Cashman improved pitching by adding Martin

Russell Martin's worked hand in hand with the Yankees rotation to improve to 3rd in the AL with a 3.64 team ERA.

The Yankees have been trying to improve their starting rotation since the middle of 2010. Unfortunately, Cashman has been unable to add that big name starter to turn his staff around. After the 2010 season, he replaced Andy Pettitte & Javy Vazquez with retreads Bartolo Colon & Freddy Garcia.  This didn’t seem like a great way to improve on the rotation’s 10th best in the AL, 4.35 team ERA.

However, in addition to adding pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Cashman also signed a new catcher in Russell Martin.  Cashman took a chance giving the declining & injured former All-Star $4M+ incentives to keep him from signing with Boston. This has turned out to be Cashman’s best move of the 2010 Winter.

Martin reported to camp eager to regain his All-Star form and he endeared himself to his new rotation right away. “The relationship I have with my pitchers,” Martin says, “I want them to have to trust me with their lives.”

Whether blocking Freddy Garcia’s numerous splitters in the dirt or playing Call of Duty with AJ Burnett, Russell has become a catcher his pitchers can trust. Trust that he will call the right pitch or block an 0-2 curveball in the dirt with the winning run on 3rd. Jorge Posada had a great career as the Yankees catcher but he often had a surly demeanor and was confrontational with the pitchers. Martin has brought energy and a positive attitude behind the plate in an effort to work with his staff to get the most out of each pitcher. His preparation & performance has been paramount in the Yankees team ERA improving by almost a half run to 3.64 which is good for 3rd in the A.L. this yr.

Martin's ripping the ball in August

Martin has even won over AJ Burnett who is everyone’s friend except when he is on the mound. “He’ll come out and say, ‘Hey, you got another curveball in you? Because I’ll block it,’” Burnett says. “And that fires me up. I want to throw a hook, he knows it, so he comes out with some confidence that ‘Hey, I know what you want to throw and I’ll block it, let’s go.’”

Last season, the Yankees catchers were dead last in MLB, throwing out only 14.8% of base stealers (22-154).  This year, Martin has nailed 31.4% (32-102) of runners.  Russell’s defense has been a godsend and a bit of a pleasant surprise. He had a reputation as an offensive catcher who’s skills at the plate were eroding at a young age.  In 09 & 10′, he combined to hit .249/.350/.330/.680 with only 12 hrs & 79 rbis in 836 ABs.  During this time he battled injuries on the field and depression off the field as he dealt with failure for the first time in his young career.

From Sucking Wind to Second Wind

Martin started his Yankee career red-hot, hitting .293/.376/.587/.963 with 6 HRs & 19 RBIs in April. He seemed to erase all doubts by basically matching the 5 HRs & 26 RBIs he had in ALL of 2010 in 331 abs.  But after April, Martin really struggled at the plate.  Coming off winter knee & hip surgeries, he was the only catcher in MLB to play every inning of the first 12 games of the season while backup Francisco Cervelli was on the DL.  He endured fatigue and a nagging back injury which sapped his offensive performance as his numbers from May 1 to July 31 were a pathetic .201/.308/.287/.595 with just 4 hrs in 243 PAs.  During this time, his superb defensive performance never waned but it seemed his April hitting success was gone for good.  Martin worked with Kevin Long on some adjustments to his mechanics and approach in June but the results didn’t improve right away.

But Martin is now healthy and has been tearing it up in August.  Following yesterday’s perfect 5 for 5 game, Russell is hitting .318/.356/.697/1.053 with 7 HRs & 19 RBIs in 19 games.   “I feel pretty good right now. I’ve got no issues right now and that’s pretty rare this time of year,” Martin said.  He’s had problems with off-speed pitches this year so lately he it seems he is looking to jump the first fastball he sees and hit it wherever it’s pitched.  All of his HRs this yr were pulled to LF or left center but yesterday he smacked #16 down the RF line and #17 to the bullpen in right-center.  “I’m just seeing the ball well right now, staying aggressive and just trying to hunt good pitches to hit early,” Martin said.

