Insider Only Friday’s Daily Five: Statistics show Russell Martin is a small upgrade over Rod Barajas


*Rumblings, musings & opinions on today’s hottest topics*
1. The Pirates dished out the biggest contract in franchise history Thursday night to catcher Russell Martin as the two sides agreed to a 2 year, $17 million contract. The deal makes Martin the fourth highest paid catcher in the game. Is he a top-5 catcher in the game? Absolutely not, but when you’re the Pirates, you have to overpay by $3 to $5 million to land marginal free agents.
2. I don’t have a huge issue in the Pirates giving Martin $17 million over two years but the sense on Russell Martin is this: The Pirates have upgraded over Rod Barajas but not significantly enough to make it justified to spend $8.5 million per season and not leave much money to fill other holes. However, it’s not my money and there’s no salary cap, so lets not make a big deal about it. But, will Martin be that much of an upgrade over Barajas? The numbers say no but the eye test says yes. Martin belted 21 home runs last season but his offensive numbers (.211/.311.403) have been in decline for six straight seasons and he batted just five points better than Barajas. Martin’s .211 average ranked 28th of 32 catchers last season but his 21 homers and his .403 slugging percentage show there’s some power ability. Some though will certainly argue those numbers will be coming down playing in PNC Park as Martin hit just 8 homers on the road last season. Before coming to Pittsburgh, Barajas in fact hit 16 homers in 303 at-bats in 2011 with the Dodgers and had a line of 230/.287/.430. The numbers suggest Martin won’t be a significant upgrade at the plate over Barajas.
3. As bad as the rap Barajas gets, he was very good at handling a pitching staff. The issues were when he had to throw out runners. Barajas threw out just 6 percent of runners last season, while Martin looks like a Hall of Famer compared to Barajas, throwing out 24 percent of runners in 2012. Those numbers for Martin though were below the league average and although Barajas knees were shot, is the issue more with the Pirates struggles to hold runners? Barajas thew out 25% of runners in 2011, so there’s no guarantee Martin will become a savior defensively behind the plate. Some more defensive numbers from John Perrotto via twitter that again show Martin is a poor defensive catcher: “One metrics from Baseball Information Solution had Martin at -6 runs saved last season, which was third-worst among major-league catchers behind Rod Barajas (-12) and Geovany Soto (-8),” Perrotto wrote. Another stat that stands out is Yankees pitchers had a 3.41 ERA with Chris Stewart behind the plate and a 4.10 mark with Martin behind the plate in 2012. For those who don’t like this deal, the statistics back up a lot of arguments but I still think the Pirates have upgraded at the catcher position, but maybe just marginally and not enough to justify giving a player of Martin’s caliber $17 million over two years. If Martin’s deal was 2 year, $10 million, there probably wouldn’t be all the negativity there seems to be about the signing.
4. The real issue for the Pirates is being in the position (signing Martin) after taking a college catcher with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 draft. They shouldn’t be. The Sanchez selection is setting this organization back and it’s hard to find scouts who feel he’s ever going to be a Major League caliber starting catcher. Sanchez is now 25 years old and when you’re the Pirates, you just can’t miss that high in the draft and not have much to show for after.
5. Will the money the Pirates gave to Russell Martin impact the futures of Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton? It’s possible. The Pirates will officially tender Neil Walker, Joel Hanrahan, James McDonald, Gaby Sanchez and Garrett Jones today with the five projected to cost the Pirates around $18-$20 million, highlighted by projections that Joel Hanrahan could be in line for close to $7 million per season. The sense around the organization is that the team doesn’t intend to tender Karstens who has struggled to stay healthy and projects to make close to $4 million. There has also been discussions about not tendering Charlie Morton who the Pirates would be paying in the neighborhood of $2.5 million, possibly not to play this season as Morton could miss the entire 2013 season as his recovery from Tommy John surgery could be 15 to 18 months.
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William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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