Two years ago, Russell Martin made a very smart decision. He was reportedly seeking four years and $9-10 M per year, and no team would come close to that amount. The New York Yankees were reported to have offered two years and $13 M, or three years and $21 M. The Pittsburgh Pirates had the top offer at two years and $17 M. They also made a three-year offer. Martin declined that offer, opting for a two-year deal and the chance to re-enter free agency a year sooner, so that he could once again try for a big long-term contract.

Today, that move looks brilliant. Not only did Martin get his long-term deal — five years and $82.5 M — he got more than double the amount that he was asking for in 2012, and that was an amount that no one would touch.

When you look at Martin’s situation, there have only been two big changes between his current free agency bid and his bid in 2012. The first big change is that he’s coming off a huge year on offense, putting up an .832 OPS. Just looking at the surface numbers, you can see that this is probably unsustainable. The only other time Martin had an OPS over .800 was in 2007 with the Dodgers. He hasn’t been over a .732 OPS since 2008.

When you dig deeper, you see that it’s a little more unlikely that Martin will sustain those numbers. His isolated power has been on the decline the last three years, dropping from .192 in 2012 to .151 in 2013 and .140 in 2014. And the fuel to his big season was a .336 BABIP, which is almost 50 points higher than his career average of .289, the highest mark of his career, and the first time he’s been over .287 since 2008.

All signs point to the 2014 season being a career year offensively, and his future returning to where he was in previous years, which is in the low .700 OPS range. That’s not a bad range for a catcher with strong defense.

The other big change isn’t even a change for Martin. It’s a change in how everyone else values Martin’s biggest asset — his defense. Two years ago, when Martin signed with the Pirates, there wasn’t a strong appreciation for catcher defense. Shortly after Martin signed, Baseball Prospectus started researching the art of pitch framing, and Martin was a big focus in their research.

Since the initial focus on pitch framing, BP has come up with a way to quantify the stat, along with quantifying blocking. The results of those stats may not be perfect, but they’re the best attempt we have so far. Those numbers show that a good pitch framer can be worth about two extra wins, just for that skill alone. There’s still plenty that hasn’t been quantified yet and might never be quantified, such as game calling, pacing, and the relationship with a pitching staff. And we’re still in the early process of quantifying things like framing and blocking. One thing is for sure — there is a lot more appreciation for catcher defense today than there was the last time Martin was a free agent.

So which change led to Martin’s massive payday this time around, compared to his last free agent bid? I’m guessing that the defense played a bigger role. I can’t imagine Alex Anthopoulos would be signing Martin for his 2014 offensive numbers, while looking past the red flags that suggest this was just a career year that won’t be sustainable in future years. I’m sure there were other factors that played a role, such as the lack of any viable catching option, and the fact that Martin puts up decent offensive numbers in a normal year, especially for a strong defensive catcher.

Overall, I think this contract represents the massive shift in appreciation for catcher defense. It’s still something that isn’t fully appreciated. But we’re seeing things move in the right direction.

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2015 Prospect Guide

**Blue Jays Signing Russell Martin to a Five Year Deal

**Cardinals Acquire Jason Heyward From the Braves

**Winter Leagues: Mark Melancon Closes Out Win in Japan

**Cubs Believed To Be Clear Front-Runner For Russell Martin

**Winter Leagues: Update on Alen Hanson, More Hitting From Mel Rojas Jr.

**Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell Didn’t Perform Like Top Prospects in the AFL, But Should That Matter?

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56 COMMENTS

  1. Has Cervelli spoken about the trade ? I haven’t seen anything.
    If anybody has can you direct me to the site.

    • wow….i’ll take that bet what are the specifics. How about a requirement of at least 350 PA for each. Given that, I’ll bet that Russ’s OPS is higher, his BB/K percentage is lower, and he hits better with runners in scoring position. Whomever loses, buys the prospect guide for the other the following year, what do you think?

      • I didn’t really think that far ahead lol. But for the sake of this discussion I’ll say a complete sweep – higher numbers in each component of the triple slash line

  2. Advanced metrics are useful tool in analyzing what a player had done in the past or what one could be expected to do vs the aggregate. But it doesn’t accurately predict what a an individual player may do next season simply because players are human, thus able to change.