Cashman’s Finest

Martin, Swish & Granderson have been Cashman's finest additions

Martin has turned into Brian Cashman’s best pickup this past off-season and joins Nick Swisher & Curtis Granderson as a trio of starters who he acquired at the lowest points of their careers.  All three have come to the team with great attitudes and have worked hard with Kevin Long to become All-Stars with the Yankees – Swisher in 2010 and Granderson & Martin this season.  Martin, with17 HRs and 8 SBs, is on pace to become the first Yankee catcher since Thurman Munson to get to double digits in both categories and the first A.L. catcher to do it since Varitek in 2004.

Russell arrived here looking like a short-term rental until Jesus Montero & Austin Romine were ready to take the job.  But his all around play – defensively, offensively & on the base paths – may make the Yanks alter their plans and look to keep Martin around long-term.

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About fishjam25

Was a 4-yr Pitcher and Communications Major at Seton Hall University in the 90s. His knowledge & opinion of the game comes from his background as a player and ardent lifetime Yankee fan. However, Fishjam also incorporates sabermetrics and statistical support to form a well-rounded view of the game.

Posted on August 26, 2011, in Player Analysis, Statistical Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Great article Fish. Martin sure has made the pitching easier. His bat has been hot as of late as well. Now only if he could figure out AJ.

    • Thanks Matt. As bad as AJ has been, imagine if he didn’t have Martin? When AJ was throwing well in the beginning of the year, he was getting ahead and constantly throwing that curve in the dirt – and Martin seemed to block every one of them.

      Now it seems Burnett is always behind in the count and can’t throw that put away CB as much.

      • I remember a game he made a comment about Martin not blocking one of his balls and it scored a run. I thought to myself some nerve AJ has cause how many times does Martin save him.

  2. Anyone here ever been a catcher?
    I did it for one batter in high school, it made me never ever want to do that ever again.
    Catching has to be the toughest job in baseball…and one of the most misunderstood.
    I don’t know about you guys but, they couldn’t pay me enough! Maybe I just lied a little!
    A good catcher, like Martin, should never have to take that kind of ridiculous rhetoric from a pitcher that has trouble getting past the 2nd inning.

    • Great point Ken……
      I caught a few times when i was like 14 and it was tough and the kid was only throwing about 50 mph. In HS & college they often made the pitchers catch each other at times in practice………I effing hated that!

      As a former pitcher, I have immense respect for catchers and know the huge difference a good catcher can mean for a pitcher. I threw a hard sinker with late movement that a lot of catchers couldn’t hold on to even when it was a strike. And a lot of umpires won’t call a strike if the catcher drops the ball… a good catcher would definitely get me extra strikes called.

      I had a great catcher in college….he made it to AAA and is still the bullpen catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays today.

      • Fishjam…
        That is one reason I read your stuff…I was a pitcher also, in high school and college. But got my shoulder hurt in Football. Back then, it was…take a year off and let it rest, MAYBE it may be better later.
        It was, much better a few years later.
        In your case, you had a good fastball. In my case…about mid 80′s. You were a Starter(?) Me, I was the closer (before there was such a thing) and 2nd baseman.
        Fish—did you ever try throwing short and long arm?
        We pitched in different decades, glad you have been here to help (a lot) make what I was trying to say, make sense to fans.
        Catchers, are my heroes! They only get mentioned if they have a passed ball or catch one of AJs’ follies.

        • Ken….I was a starter who mostly threw over the top in HS, but in college I dropped my arm angle and was a closer. I didn’t have an overpowering fastball but I threw a heavy ball and had tremendous movement on my 2-seamer…..similar arm angle & movement to Bob Wickman, if you remember him. I guess if I had to compare my style to a current Yankee it would be Luis Ayala. Generated a lot of ground balls throwing the sinker bearing down and in on RH batter’s hands.

          • Great to hear that Fishjam…
            If you remember your days as a pitcher, most starters would throw anywhere from 85 to 94+/-. Well I would come in and throw nothing but junk at anywhere from 80 on down to about 65, not a straight one in the bunch. After all that hard stuff they wouldn’t come close, er, most of the time anyhow. I side arm to the rightys and over the top with short and long arm to the lefties. I always had very good luck against lefties.
            I would compare my style to Ed Lopat or Garcia.
            Yes, I do remember Bob very well, he was a good starting pitcher and reliever.
            Good to know we have one poster that knows his pitching stuff…Fishjam.

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