Martin’s Role Could Be A Key to Success

When the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Russell Martin after the 2012 season it was not for his bat — and with good reason.

Photo credit: David Hague

Russell Martin has been a part of four playoff teams — two each with the Dodgers and Yankees. Photo credit: David Hague

Martin, who turned 30 in February, owns a career batting average of .258 and an OPS of .748 — not terrible but certainly not great.

What has been terrible, however, has been Martin’s offensive production. He is sitting on one hit this season.

The fact that Martin isn’t lighting it up at the plate should not be a surprise — he had a career-low .211 batting average and struck out a career-high 95 times last season and has seen his offensive statistics steadily decline during the last few seasons.

To be fair, however, Martin’s early season numbers look especially bad because they’re just that — early season numbers. When a player starts this poorly all you see is those three zeros — .000 — and it sticks out like a sore thumb.

“We’re going to battle,” Martin said last week after the Pirates’ 3-2 loss to Chicago. “There’s some days where we’re going to come short and there’s some days when we’re going to overcome things.”

Martin has just been a part of what was a much larger problem through Pittsburgh’s first two series. Nobody is hitting.

One hit every nine games can’t happen, but the feeling I got during the series in Pittsburgh was that Martin brought a calming influence to the clubhouse. A.J. Burnett is another Pirate that seemed to be one of the leaders in the clubhouse and the chemistry between he and Martin is obvious on the field and off, which comes from their time as teammates in New York.

“It was fun to work with Russ again,” Burnett said on opening day. “He did a great job of blocking everything today. I was in good rhythm with him.”

Also consider Martin’s major league pedigree. He has been a part of teams in Los Angeles and New York that have been in pennant races and expect to be a part of the playoff picture annually. On top of that, Martin helped mold strong pitching staffs for the Dodgers and Yankees. With the current rotation in Pittsburgh in a state of flux, his work managing the staff will be very important going forward. You’re probably not going to get that from Michael McKenry and Tony Sanchez still is not ready to make the leap to the big leagues.

With Jeff Locke embedded on the staff for the time being the Gerrit Cole being groomed for the jump the Pittsburgh, how he handles the younger pitchers on the staff will be of significant importance.  I asked Martin about his approach to catching for inexperienced pitchers and he said it doesn’t change the way he plays the game.

“I’m going to prepare the same way,” he said. “I’m to talk to them the same way and hopefully we get a good rhythm going and we go out there and battle through the jitters.”

When players like Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez or anyone batting higher in the order not named Starling Marte start to hit with some consistency, it will help to mask some of Martin’s offensive shortcomings. It will be his other contributions that will help determine the direction of the Pirates’ 2013 season.

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Tom Bragg

Tom Bragg is a beat writer and analyst for PiratesProspects.com. He is the former sports editor of the (Fairmont) Times West Virginian and has worked at the Charleston Gazette, Charleston Daily Mail and the (Ashland, Ky.) Independent. His freelance work has appeared in newspapers all over West Virginia and he has written for The Associated Press with stories posted to several major media outlets (ESPN.com, SportsIllustrated.com, FoxSports.com). Tom graduated from Marshall University in May 2010 with a degree in Print Journalism. Follow Tom on Twitter: @TomBraggSports

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  • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

    I’ve read this article before. It was written about this time last year. Except instead of the Dodgers and Yankees, it was the Dodgers and the Dbacks. Instead of Russell Martin, it was Rod Barajas.

    Hopefully he’ll provide more punch than Barajas did. Hopefully he’ll aid the pitchers in controlling the running game. The jury is out at this point. The Pirates will need performance instead of praise from AJ to justify this free agent signing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      amen!

  • https://profiles.google.com/102804497270034978273 Marco Rincones

    It would be great if Russell Martin could hit but like last year with Barajas we said the same thing. However this year I’d like to think that Martin will be a great deal better keeping some baserunners glued to first or second base and not moving up to the next open one at the drop of the hat. Wasn’t Rod’s caught stealing ratio less than 10% – it was embarrassing.

  • https://profiles.google.com/108132009727380788771 Mark Ludwig

    I know he has a lousy batting average through 8 games, but I’m not sure I agree that Martin has been terrible. He’s not striking out (11%) he’s walking (14%) and he’s hitting line drives (20%). Obviously the ball hasn’t been falling in for him yet, but that’s what happens through a week of baseball. There are all kinds of strange quirks with early season numbers. Nothing that I’ve seen from Martin thus far makes me believe he’ll be any worse than the 15 HR, 95 wRC+ hitter that could have been expected coming into this year.

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