2012 season.

To put it bluntly, Russell Martin was a sub-par catcher last season.  While Martin set a career high in home runs (with 21), his season “slash” line was .211/.311/.403/.713.   In fact, Martin’s batting average was below .200 until the early part of September.  To put Martin’s struggles into perspective, he was batting .186 on July 1, 2012, which is worse than the 2013 averages for Vernon Wells (.228), Travis Hafner (.223), Jayson Nix (.236), and Lyle Overbay (.240) on the same date.   (Martin may take some consolation  in the fact that he did have a better average than David Adams, by .008).

When comparing all catchers in the major leagues who had at least 200 at-bats during the 2012 season, Martin ranked 23rd in OPS, which was behind such luminaries as Martin Maldonado (who is a career .240 hitter) and Kelly Shoppach (who was recently designated for assignment by the Mariners).  In terms of WAR, Martin was ranked 18th (tied with the aforementioned Maldonado).

These numbers are even more alarming when viewed outside of a vacuum.  Martin’s batting average had declined every season since 2007 (when he recorded his career best batting average of .293).  His on-base-percentage had likewise declined every year since 2008.  For a catcher entering his age-30 season, these numbers certainly were not trending in the right direction.  This is especially true considering Martin’s heavy workload during his career, having caught a total of 7,588 innings through 2012.   Additionally, Martin missed multiple games last season with back injuries and there were reported grumblings about Martin’s in-game calling.  These combined facts clearly painted a picture of a player on the decline.

Some may counter that although Martin’s 2012 season was not great, he would certainly be an upgrade over the current Yankee catchers.  Well, the statistics show that this simply is not the case.  On July 1st of last season, Martin was batting .186/.307/.361/.668.  Through July 1st of this season, Chris Stewart, who is the starting catcher due to Francisco Cervelli’s injury, was batting .259/.325/.338/.663.

Well, surely, the start to Martin’s 2013 season clearly demonstrates that Cashman made a horrendous call in not re-signing Martin?  Again, that’s not necessarily correct.  Comparing the 2013 statistics of Russell Martin with the season statistics of Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli is telling:

AB

R

H

2B

HR

RBI

SB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Russell Martin

226

29

56

14

8

30

5

.248

.341

.416

.757

Stewart/Cervelli

200

28

50

5

6

19

3

.262

.339

.383

.722

(Stats through June 30, 2013.  Stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com)

The Stewart/Cervelli combo does not appear to be that far off the pace of the offensive juggernaut that is Russell Martin.  One must also keep in mind the fact that Martin is making $8.5 million (the Pittsburgh Pirates signed him to a two year/$17 million contract) whereas Stewart and Cervelli are making a combined $1.03 million ($515,000 each) this season.  Based on the statistics, Martin certainly does not appear to be worth $7.5 million more per season.

All fans wish there were a cut-and-dry explanation for the Yankees’ offensive ineptitude or that the blame can be leveled against one person (such as Brian Cashman), but that simply is not the case.  The current predicament the Yankee team finds itself in is a result of multiple factors, not the least of which is the decision to sign players through their late 30s and the failure to develop minor league talent.

To hear most Yankee fans tell it, Russell Martin was the second coming of Yogi Berra or Elston Howard.  In reality, Martin (.224/.317/.405/.723 and OPS+ of 94 from 2011-2012) was not even Matt Nokes (.251/.303/.454/.758 and OPS+ of 107 from 1991-1994) or Butch Wynegar (.254/.361/.358/.719 and OPS+ of 102 from 1983-1986).

Yankee fans who are faulting Cashman for not bringing Martin back or who claim that Martin’s presence would have somehow prevented this season’s offensive woes are not only mistaken; they are also deluding themselves.

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