Friday, February 7, 2014

Estimating a Russell Martin Extension

Russell Martin is entering the last of his 2 year $15M deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the first year of the contract Martin slashed a 226/327/377 good for a split 100 OPS+ meaning he was pretty much exactly league average for a Catcher. Martin went to the plate 506 times in 2013, the most since he had 588 PAs with the Dodgers in 2009. Martin provided solid pop with 15 dingers accompanied by a healthy 21 doubles.

Martin doesn't pay the bills with his bat, he has earned very high praise for his defense behind the plate, particularly his excellent pitch framing abilities. Defense has been undervalued in both arbitration and free agency for years, but as more teams turn to defense oriented players I think that will all change.

There were 3 major Catcher signings in the 2013-2014 offseason; Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Carlos Ruiz, and Brian McCann. Let's compare Martin next to these 3 catchers to get a better idea of where the market has been.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia:
Age: 29
2013 Stats: 470 PAs 14HR 40 Doubles 273/338/466
Contract: 3 Years $21M with Miami Marlins

Salty is coming off a World Series winning season with the Red Sox where he put up a very healthy stat line and clearly taking advantage of Fenway's unique dimensions (40 Doubles won't happen in Marlins Stadium) But Salty got on base at a higher clip than Martin and put up similar power numbers in fewer PAs. But like I said Martin's value is locked up in his defense so we really have to compare their defensive metrics. 

Salty caught only 21% of base stealers and allowed 7 passed balls in 2013, while Martin through out an astonishing 40% of possible base stealers and 4 passed balls. 

Carlos Ruiz
Age: 35
2013 Stats: 341 PAs 5HR 16 Doubles 268/320/368
Contract: 3 years $26M with 4th year option that could make it 4 years $30M with Philadelphia Phillies

Ruiz is an interesting case and I don't particularly like him as a comp simply because I think he was overpaid because of his help with the 2008 World Serie. He only allowed 4 passed balls and caught 25% stealing, but in a limited 745 innings. (Martin had 1,051.1 in 2013)  I think that Martin is clearly the better of the two players, but I don't think Martin will land $26M guaranteed.

Brian McCann
2013 stats: 402 PAs 20HRs 13 Doubles 256/336/461
Contract 5 years $85M with New York Yankees

McCann offers relatively elite power from behind the plate, (He was one of only 3 Catchers to hit 20+ HRs in 2013, the others being Wilin Rosario and McCann's backup Evan Gattis) and is very likely to end up at 1B/DH for the majority of his PAs at the end of his contract. McCann is not particularly known for his defensive ability, catching a pedestrian 24% of base stealers. He did manage to only allow 3 passed balls, albeit in 806 Innings because the Braves had the enviable problem of 2 big bats behind the plate; his innings were limited. Offense is still, and probably always will be, paid much better than defense and so I think Martin can only dream of signing a lofty $85M contract.

On top of that Martin is on the wrong side of 30 while McCann is still only 29, just another reason why I don't predict Martin anywhere near comparable contract to McCann.

At the end of it all, I believe Martin could land a 2 year $18M contract with either a club or vesting option third year, or if he has a big season he could see a guaranteed 3rd year for 3 years $25M. A 4th year option isn't entirely out of the picture, but it would have a low buyout and is a bit of a stretch I certainly don't see him getting 4 guaranteed years.

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