    One recurring theme from numerous posters here is that often “best case” scenarios are envisioned for low-cost potential acquisitions, while doom-and-gloom predictions are attached to higher-priced possibilities and those who, like Martin, grab the gold ring of financial security elsewhere.

    Why is it many here fully accept that 31-year old Brandon McCarthy’s resurgence is due to his increased use of the cutter, but nobody wants to buy that 31-year old Russell Martin’s offensive resurgence is because he changed numerous aspects of his batting approach and personal training regimens? Sorry, I don’t think Russ is going to fall off a cliff offensively in the near term. Doesn’t make a 5-year/$82 mill contract a great investment (and certainly not for the Pirates), but I also don’t see why he couldn’t maintain high offensive productivity through age 35 either.

    • Advanced metrics are better at predicting the future than anything we currently have. People accept BMac’s change because he made tangible improvements to his physique ( added muscle on purpose) and increased his velocity 2mph last year. Those are good reasons to believe improved stamina and performance. Martin did not make readily apparent changes (or even big advanced stat changes) and posted a .336 babip when his entire career is at .289. If advanced stats teach us anything, its that we should trust the projections and they say his wRC+ will fall to 111 (from 140 last year). That is still above average with a slash line of .242/.341/.405 and with his defense it is still 4 wins, a very good player indeed.

      • This is exactly the kind of post I was referencing.

        If you don’t think Martin made significant changes to his physique, you haven’t been watching very closely. His training regimen today is nothing like it was when he first came here. Plus he’s changed his two-strike approach, hit more line drives, went oppo more often. A simple look at his spray charts in 2013 vs 2014 graphically depicts this difference. It’s not just “luck” or an aberration.

        • So his physique led to him being on the DL and playing hurt down the stretch?

          His line drive % was 19.3, almost exactly his career rate (19.1). His ground ball and fly ball rates also did not change from career norms, if anything his HR/FB rate declined. Looak at this spray chart and tell me how 2014 looks any different than 2012-13???

          http://www.fangraphs.com/spraycharts.aspx?playerid=4616&position=C&type=battedball&pid2=4616&ss1=2014&se1=2014&ss2=2012&se2=2013&cht1=hittype&cht2=hittype&vs1=ALL&vs2=ALL

          Don’t just make stuff up to confirm your opinion.

          • The guy is a catcher. Demanding position. Every sport has superbly fit athletes who go down from hammys. Training for baseball has more to do with managing the endurance of a 162 game season than avoiding a specific muscle injury.

            Line drives up about 20% from 2013. Ks down. BBs up. Infield popups significantly down. You read the stats like it’s just another average year. I’m reading them like Russ managed to arrest a 3-to-5 year declining trend and reversed it by changing his game.

            I’m not one for dogma. Political, religious, sabremetrics. All have value. But all also have flaws.

            As far as the spray charts go, easy answer: right field/right field gap. 10% fewer PAs, ~20% more balls to RF.

            • You are cherry picking a single outlier season where Russ hit better than he has ever hit in his life. If you really think that 2014 is more representative of his abilities than his entire career, good luck with that.

              At any rate, I was originally agreeing with you that his decline will not be super steep and he will still be a 4 win player if healthy in 2015.

              • I’m only “cherry picking” in context of Russ doing a hell of a lot of work to improve his conditioning and hitting approach which produced better results. At some point the age will take over and no amount of work will offset the natural erosion of abilities. But IMO he hasn’t reached that point yet, thus he could easily outperform his career averages for 2-3 years (maybe more). Not saying those years will be repeats of 2014, but they might be closer to pre-2009 Russ than 2009-2013 Russ.

                I’ve been reading a lot about how millenials no longer accept that working harder leads to more rewards because we boomers ruined everything for everyone 🙂

              • It actually isn’t cherry picking at all because Russ went on record specifically about a number of these things, and his change in approach was widely documented as was his workout regimen. It’s not just a random abhorration. He did things differently, and got different results, the fact that he hasn’t repeated it is irrelevant since he hasn’t had “time” to repeat it just yet.

