You’ve probably heard all about Russell Martin’s work with his pitching staff. It seems that following every good outing, there is a quote made from one of his pitchers about how Martin impacted the game that night. In most cases, these would seem like throwaway lines made out of courtesy from the pitcher to share the success with his teammates. But the comments are made so often, and in so many different ways, that it goes beyond a standard line and starts to become a genuine statement towards how much of an impact Martin has on his pitchers.

There isn’t currently a way to quantify how catchers interact with their pitchers, but it’s pretty obvious that Martin brings positive value in this regard.

“It’s really just knowing your teammates,” Martin said on the skill. “Especially the pitchers and knowing what their strengths are and in any given situation, you are going to stick with your strengths. There is a combination of knowing the hitters as well, but the most important thing is understanding their strengths and what they like to do and stress them. You have to build that relationship where they have trust in you.”

After talking with several of the pitchers Martin works with, it’s clear that he has that trust, and that it’s not just clichéd responses.

The Relationship With the Pitchers

There is no doubt that the Pirates’ staff has full faith in Martin. To learn this, all you have to do is ask them. All-Star Tony Watson points to Martin’s energy as a driving force to the squad.

“He’s, in my opinion, one of the best in the game,” Watson said. “What he does for us, in calling games, reading hitters, scouting reports, and things like that, is second to none. Seeing his energy level throughout the course of a whole season is something that we all feed off of.”

Even while asking Watson a series of questions about Martin, Gerrit Cole in the neighboring locker caught wind and let out an audible, “he’s the best catcher in the game” as he was getting dressed for his Sunday start.

On August 19th, Brandon Cumpton gave up a solo homer in the ninth inning to Evan Gattis of the Braves. After the game, Cumpton tweeted the following:

Watson echoed this sentiment.

“He puts down the fingers and you rarely shake him off,” Watson said. “A lot of guys in here would probably say the same thing. There is always a purpose for the fingers that he is putting down and 99.9 percent of the time he is correct.”

When it comes to calling the game, Martin said that the work with the pitchers is one of the things that he looks forward to the most in the game.

“Game calling is one of those things that is not a perfect science,” Martin said. “There is not just one pitch that you can throw at a certain time. There are just conversations that you have an ideas that you share. That is what is fun about baseball, there is really no right or wrong, it’s just your thought process going into it.”

For Francisco Liriano, the key to his work with Martin is the trust the two have formed in their bond with burying the ball in the dirt to put away hitters.

“(It gives me) a lot of confidence to put a ball in the dirt,” Liriano said. “Especially when you have people on base. You can throw anything and know he is going to be good behind the plate. We have a good idea what each other is looking for and are pretty much on the same page.”

Liriano said that having the mutual trust with Martin makes doing his job on the bump so much easier.

Reliever Jared Hughes also points to a similar aspect with his game that Martin has aided him with over his breakout season during the 2014 campaign.

“He has made the difference for me a ton of times, because I have the tendency to yank my sinker,” Hughes said. “That means that it cuts and goes into the other batter’s box. If you are not quick, you cannot get to that pitch and it is going to go to the backstop. Russell, non-stop, is able to react to that pitch. Every time, when I yank my sinker, Russell is there to block it.”

With his blocking ability and athleticism, Hughes was blown away by a play that Martin made to instill the same confidence early on with newly promoted John Holdzkom.

“He is incredibly athletic,” Hughes said. “He is always back there blocking balls. He made a throw in John Holdzkom’s debut the other day. John struck out the first guys that he faced in the majors and the ball went to the backstop and Russell slides while going to the backstop. He makes a throw while sliding and I thought to myself that there is no other catcher that can do that. He is just one of a kind.”

Hughes said that Martin is a master communicator as well and that has led to the bond that he has formed with the staff. Martin will be honest with pitchers and try to guide them in the right direction with his game plan. He is also not afraid to let pitchers know if they throw a bad pitch and what a better choice would have been. A lot of this is the result of the prep work that Martin does. Martin can be seen all of the time in the clubhouse, studying the tendency of hitters and working on game plans.

