Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The decline of Russell Martin

Prospects come into the majors with hype and potential. Some live up to the expectations, some do not.

But how does a guy like Russell Martin go from one of the best catchers in the league to a mediocre -- at best -- player in just two years?

Martin burst onto the scene in 2006. He hit .282/.355/.436 as a rookie catcher for a playoff team. The Dodgers traded their everyday catcher before Martin, Dioner Navarro, because of the way Martin played.

Martin's 2007 season was worthy of all the accolades he earned -- his first All-Start berth, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. He hit .293/.374/.469 with an OPS+ of 116 (100 is average). For a catcher to be putting up those numbers was great, as catching was, and still is, a defense-first position.

Then things went south. Way south.

In 2008, Martin regressed a bit. He hit .280/.385/.396, good for an above-average OPS+ of 108. However, Martin's extra basehits dropped from 54 in 2007 to 38 in 2008. Many attributed the decline to the number of innings Martin had caught in his first three season (3507 innings as a catcher -- most in MLB).

There were big expectations for Martin going into 2009, but he never even came close to living up to them.

He hit .250/.352/.329 for a career-low .680 OPS and OPS+ of 86. He hit just seven home runs and had 26 extra basehits. And So far in 2010, Martin his hitting .241/.349/.327 with 13 extra basehits.

Martin's Wins Above Replacement (WAR) mark has fluctuated as well. He started with a 2.7 as a rookie, went up to 5.8 and has decreased every year since (4.6, 2.2, 1.5). Those numbers are acceptable for a catcher, but not a guy who showed as much as he did early on in his career.
Martin also hasn't been great behind the plate since winning the Gold Glove in 2007. He's been serviceable.

But serviceable isn't what the Dodgers or their fans expect from a guy who started his career with such incredible promise. He was once looked at as the leader of the team and untouchable in trade talks. Now, he's almost an afterthought.

His overuse behind the plate can partially explain the offensive decline, but what else is the culprit?

It isn't unreasonable to suspect Martin may have used performance-enhancing drugs to put up the numbers he did. So many major and minor leaguers have been nailed for PED use since MLB cracked down with stricter testing. It was about the time Martin's numbers started to decline.
I'm not saying he did it, but I wouldn't be surprised (nor should anyone in this era of baseball) if he did.

Editor's note: I am not accusing Russell Martin of using performance-enhancing drugs of any kind.

It's sad because Martin was always one of my favorite Dodgers. Now, I'm not really excited when he comes up to the plate. He'll make a nice play on defense every once in awhile, but he's doesn't have that same buzz around him he used to. He was on his way to superstardom.

Then again, if this is the real Russell Martin, sobeit.

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