                Do i think he will have the same year? No, because the same level of motivation won’t be there, but to expect a drop back to 2011-2013 ranges is equally unlikely. Split the difference and you get a more accurate portrayal of 2015-2016 in my opinion

    • Brandon McCarthy is an awful poor example to use if you’re trying to knock the predictive power of advanced metrics. ERA estimators (xFIP) said McCarthy pitched like a 2.88 ERA pitcher with Arizona last year. In New York, his actual ERA was 2.89.

      • And in 2012 McCarthy vastly outperformed his xFIP.

        Point being, again, advanced metrics is an imperfect tool for predicting or drawing conclusions from a single season. It’s far more useful in the aggregate, but, if someone like Martin takes steps to change his game, IMO, it’s more like having a new track to an alternative future than some statistical anomaly based on the past.

        • You’re making general assumptions about pitching and hitting metrics that aren’t the same in order to fit a narrative that you’ve already decided to believe.

          • My “belief” can’t be confirmed at this point as far as Martin goes. I’m simply stating that there are exceptions to every rule and that humans, by sheer nature of being humans, have the ability to change outcomes. You, OTOH, seem resigned to accepting that there are no exceptions.

            Let me be clear. I’m in no way in favor of the Bucs keeping Martin at the absurd price Toronto paid. I simply don’t see him immediately regressing to the level that dogmatic sabremetricians assume.

            • Those “dogmatic sabermetricians” are predicting he’ll be better than he has been since 2007.

              I fully accept and understand your “belief”. That’s baseball. Nobody that watches the game believes there is absolutely no chance of things happening. What “dogmatic sabermetricians” do is use historic data and math to try and predict future performance with a bit more accuracy than ” F it, who knows what will happen”, which appears to be your method.

              • I believe in sabremetrics. Just not all the time and not for a single given season where a guy makes a distinct change in his approach.

                I’m not going to go look this up, but let’s throw an example like Greg Maddux out there. The guy starts his career on one track – a predicted path based on being a hard thrower. We interpret those stats based on what we know about him and his kind of pitching. Then he completely changes his game. Thus the first year or two post-change, his peripherals are likely not going to make a ton of sense based on him now being a control pitcher (OMG! Velocity is down!!!) But those stats eventually catch up when the body of work on the new path becomes projectable and useful again.

              • You know in the investment world (where I am a licensed advisor) require us to ALWAYS state that past performance is no guarantee of future results. There is a reason for that.

    • I’m struggling to follow the scope of this debate. What are you defining as high offensive productivity? There is a vast middle ground between offense falling off a cliff and remaining a .370 wOBA hitter. For the 2014 season Streamer projected Martin for .310 wOBA, for 2015 it is projecting a .333 wOBA. For 2014 .333 wOBA has the 80th percentile projection, the projection is clearly taking into account his most recent season.

      It is clear he altered his approach, contact was up, mostly due to contact on pitches in the zone, thus strikeouts were down, thus he reserved trends that looked like the stereotypical hitter in decline. His batted ball changed to where hit fewer grounders up the middle and more line drive, and fewer fly balls the other way, more line drives. (My question is why did he do this in 2014 and not 2013, PNC punishes RHH who sell out for pulled power?)

      So yes he altered approach but you cannot overlook this.

      Batted Ball Type: 2014 BABIP/ Prior career average
      Grounders: .273 / .222
      Fly Balls: .195 / .117
      Line Drives: .707 / .693

      I think it is possible that the current projections may be regressing his BABIP more than is likely, thus his projected average and OBP are lower. But again I’m not sure what you are exactly pointing out. Yes projections by definition miss outliers but I think it is a bit naive to believe we can routinely identify such outliers. And I don’t find using a HOF as an example very illustrative.

      • I’ll give you that he had an increase in infield hits that will likely decline part due to age, part due to artificial turf. Your response is reasonable in that you’re agreeing at least in part. You’re not suggesting his performance will fall off a cliff, which is what I’m objecting to (and which others have suggested).