The Value that Martin Brings Behind the Plate

Martin has helped Hughes in another aspect that he has struggled on throughout his career. Hughes said that he has struggled to control the running game in the past. With Martin behind the plate, this is no longer a concern in his mind and he said that this has become a strength. That can be seen in the stats. Hughes gave up 19 stolen bases in 19 attempts in 2011-12, spanning 86.2 innings. He has given up 8 stolen bases in 16 attempts the last two years, spanning 82 innings. This year he has only given up four stolen bases in ten attempts.

That trend isn’t limited to just Hughes. Jeff Locke had a 30% caught stealing rate in his limited time in the majors in 2011 and 2012. Last year with Martin, he had a 47% rate, catching seven out of 15. This year he has a 50% rate, catching five out of ten.

Tony Watson went 2-for-19 in 2011 and 2012. He is now 3-for-10 in the last two years. Charlie Morton had a 22.5% caught stealing rate in his career before working with Martin. He has posted a 28.5% rate the last two years, although that breaks down as an excellent 35% rate last year, and a 22% rate this year that is closer to his career average pre-Martin.

Not only has Martin done a better job of catching runners stealing, he has also led to a massive decrease in the amount of runners who are attempting stolen bases, as seen in the numbers above. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has noticed Martin’s control on the running game the past two seasons as well.

“He has thrown out [34] guys stealing [this season],” Hurdle said. “Last year, he had a fantastic season and it was 36. He blocks balls as well as any catcher also that I have ever come across.”

Hurdle also knows that the impact Martin has on every part of the game, both offensively and defensively.

“[Martin] adds an edge and dynamic to our club that is significant,” Hurdle said. “In the dugout, when he is behind the plate, when he is one the bases, when he is in the box, when he is not in the game, he is in every pitch. His ability to help the pitcher who is on the mound is as good as any catcher that I have ever been around. He empowers that guy to think that it is going to be the best night that he has ever had.”

With this work, Martin admits that the connection with the pitchers is ever evolving each day.

“Baseball is a game of adjustments,” Martin said. “Sometimes you make adjustments on the fly and sometimes you go over it with the starter in the pregame. Sometimes you see a team a couple of times in a week and you talk about changes here and there.”

Martin said that once the trust is there, he just looks to build on it with the pitchers. He said that it is about keeping an open eye and ear to the pitchers, while trusting your instincts. With this in mind, Martin is pleased where he is with the staff.

“As far as my pitching staff, I feel like I trust them and they trust me,” Martin said. “That goes a long way.”

Russell Martin’s Value to the Pirates

Without even putting his offensive season into consideration, Martin’s work with the pitching staff and his effort behind the plate show’s Martin’s true value. Clint Hurdle recently told the media that Martin is just as valuable to the squad as MVP Andrew McCutchen, and this could not be more true.

The statistic show the same value as Martin is posting a 4.9 WAR in this season and a 4.1 WAR last season. He has only topped the 2014 number once in his career, with the Dodgers in 2007. McCutchen is posting a 5.7 WAR this season, and has been over seven the previous two years. While those numbers favor McCutchen, Martin’s work with the staff, combined with his defensive prowess makes plays into this statement. Martin’s framing has earned his staff 138 extra strikes this season, according to Baseball Prospectus. His value from a framing and blocking perspective has added about 16 runs this year, which is good for another win and a half that isn’t considered in the numbers above. This doesn’t consider that there are no good ways to quantify a catcher’s relationship with his pitching staff, and Martin clearly adds value there.

Andrew McCutchen is well-regarded as the most important player on the Pirates, but with more appreciation going to catcher defense the last two years, we’re starting to see that Russell Martin is right up there with him. And a big reason for that is not only the impact Martin has individually, but the way he elevates the game of his pitching staff, improving the team as a whole.

