Today, this 18th day of September in 2013, Russell Martin gets an off-day. Normally, Martin would see a day off on day-game following a night game as tomorrow’s 12:35 start will follow tonight’s first pitch at 7:05.
In the month of September, following a 0-for-4 outing at the plate last night, Martin is now 4-for-40 in the final unit of the season’s six-month calendar. His batting average now sits at .229, the first time Martin’s average has dipped below the .230 threshold since he ended April 26 hitting .227.
Despite the lack of offensive production lately, manager Clint Hurdle says the off-day to keep his starting catcher fresh for a rather pertinent slate of upcoming games.
“His off-day is more about him blocking on average eight to 12 balls every night he’s been behind the plate from Opening Day until now,” Hurdle said. “As I actually said a couple of months ago, one of our biggest focus points has been to keep 55 on the field.”
The Pirates have kept no. 55 on the field and more importantly healthy for just about the entire season. The only exception was a spat of games Martin missed in May with a minor neck issue.
But Hurdle does admit that the workload placed on Martin’s shoulders (or knees, more appropriately) may be starting to catch up to him as the regular season comes to a close.
“And the wear-and-tear and the grind of the work he’s done behind the plate, there’s no doubt for me it’s probably challenged him a little bit in the batter’s box,” Hurdle said. “He’s doing everything he can to add to the offense, but the job he’s done behind the plate has been a difference-maker.”
Martin’s defense has been so good, at least in Hurdle’s eyes, and made such a difference that the Pirates are beginning to develop a new plan of analysis to quantify just how much of a difference Martin has made this season behind the plate, and how that compares to backstops across the league. But more on that later.
For the time being, Hurdle is looking for a way to get his catcher back to normal as Martin slogs through his worst offensive month of the season. At this point, Martin’s 16 games in September have seen him post a .100/.182/.175 triple-slash, by far his worst of the season.
In fact, Martin’s production has slowed considerably since his .274/.344/.560 month of April.
- May: .246/.352/.311
- June: .222/.330/.346
- July: .261/.400/.348
- August: .213/.304/.413
“There’s some fatigue I think that’s going to be involved for any catcher at this point in the season and I look at the best option to try to keep him fresh,” Hurdle said.
While it’s important for the Pirates to find a way to avoid losing their first four-game series of the season against the Padres in these next two games, it may be a more pressing issue for Hurdle to have a full complement of weapons at his disposal when the Pirates play six of their final nine games against the Cincinnati Reds.
“In a very perfect world, I want him ready for Cincinnati,” Hurdle said. “You say that, and the game tonight is pretty important and so the game tomorrow, but we’re going to give him the appropriate amount of rest we think we need to give him to get him back as close as we can to balance.”
On a positive note, though, Martin’s defense has been leaps-and-bounds better than any catcher in recent Pirates history. To be fair, it’s not difficult to be better than the likes of Rod Barajas or Ryan Doumit behind the plate, but Martin has been one of the league’s best.
Among all players, Martin’s defensive Wins Above Replacement is seventh at 2.5 wins added. Martin has thrown out a league-best 36 would-be base-stealers in 2013, and complements that with a 41.9 percent rate of catching runners which ranks third.
Beyond that, Martin is the league’s best with his 100 assists from the catcher position and .998 fielding percentage.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find another catcher who’s done the amount of dirt-work as he’s done in the amount of games that he’s played,” Hurdle said.
Hurdle’s been hard-pressed himself to do so, and now has the Pirates working on constructing a new method of analysis in order to distinguish exactly how valuable Martin’s work has been behind the plate.
“I’ve got them working on it now, believe it or not we’re building another plan. We’re building another system-analysis plan on how many 90s a catcher can recover by blocking a ball, how many 90s are saved because he has just been so far out in front of anything else I’ve seen,” Hurdle said. “Posey is pretty good, that Molina guy is very good but living with this guy every day, watching the job he’s done on dirt balls. There’s been games with Liriano it’s been double-digits in the fifth inning.”
Of course, looks can be deceiving as the old saying goes, so Hurdle wants proof.
“I have no idea if it’s commensurate with other catchers, I’m just scratching the surface on what we’re doing. It’s just by what my eyes have told me throughout the season,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes, I might be off, I don’t think I’m that far off on this one. But I want some hard data to go with what my eyes have seen. We’ll play the game in the dugout, there’s one, there’s two, there’s three, there’s four.”
Hurdle said before yesterday’s game that he didn’t know how Marte would be able to handle the pain he needs to play with in order to finish out the season. Based on his thoughts today, Marte is “good to go.”
“I think he was excited to be playing, there was nothing that happened that he couldn’t deal with or maneuver around, and I don’t think there were many challenges for him last night from a pain tolerance perspective,” Hurdle said.
- Starling Marte LF
- Neil Walker 2B
- Andrew McCutchen CF
- Justin Morneau 1B
- Marlon Byrd RF
- Pedro Alvarez 3B
- John Buck C
- Clint Barmes SS
- Charlie Morton P
- Will Venable RF
- Ronny Cedeno SS
- Jedd Gyorko 2B
- Chase Headley 3B
- Tommy Medica 1B
- Jesus Guzman LF
- Reymond Fuentes CF
- Rene Rivera C
- Tyson Ross P