        As far as citing Maddux, it’s simply an example of a narrative that wouldn’t conveniently fit into a strict sabremetrics interpretation during the couple of years he switched from a power pitcher to a control pitcher. I’m not suggesting Martin is HoF, only that he made adjustments to his game that countered a five year decline and thus, IMO, created a new path for future interpretation.

        It’s as simple as this: if he performs poorly next year, his 2016-on projections will show that. If he performs well, his 2016-on projections will show that. He’s creating his own narrative and not “stuck” in continuing the one he built from 2009-2013 that assumed a continual decline. I think he’ll do the latter and have a pretty good offensive season, thus his projections for 2016 will look even better than his projections for 2015.

        • Again I think the current projections are showing that altered path, but recency bias is a pretty powerful mental shortcut so I think it it sound to not weight the most recent results too heavily. So I’m not sure I completely agree with the last paragraph, he hasn’t moved the entire trend-line upward, merely altered the slope.

          As for pitchers they are weird and much more unpredictable than hitters, every starter is developing a great change up/breaking ball away from being a top of the rotation pitcher. I try think about pitchers and hitters separately.

          • I think we are more talking about projections from Mr. Williams saying he is more likely to regress back to his 2011-2013 numbers, not specifically to sabremetric data

  3. I really like Russell Martin and enjoyed his time with the Pirates. I’m happy that he was able to cash in and I agree that there is no way that the Pirates should have come close to those numbers he signed for. If NH does the right things with the SP and bullpen, I believe that the Bucs will be a better team in 2015.
    I liked the trade for Cervelli. I believe that as long as he stays healthy, his production will be close to what Martin does in Toronto. Stewart is a capable back-up.
    Great job re-signing Burnett. They didn’t sign him to be a #1 starter, he will be a solid 3 or 4.
    Now, the fun really starts. I think the next move will be to resign Liriano to a 3 year deal and extend Polanco. I believe that is money better spent. He will then cut Ike Davis and Gabby Sanchez, leaving 1B to Pedro and possibly Tony Sanchez. They could resign Gabby and leave Tony as a catcher, but I think we will see both Gabby and Ike gone. That takes care of 1B and adds a quality SP to the rotation, while extending Polanco and solidifying the best OF in baseball. Starting rotation is starting to shape up with Cole, Liriano, Burnett, Worley, and Morton/Locke. They could choose to start the season that way, with both Kingham and Taillon waiting in the wings.
    I prefer that they find and sign another quality starter because I am not sold on Locke and Morton will be on the DL to start the season. They can still booster the BP without breaking the bank. Best case SP now is Cole, Liriano, McCarthy? (maybe), Burnett, Worley. Kingham and Taillon up in June (hopefully)
    Line-up:
    Harrison – 3B
    Walker – 2B
    Cutch – CF
    Marte – LF
    Pedro – 1B
    Polanco – RF
    Mercer – SS
    Cervelli – C
    Cole – P
    I think we are looking pretty good with that.

    • On extending Polanco – I’d be very concerned that Stanton’s contract just raised the bar to an untenable level. Polanco’s agent would be well advised to wait out this season and see what Polanco does. I don’t foresee anything as forgiving as Marte/Cutch extensions. If Polanco performs, he’s going to cost real money to extend.

      • I disagree. Stanton is only 25 and has a strong history and should only get better. Polanco had some struggles last year and now would be the time, which would also guarantee him money for the future and set him for life. He will get another chance to make BIG money, if he performs as expected.

  4. We will miss Martin tremendously, most notably the pitching staff. I wish him the best, he’s a total pro. At least he went back to the AL, not the NL Central Cubs!

  5. MINORITY REPORT – Wabbit thinks Tim is half right. Martin’s defense is only partly responsible for his massive windfall. I think his career year with the bat had as much to do with it. Do you think Russ gets this money if he’s hitting .214? I’m not so sure.
    ——————————————————–
    “Daffy. Why don’t you go up and see if the coast is clear?”
    -Wabbit

    • Exactly. You’re lying to yourself if you think he comes close to this contract without just having the offensive season he just had.

    • I saw this elsewhere, but it is worth considering that of the four teams rumored to be in on Martin, the front office with the lowest saber/analytic reputation was the one that ended up signing him.

