Well, it’s that time of the year again. Just like 2008 and 2007 (holy crap, have we really been around that long??) it’s our yearly review series. As always, we’ll touch on every single player, and as always, I’ll regret that decision right around the time I have to come up with something to say about A.J. Ellis.
The letter grades are mostly arbitrary, but keep in mind that they’re based on what you could have reasonably expected from the player before the year started, not as a comparison to any other player. Less than 10 IP or 100 at-bats gets you an “incomplete”.
I had so much fun with the 1987 Topps last year that I tried to go with 1989 Topps this year, to make it a 20-year tribute thing and because I loved that design. However, the curvy name proved so frustrating to do, that I said screw it, and went with the ugly 1985 Topps out of spite. Spite for myself, I guess.
Let’s start off with catcher…
Russell (F.) Martin
(.250/.352/.329 7hr 53rbi)
Woof. Hell of a trend we’re on here, aren’t we, Russell? His MSTI grades have gone from “AmotherfuckingPLUS” (2007) to C- (2008) to this year’s F.
Even that glaring F doesn’t really state the case strongly enough, because it’s one thing to no longer be in the conversation with guys like Joe Mauer and Brian McCann about who’s the best young catcher in baseball, but it’s quite another to be in a discussion about whether you still deserve a starting gig. And it’s true, if only because I cannot state this point strongly enough: Russell Martin was outslugged by David Eckstein, .334 to .329. Eckstein is a magical pixie who’s pretty much the standard-bearer for “barely a major leaguer,” and yet even he had more pop than our supposed All-Star catcher.
It gets even worse when you compare him to other MLB catchers. You can’t use VORP, as it’s a counting stat and Martin had the 3rd-most PA of any catcher, so let’s use MLVr, which is a rate stat that roughly describes how many runs per game a player will contribute in a lineup of otherwise league-average performers.
The league average is 0.000, and the best catcher – ubergod Mauer – came in at .490, nearly half a run per game. 10 other catchers ranked above .100 (min 100 PA), and 20 catchers had positive scores. Martin? All the way down at 32nd, costing the Dodgers -.061 runs/game. That’s 32nd in a sport with 30 teams, don’t forget.
Plus, it’s not like I have to dig deep into the stats to show that he was hardly distinguishing himself as a backstop, either. Just in case I do, Phillies blog Crashburn Alley summed up some Baseball Prospectus research nicely in their NLCS preview:
Perhaps more importantly, however, Ruiz is the best among all qualified catchers in the Majors at blocking balls in the dirt, averaging about one passed ball or wild pitch every five games; Martin averages one PB or WP every two games and was the worst among qualified catchers in this department.
So what’s caused all of this? Back in June, I wrote a post titled “What Are We Going to Do With Russell Martin?” At the time, I noted that a scout said he thought Martin looked old and slow, and after doing some research I came to this conclusion:
Focus on the part about his bat slowing down, and you’re on to a big part of the problem… Martin is getting blown away by fastballs.
Over at FanGraphs, they’ve been able to assign a run value to the production on each type of pitch a batter sees, and then converted it to a rate. For example, if you look at Albert Pujols against fastballs, he’s been pretty consistently at 2-4 runs per 100 fastballs above average over his career, though he’s beating even that this year. In 2007, Martin’s first full (and best) season, he produced 1.69 runs above average every 100 fastballs. Last year, in which he was still decent but nowhere near as good as in 2007, that fell to 0.59. This year? Down to just 0.14.
In June, that 0.14 number was at least on the positive side of the ledger. What did he end up with? -0.8. It’s not foolproof, because you’ll see he was getting killed on every type of pitch this year. But when a guy can’t even hit the fastball anymore… when scouts think he looks old… when he’s noticably worse behind the plate… and when we’ve been saying for three years that Grady Little in ’06-’07 and Joe Torre in ’08 (though less so this year) had been playing the poor guy into the ground… well, all signs point to he’s just too beat up to play to his skill level.
Unfortunately, catcher is such a hard position to fill that as bad as Martin’s been, you almost want to give him another crack at it, just to see if a year of less use can help refresh him as he enters his peak age-27 year. I think they will do that, and I probably would too (with a better backup, though, as outlined in our 2010 plan). But if we don’t see a turnaround in 2010, I have no qualms with moving on. Sad to say, as he’s one of my favorites, but it’s been a solid year and a half now that he’s been killing this team.
Hmm, the Dodgers did have the best record in the NL, right? Not sure I like how depressing of a start this got off to.
Brad Ausmus (B+)
(.295/.343/.368 1hr 9rbi)
Well, I guess I have to give Brad some credit here, because I really hated this signing at the time. But when he wasn’t fixing Guillermo Mota or getting love letters written about him by SI.com, he was only slightly below-average at the plate, with an 89 OPS+. That might not sound that great, but it’s also the best he’s managed since 1999.
Plus, though it’s pretty hard to see from Martin’s performance, just about every published report says that Ausmus had a huge impact on helping Martin learn game preparation skills. So all things considered, that’s $1m well spent. Hey, maybe he can replace Rick Honeycutt as pitching coach next year!
A.J. Ellis (inc.)
(.100/.100/.100 0hr 1rbi)
If I copied and pasted last year’s review of Ellis, would anyone even notice the difference?
Ah yes, the fun part of writing about every player. You get to dissect the September expanded roster call-up who got just three at-bats. I think Ellis’ impact on the 2008 Dodgers can be mostly shown by the fact that I couldn’t even find an action picture of him in an LA uniform and had to go with a 2007 spring training shot. I think most of my thoughts regarding Ellis this year revolved around me hoping he’d at least get an at-bat, because after getting called up in September he got into three games without getting a chance at the plate.
Well, other than the fact that he finally got his first big league hit on the last day of the season and thus won’t have to go into the history books as a 0, it’s pretty much the same. As far as his future, well, A.J.’s got problems. His SLG dropped 80 points in AAA, and he’s going to be 29 next April, so time is clearly not on his side. What you’re seeing is basically what you’re going to get – a AAAA-type who’s your 3rd or 4th catching option, and if he’s even still in the Dodger system in 2010 he’s going to be pushed hard for that role by Lucas May.
Next: James Loney! Doug Mientkiewicz! Jim Thome (sort of)! It’s first base!