RUSSELL MARTIN
CATCHER
Born: February 15, 1983
Height: 5’10″
Weight: 205
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Drafted: 17th Round, 511th Overall, 2002 (Dodgers)
How Acquired: Free Agent
College: Chipola College
Agent: Matt Colleran

WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES

Martin was one of the better catchers in baseball in his first three seasons, playing very well on both sides of the ball.  He had outstanding plate discipline throughout his minor league career and most of his major league career.  After those first three seasons, though, his hitting dropped off significantly and he struggled during his last two seasons in Los Angeles, leading to a non-tender.  He signed with the Yankees and continued to struggle at the plate, with his plate discipline also dropping off, but he hit with more power than previously.  For his career he’s had a fairly strong platoon split, posting an OPS of .830 against LHPs and .725 against RHPs.  He’s a good defensive catcher, possibly one of the best in baseball if you credit the pitch-framing study published by Baseball Prospectus, which showed Martin to be excellent.  For his career he’s thrown out 30% of opposing base stealers.The Pirates signed Martin to a two-year contract worth a total of $17M, the largest free agent signing of GM Neal Huntington’s tenure.  The deal called for a $2M signing bonus, $6.5M in 2013 and $8.5M in 2014.  Martin replaced Rod Barajas as the team’s regular catcher.

2002
R:  286/412/387, 126 AB, 3 2B, 3 3B, 23 BB, 18 K, 7-8 SB

Martin was drafted as an infielder and played third in his debut season.  He showed good plate discipline but not much power.

2003
R+:  271/368/436, 188 AB, 13 2B, 6 HR, 26 BB, 26 K, 3-4 SB
A:  286/343/439, 98 AB, 4 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 9 BB, 11 K, 5-7 SB

The Dodgers moved Martin behind the plate, starting him off in advanced rookie ball.  Between that level and low A, he had 31 passed balls in just 63 games, but that’s not too surprising.  At the plate he continued to put up good walk and K rates, and started hitting for some power.

2004
A+:  250/366/421, 416 AB, 24 2B, 1 3B, 15 HR, 71 BB, 54 K, 9-14 SB

Martin’s average dropped in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, but his plate discipline was better than ever and he hit for solid power.

2005
AA:  311/430/423, 409 AB, 17 2B, 1 3B, 9 HR, 78 BB, 69 K, 15-22 SB

Martin had a strong season in AA, leading Baseball America to rank him the 4th best prospect in a strong system after the season.

2006
AAA:  297/389/419, 74 AB, 9 2B, 13 BB, 11 K, 0-2 SB
MLB:  282/355/436, 415 AB, 26 2B, 4 3B, 10 HR, 45 BB, 57 K, 10-15 SB

The Dodgers called Martin up in early May and he had a strong rookie season, finishing 9th in the Rookie of the Year balloting in an extraordinary year for rookies (Prince Fielder only tied for 7th).  Behind the plate he threw out 31% of base stealers.

2007
MLB:  293/374/469, 540 AB, 32 2B, 3 3B, 19 HR, 67 BB, 89 K, 21-30 SB

Martin had his best pro season, starting in the All-Star Game, and winning a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger.

2008
MLB:  280/385/396, 553 AB, 25 2B, 13 HR, 90 BB, 83 K, 18-24 SB

Martin’s power dropped off, but drew a huge number of walks.

2009
MLB:  250/352/329, 505 AB, 19 2B, 7 HR, 69 BB, 80 K, 11-17 SB

Martin’s hitting, especially his power, dropped off dramatically.

2010
MLB:  248/347/332, 331 AB, 13 2B, 5 HR, 48 BB, 61 K, 6-8 SB

Martin hit about the same as the year before.  He continued drawing walks despite the fact that he started swinging at significantly more pitches outside the strike zone than he had previously.  That trend continued over the following two years.  He did throw out a career-high 39% of base stealers.  He missed the last third of the season with a hip injury, then the Dodgers non-tendered him in the off-season.

2011
MLB:  237/324/408, 417 AB, 17 2B, 18 HR, 50 BB, 81 K, 8-10 SB

Martin signed a two-year deal with the Yankees and became their starting catcher.  He hit for a low average, but his power bounced back.  His plate discipline, although still fairly good, dropped off.  He hit dramatically better in Yankee Stadium, posting a .780 OPS there and .688 on the road.

2012
MLB:  211/311/403, 422 AB, 18 2B, 21 HR, 53 BB, 95 K, 6-7 SB

Martin’s average continued to drop and his plate discipline continued to slip, but he hit his career high in HRs.  He hit 13 of the 21 at home, but hit slightly better overall on the road (.728 OPS to .699).  The low average resulted from an extremely low BABIP of .222.  The reason for the low BABIP isn’t readily apparent, as Martin still runs reasonably well for a catcher.  His BABIP was also low in 2011 at .252.

2013
MLB:  226/327/377, 438 AB, 21 2B, 15 HR, 58 BB, 108 K, 9-14 SB

Martin’s acquisition turned out to be one of the keys to the Pirates’ 94-win season.  His primary contribution was defensive; some metrics rated him one of the top defensive contributors at any position in MLB.  Aside from his receiving skills, he threw out 40% of base stealers, a staggering improvement over the Pirates’ 2012 problems.  Teams also didn’t run against him much; in 2012, opponents averaged one steal attempt per game against the Pirates, while against Martin in 2013 they averaged less than one every two games.  Martin also played three games at third, two of them starts, and started one game in right.  At the plate, Martin started off well, posting a .904 OPS in April.  The rest of the year, his monthly OPS ranged from .664 to .748, until he collapsed to a .437 OPS in September.  Nevertheless, he hit two HRs in the wild card playoff against Cincinnati.  He continued to be patient at the plate, helping him finish with a 100 OPS+, making him an above average offensive catcher.  His BABIP (.266) improved greatly over 2012, but was still lower than his career norm.  This may have been a function of him simply not hitting the ball as hard any more, as his line drive rate dropped to a career-low 16.6%.  Like many right-handed hitters, Martin was hurt by PNC Park, especially his power.  He hit 211/304/336 at home and 242/349/419 on the road.

2014
MLB:  290/402/430, 379 AB, 20 2B, 11 HR, 59 BB, 78 K, 4-8 SB

In his walk year, Martin had a huge season in every phase of the game.  Despite missing nearly a month starting in late April due to a hamstring injury, he tied for 20th in the majors in Wins Above Replacement (by Fangraphs’ reckoning).  Martin significantly lowered his K rate and also improved his walk rate.  He benefited from a .336 BABIP, which likely isn’t repeatable, and his OBP benefited from what was easily a career high in HBPs (15).  Martin finished the season in dramatic fashion, getting the game-winning hits in two games in the Pirates’ final home series, against Milwaukee, effectively putting the Pirates into the playoffs.  His defense remained among the best in MLB; he threw out 39% of base stealers, committed only three passed balls, and received considerable credit for his handling of the pitching staff.

It’s unlikely that Martin can repeat his 2014 offensive numbers, but he doesn’t have to in order to be extremely valuable.  The overwhelming focus of the Pirates’ offseason, at least from the fans’ perspective, will be on the team’s efforts to re-sign Martin.  They’ve already indicated a willingness to depart from their usual limitations, specifically with respect to the percentage of the payroll they’re willing to tie up in one player.  Several teams with a much greater ability to spend than the Pirates, including the Dodgers, Rangers and Cubs, have significant needs at catcher, so it won’t be easy for the Pirates to bring him back.

STATS
Baseball Reference–Majors
Baseball Reference–Minors
Fangraphs
MLB.com
CONTRACT INFORMATION
2007: $387,500
2008: $500,000
2009: $3,900,000
2010: $5,050,000
2011: $4,000,000
2012: $7,500,000
2013: $6,500,000 (plus $2,000,000)
2014: $8,500,000
PLAYER INFORMATION
Signing Bonus: $40,000
MiLB Debut: 2002
MLB Debut: 5/5/2006
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2014
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: November 23, 2004
Options Remaining: 0
MLB Service Time: 7.150
TRANSACTIONS
June 7, 2000: Drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 35th round, 1035th overall pick.
June 5, 2002:
Drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 17th round, 511th overall pick; signed on June 13.
November 23, 2004: Contract purchased by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
December 2, 2010: Became a free agent.
December 14, 2010: Signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees.
November 3, 2012: Became a free agent.
November 29, 2012: Signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.