      I think the rumored contract amounts, suggest that teams value catcher defense from a catcher who has actually played 100 games behind the plate in recent season more than they did the last time Martin was a free agent, but it is tough isolate one factor, and there is little doubt that offensive year altered valuations.

  6. Did defense and framing play a bigger role? Sure. Does this represent a massive shift?

    Tim wrote an article last week arguing that the Pirates can replace Martin’s defense and framing with Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. Ask yourself how much it took to acquire their skills, and how that relates to the $82m contract Russell Martin just signed.

    • Actually I said they couldn’t fully replace his defense. Just the pitch framing, while falling behind in blocking and caught stealing. Thus, they’d have to make up the value with an upgrade at another position, like first base.

  7. I wonder what the next analytic construct will be developed by the number guru at Federal Street? The information age is rapidly changing baseball and let’s hope our guys are faster then their guys.

  8. Sucks when smart small market teams like Pittsburgh find hidden value and now other teams find out, though late to the party.
    Will eventually happen if it already hasn’t with groundball throwing low FIP high era pitchers.
    Now for NH and his think tank to find new market inefficiencies to exploit.
    The cycle continues…

  9. The stat which matters most to me, and the one he deserves to get paid on, is team wins. His team’s have been to post-season 7 of 9 years. Extrapolate it out over next 5 years, and if it holds true, Blue Jays will have just bought themselves 4 playoff seasons for $82m. Pretty good investment on their part.

    The fact is in this post-PED baseball world, defense is on the rise, and no every day position holds more defensive value than C. It’s why Pirates acquired Cervelli. It’s why Diaz has passed up Sanchez on the depth chart. To be a consistently winning team these days, having a strong defensive presence behind the dish is at least as important as having an MVP type offensive player in the Outfield. Except in Miami it seems.

    • Well his OPS+ for his career is 100, so he is literally completely average offensively. Plus he was out basically all year last year. I know he has a pretty good arm but not sure about framing/blocking/that stuff. He probably will get similar to Martin

  10. Who knows, maybe Martin wears out his welcome in Toronto and somehow Pittsburgh makes a push to trade for him down the road, with Toronto eating a good portion of his contract. Stranger things have happened in baseball. Look what happened a few years ago with A.J. Burnett and the Yankees. What did we end up giving the Yankees for Burnett? Then just a few years ago, Jose Reyes signed a huge contract with the Marlins. And how long did that last, 1 maybe 1 1/2 years, before he was traded to Toronto? The Marlins just signed G. Stanton to a huge contract that I don’t think the Marlins will ever be able to sustain. Who’s to say that Toronto will be able to, or for that matter, willing to sustain the Martin contract, especially if Martin’s offense struggles or his overall skills diminish quickly. Isn’t there a Garth Brooks song “Unanswered Prayers.” Sometimes it’s better to not end up with what you wish for. Sometimes it’s simply better to move in another direction, even if it hurts in the short-term. Ever notice how a team like the Steelers hardly ever dish out large contract extensions. I think there’s a reason for this. In most cases, the money the player is demanding isn’t worth the value. Maybe we’ll never know how close the Pirates came to resigning Martin, but I think the writing was on the wall when the Pirates traded for Cervelli. The Pirates, in effect had seen where the marketplace was going for Martin and made their contingency plans early. If Doughty, Simmons, Bonifay or Littlefield were still in there as Pirates GM, I doubt the Pirates would have even had the foresight to make any contingency plans. Huntington is the best GM the Pirates have had since Syd Thrift. The only thing I’ll give credit to any of the previous Pirates GMs between Thrift and Huntington is Littlefield’s drafting of McCutchen and N. Walker. However, even that is off-set by some of Littlefield’s moves (drafting D. Moskos, a reliever over Orioles cather Matt Wieters, the dismantling of talent in 2003 that didn’t amount to a hill of beans except Jason Bay, the inability to resign J. Wilson and F. Sanchez to long-term deals, the whole Derek Bell mess, the whole Raul Mondesi mess, the acquisition of pitcher Matt Morris from the Giants when he clearly had nothing left in the tank. I wish Martin the best of luck, but I think even he knows that he probably had the best time of his life playing professional major league baseball while with the Pirates.

