Just kidding! That said… how much longer can we keep pretending that our Golden God, Russell Martin, isn’t completely lost at the plate? I touched on this a few weeks ago when I posted some stats (without any further analysis) that included Martin’s OPS by month. Let’s take a closer look at his updated stats (and keep in mind, these don’t even include his 0-4 with 2 strikeouts performance tonight. Why? Because I can’t find any site that keeps OPS in real-time; all the biggies like ESPN and Yahoo! all update in the middle of the night, and I don’t want to wait until tomorrow to post this. Thanks, guys!)
Last 28 days: .259 BA .689 OPS 1hr 6rbi
Seems like a pretty clear downward spiral to me. To make it simpler, in the first half, his OPS was .830. In the second half, it’s .726. Even simpler? Before the break, he was Matt Kemp/Johnny Damon/Derrek Lee (the three guys currently closest to an .830 OPS on the year.) Since the break? He’s Bengie Molina/Casey Kotchman/Christian Guzman. Ugh.
Now I want to make this clear right here and now: I’m in no way advocating the benching of Russell Martin, which I have done for other players at various times. Part of that is of course the fact that there’s simply no other viable alternative, but that’s not really the point. He’s still a plus defender, he’s still the heart of the team, and you still have the confidence that he’ll turn it around. Besides, even a mediocre version of Russell Martin is still better than 80% of the rest of catchers in the bigs.
But the stats don’t lie. He was excellent in April, and he’s gotten worse every single month since. And, I’m going to add something completely unsabermetric here: he just looks bad. He’s flailing badly at pitches, and frankly I’ve never seen him look so… Berroa-like. (That’s right. Brett Tomko is the standard go-to of “pitchers who suck”, and now we’re making Angel Berroa his offensive equivalent. You may say “but Andruw Jones”, but I’m avoiding him because he was so good for so long, and because his failings this year are just so goddamn depressing.)
So what’s causing this? Well, I have a pretty popular theory to share here. I’ve already gotten my share of heat for being too anti-Torre around here lately, and this isn’t going to help any, but: It’s Joe Torre’s fault. Riddle me this: the Dodgers have now played 125 games, after their loss to Colorado. Russell Martin has gotten into 122 of them. That’s right, it’s August 20th, and our catcher has had all of three games off this season. He’s second in baseball in innings caught, with 975.1, behind only Jason Kendall. But the funny thing about that is that when Jason Kendall gets a day off? He gets a day off! No, when Torre decides to give Martin a day off behind the plate (which hasn’t happened since August 8th, now) Martin heads down to third base.
Martin at third base is wrong on so many levels. It’s not that he embarrasses himself out there; on the contrary, he’s been more than passable on defense. The first time, it was a fun diversion. The second time, it still had some novelty value. And every time since? It just makes me scream, “let your workhorse catcher rest, Joe!” How hard is it to see that Martin is wearing down yet again? It’s true that with LaRoche in Pittsburgh, DeWitt in Las Vegas, Nomar having to play shortstop, and Pablo Ozuna being Pablo Ozuna, the Dodgers don’t really have a backup third baseman right now. But that’s not a reason to abuse your catcher. And isn’t that yet another reason why Chin-Lung Hu should be up to play some shortstop and let Nomar play some third if you have to give Casey Blake a rest?
Oddly enough, we were concerned about Martin’s defense at third base, but when he plays there he simply cannot hit, with a .200/.323/.200 line and zero extra base hits. Perhaps he’s concentrating too much on his new position? And doesn’t that completely defeat the purpose of keeping his bat in the lineup?
The problem now is that with every game so vitally important, Torre is less likely to want to pencil in “Ardoin” into his lineup. It’s not that I really want to see Danny Ardoin, either. But if you want to have any chance down the stretch and hopefully further, you’re going to need your All-Star catcher to get it turned around.
So let’s make it real simple, Joe:
1) Make sure Martin actually gets some days off. Especially in the dog days of a hot August. Ardoin’s only started 5 games since the beginning of July, and that’s simply not enough.
2) Days off are days off! This works on two levels, because first and foremost, enough of this “days off at third base” BS. He can’t hit when he plays there, and it’s not a true day off. But nearly as important, of the eleven games Ardoin has started, he’s only finished five of them – and one of those, Martin was playing the whole way at third base. What this means is that even when Torres says “he’s getting a day off at third”, half the time Martin ends up behind the plate anyway when Ardoin is hit for late in games. This is simply unacceptable.
I don’t think Joe’s blind to the issue, since he did hit Martin all the way down at 8th in the lineup last week, but that’s not really the problem. Let’s just hope Joe sees the real problem before it’s too late – if it’s not already.
- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness