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