    • I added paragraphs because I actually did want to read your post. Pretty spot on, except Wilson/Sanchez weren’t signable and wasn’t that during NH’s reign?

      (Daryl’s original post below)

      Who knows, maybe Martin wears out his welcome in Toronto and somehow Pittsburgh makes a push to trade for him down the road, with Toronto eating a good portion of his contract. Stranger things have happened in baseball. Look what happened a few years ago with A.J. Burnett and the Yankees.

      What did we end up giving the Yankees for Burnett? Then just a few years ago, Jose Reyes signed a huge contract with the Marlins. And how long did that last, 1 maybe 1 1/2 years, before he was traded to Toronto? The Marlins just signed G. Stanton to a huge contract that I don’t think the Marlins will ever be able to sustain. Who’s to say that Toronto will be able to, or for that matter, willing to sustain the Martin contract, especially if Martin’s offense struggles or his overall skills diminish quickly.

      Isn’t there a Garth Brooks song “Unanswered Prayers.” Sometimes it’s better to not end up with what you wish for. Sometimes it’s simply better to move in another direction, even if it hurts in the short-term. Ever notice how a team like the Steelers hardly ever dish out large contract extensions. I think there’s a reason for this. In most cases, the money the player is demanding isn’t worth the value.

      Maybe we’ll never know how close the Pirates came to resigning Martin, but I think the writing was on the wall when the Pirates traded for Cervelli. The Pirates, in effect had seen where the marketplace was going for Martin and made their contingency plans early. If Doughty, Simmons, Bonifay or Littlefield were still in there as Pirates GM, I doubt the Pirates would have even had the foresight to make any contingency plans.

      Huntington is the best GM the Pirates have had since Syd Thrift. The only thing I’ll give credit to any of the previous Pirates GMs between Thrift and Huntington is Littlefield’s drafting of McCutchen and N. Walker. However, even that is off-set by some of Littlefield’s moves (drafting D. Moskos, a reliever over Orioles cather Matt Wieters, the dismantling of talent in 2003 that didn’t amount to a hill of beans except Jason Bay, the inability to resign J. Wilson and F. Sanchez to long-term deals, the whole Derek Bell mess, the whole Raul Mondesi mess, the acquisition of pitcher Matt Morris from the Giants when he clearly had nothing left in the tank. I wish Martin the best of luck, but I think even he knows that he probably had the best time of his life playing professional major league baseball while with the Pirates.

  11. I’ll feel sorry for Russ for the pounding he will take by the fans and media if he reverts to 2012-2013 and bats .225 again. You can talk about pitch framing all you like, but the talking heads on SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight will be relentless if his batting average dips near the Mendoza line again.

    • AP: It goes with the territory, but Russell Martin will have an $82 mil cushion to help him absorb the punishment. He does frame well, hit very well in 2014, and above all, he brought confidence to the pitchers and an infectious winner’s attitude to Pittsburgh. When people come and have their career years, and then leave, it makes me wonder if their heads are in the right place. Financially speaking he did better than expected, and I am sure that the Pirates helped to push that money and the number of years to a point where I think it is a real gamble for Toronto. Betting on the continued health of a player only averaging 117 games a year is over the top, IMO. Question – if Jason Castro is available from Houston, will the Pirates step up? Dioner Navarro?

      • Unless their is an injury between now and start of season, I say Pirates are done acquiring Cachers. Now it’s time to see how they address rotation, bullpen and 1B.

      • Wonder what the Cubs will do, now that they made it clear they wanted to move on from Wellington Castillo, but struck out on Martin? Can you just go back to Castillo and act like none of that happened, and you have total faith in him?

        • This kind of thing happens every single year. Castillo can get butt-hurt about it or make himself better. All of his flaws have been discussed and analyzed in the light of day. So ball in his court as to whether he wants to get better (or at least find out if he can) or settle for a likely future of career backup/bench bat.

    • Cervelli, yes. I think we’ve seen the apex of Stewie’s offensive potential. Just no power there. Not even gap power.

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