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27 COMMENTS

  1. I’d also argue that it’s a lot easier to find an elite outfielder than it is an elite catcher. The value of WAR rating doesn’t reflect the scarcity of talent at a given position which would increase the individual value of each WAR point. Martin has in just about every way shown that if you wanted to define a player – worthy – of risking significant dollars that he is that player. I’ve said it before I’d have no issue with offering a deal as long as six years at his current age, and due to his athletic ability and physical condition.
    In other words Russell at 36 compared to other catchers like Barajas that we’ve been forced to play is a joke? I’d gladly take a Russell at that age although he’d likely be moving towards a backup role at that time.
    One thing I’ve never understood in baseball is that in fairly evaluating a players value at contract (take this Russell contract for ex) why not front load the contract based on expected (due to a very long history of statistical support) so that the contract values the player for what he’s worth today and doesn’t burden the club as the value diminishes. I’d suggest for this case a $70 million deal for 5 years for Russ layered as follows (Year 1 $20MM, Year 2 $20MM, Year 3 $15MM, Year 4 10MM, Year 5 5MM. I’d see this as capturing and valuing Russ in his Prime and paying above fair market for him, but also being realistic about the balance of his career.

  2. Obviously, Martin has tremendous value. Unfortunately, we are constantly reminded that these FA deals are two-way streets. The Pirates could do everything right, make a fair offer (even the top dollar) and still lose him. I can’t completely fault any team if a guy simply wants to go somewhere else.

    The QO is a bit high, but even if he takes it, you’ve paid $15m to get one more year out of him, but are right back where you started at the end of next season (and still too far away from McGuire.)

    If they don’t give him the QO and try to play the market for a long-term deal, personally, I think 3/$36m or 4/$50m is within the ballpark, the Pirates could probably make that happen (but it would stretch them a bit),

    HOWEVER,

    There could easily be a team out there that says, “Whatever the Pirates offer you, we’ll give you that plus an extra million” and it results in a never-ending game, until the Pirates simply run out of money.

    And there’s also the Catch 22: let’s say Martin is the rare FA who will actually give up a few bucks to play on a competitive ball club (OR EVEN if the Pirates have the top offer) – what if Martin says, “well, if you give me that much, that’s one less good player (very good starting pitcher) that you’ll be able to sign, and you’ll be less competitive, so I don’t want to sign.” (I’m not suggesting that Martin should sign for significantly less to be with the Pirates, but I could certainly see that if the Pirates offered 4/$50 and the Astros offered 4/$51 that he may take very slightly less money to be on a more competitive team over those 4 years – but only if their ability to compete isn’t hindered by his signing.)

    It can quickly become the stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

  3. Tim…we get it …..Russ is pretty darn good. Now all we need to do is QO him and sign him. Every time I read an article about how good he is, I can’t help but think he’ll be doing it for a team who is gonna lay down bunches of buckazoids for him.

  4. Trade pedro and either gabby or ike thus freeing up a large portion of the dollars it will take to sign martin. Keeping martin makes way to much sense baseball wise not to resign him. Financially for the pirates it’s a different story. It will be interesting to see which route the pirates choose this off season.

  5. Martin is worth $22 million for 2 years – maybe an option for a third year if they can put in qualifiers based on some stats.

    Reasoning: A starting pitcher only helps you every 1/5 games. Even how the Pirates use Martin he helps 2/3 to 3/4 of games. He makes EVERY pitcher better.

    Money: figure if Davis or Pedro is gone that money will be spent on Harrison. But you also have to figure that they won’t bring back Liriano. You also are done with paying Wandy. You can decide if you want to try and resign Volquez. There are a couple of starters from Indy that the Pirates expect to push for playing time – although Tallion won’t be ready because of the tommy john. If your rotation is Cole, Locke, Morton, Worley and ? you have one spot to deal with and about $20 million from Wandy, Liriano, and Volquez. This should leave plenty of money for a fifth starter and a big pay day for Martin.

      • ESPN has an interesting article here on Martin:

        http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/11503721/russell-martin-days-pittsburgh-pirates-numbered?ex_cid=espnapi_public

        “How do catchers in Martin’s age group fare? When ESPN.com stat whiz Mark Simon culled through some catching numbers from 2009 to 2013, he found that a total of 23 catchers age 32 or older had appeared in 100 or more games in a season (with at least 60 percent of those games coming behind the plate).”

        “Only four of those 23 catchers amassed a WAR of 2.0 or better. The list includes A.J. Ellis, Pierzynski and Carlos Ruiz, who achieved the feat twice.”

