Back in 2008 Russell Martin was considered one of the best young catchers in baseball, but just two years later the Dodgers non-tendered him after back-to-back disappointing seasons and knee surgery. When the Yankees picked him up last offseason it seemed like a weak consolation prize, but he ended up being a big contributor.
EXPECTATIONS: There were mixed expectations for Martin coming into the season. For one, Yankees fans were hoping to see him return to his pre-2009 form, but realistically he was coming off surgery and had Jesus Montero waiting in the wings. It was hard to know exactly what to expect from him because of this. But most accounts he met realistic expectations, he wasn’t as good as he once had been, but he was better than the player the Dodgers cut.
STREAK HITTER: Martin’s bat didn’t exactly return to form this season, but he did have impressive flashes. From the start of the season to April 24 he made quite an impression hitting .328 with a 1.099 OPS. He then went on a 57 game slide where he hit just .184 with a .569 OPS. He picked things up over the next 27, hitting .313 with a .948 OPS, but just as quickly as he turned it around things went cold again and he hit .209 with a .582 OPS over the final 24 games. Talk about streaky.
CONSISTENT DEFENSE: If his offense was inconsistent, at least his defense was consistently great. He finished the season ranked fourth in baseball in stolen base runs saved and defensive runs saved. His steady hand behind the plate and ability to block balls was no doubt a major contributor to the success the Yankees had on the mound.
POSTSEASON: Martin struggled big time at the plate in the playoffs, hitting just .176 with a .569 OPS in five games. He looked very over-matched at times and one of the biggest criticisms of Yankees manager Joe Girardi was his refusal to pinch hit for him in big spots. It was just 17 at bats though which is not enough to judge him properly on and because of his defense Girardi probably wouldn’t hesitate to start him in more playoff games had he gotten the chance.
BONUS POINTS: Not only did Martin spurn the Red Sox offer last offseason to sign with the Yankees, but he also expressed a hatred for the Sox at the end of the season. That has to get him some extra bonus points for the season. I wish more players were like this.
VERDICT: Overall it has to be considered a good season for Martin. His bat didn’t exactly return to form, but he hit well enough that combined with his defense he made a positive contribution to the Yankees. He finished with a decent 3.1 fWAR, not great but not bad either.
GOING FORWARD: Martin is still arbitration eligible which means that he will likely be back in Pinstripes in 2012. If he put forward another season like 2011 the Yankees would probably be happy. However, Montero is in the major leagues to stay which should create an interesting situation if Martin regresses offensively. However, his defense cannot be denied and he should be expected to catch at least 100 games next year.