        “While Martin can’t expect to receive anything near the mega-deals signed by Joe Mauer ($184 million), Buster Posey ($167 million), Brian McCann($85 million) or Yadier Molina ($75 million), there are some comparables worth citing. Arizona signed Miguel Montero to a five-year, $60 million extension as he was closing in on age 29, and Ruiz received a three-year, $26 million contract from the Phillies on the open market just before he turned 35.”

        I would say $12 to $13 million a year (based on the Montero deal) would be absolute top end – if Russ is going to be the Pirates #1 catcher all four years. If the Pirates plan on shifting him to an infield position (1B??) part time in the last two years when Diaz / McGuiness is ready, then the numbers come down.

        • I don’t see where you need to look for saving money buy losing players. Yes, we are going to lose some and some are going to get raises. But MLB got a new contract last year with increased monies to the teams. I don’t think I have seen the Pirates spend any of that raise last year. Plus attendance. RM made $8 mil this year. If you give him $15 mil, thats an increase of 7 mil. Now a 4 year contract will need lots of extra money.
          Unless you want to go with the high era’s, base stealing and lack of toughness we had for 20 yrs behind the plate, he is a must sign. Can you think of the last time we had a good catcher. And don’t say Jason Kindle. He was a cancer to the Pirates, and was nothing but a singles hitter.

  6. Dear Neal Huntington and Bob Nutting we Pirate’s fans have done out part in allowing you to be financially flexible enough to sign Russell Martin my advice is to do it because the backlash will be great, especially if you have a bad start to 2015 season and did not sign him

    • This has nothing to do with Huntington. Unless Nutting opens up his pockets, Martin will be gone. No one should blame Huntington for that.

      • He already has the $..8 mill that wandy got for sitting on his butt and 5 mill from grilli’s contract…if he trade Alvares that’s another 6-5 for a total of about 18 mill saved ..and room for raises

        • I don’t remember if they traded to get him. I recall that he was the first million dollar signing in baseball. So they would have had to at least resign him even if they traded to get him.

          • Traded by San Francisco Giants with Lenny Randle and Dave Roberts to Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Ed Whitson, Fred Breining and Al Holland (June 28, 1979).

            Traded by Pittsburgh Pirates to Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for 3 players to be named later (August 31, 1985); Pittsburgh Pirates received R.J. Reynolds (September 3, 1985) and Cecil Espy andSid Bream (September 9, 1985).

          • “On November 19, 1979, Nolan Ryan became the first player to sign a contract for more than a million dollars per year. Richard Moss, Ryan’s agent, helped negotiate a 4-year, $4.5 million dollar contract for the future Hall of Famer, making him the highest paid player at the time. Although most people would say the above answer is the official first one million dollar a year player, in actuality Pittsburgh Pirate Dave Parker was the first player to make one million dollars a year signing the contract a year prior to Nolan Ryan.”

            • Thanks, it’s kinda funny to think that one of the best pitchers of all time made less in four years than volquez is making for one. ( not a slight on volquez, just is what it is.)

  7. Priority #1 is getting this guy to sign on the line which is dotted. Th drop off to next best option is huge, and that doesn’t even account for the difficult to measure impact on the 12 guys on the pitching staff. If it takes an $8m signing bonus to fit his salary into the payroll, then by all means do it.

    • I’d add that the C aging cliff that many accept as reality probably isn’t true. Russ will be 32 next opening day, a 4 year $60 million deal retains him through age 35. Even at $6 million per win, he only needs to produce 10 wins. Say Russ is a 4 win player next year (a small drop from this season), you can easily envision him posting 4.0, 3.6, 3.2, 2.8 wins with 10% drop offs each year.

      For research on C aging – http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/catcher-aging-is-a-curve-not-a-cliff/

      • jalcorn, I agree, Martin keeps in great shape, driven and motivated to win. Having him on your team makes everyone much better. I hate the way some hitters take pitches to get the pitch count up. But, Russell doesn’t let fast balls go in the strike zone. With men in scoring position, he is aggressive to drive in runs. Watch Davis and Sanchez. They are looking for walks with me in scoring position. As a catcher, he is on par with Molina, and possible a better signal caller. He get more out of a pitcher than any catcher i have seen. Four years $60 may not get him.

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