Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What's Really Going On With Russell Martin?

(Looks like a decent swing to me.  Courtesy of The AP)

As I watched last night's tremendous display of baseball by the Yankees and laughable ineptitude of the Brewers, I took notice of Russell Martin's line when he stepped in for his first at-bat and was instantly reminded of a post topic I wanted to cover last week and didn't get around to.  That topic being just what the hell is up with Martin?  He started the year hitting like a machine and making Cash look like a genius for signing him.  Since then, he's been bothered by some injuries and his production has dropped off significantly.  Observe:

- Mar/Apr- .293/.376/.587, 85 PA, 10 XBH, .424 wOBA, 170 wRC+
- May- .200/.333/.347, 90 PA, 5 XBH, .322 wOBA, 100 wRC+
- June- .176/.271/.176, 59 PA, 0 XBH, .219 wOBA, 29 wRC+

I'm well aware that his torrid April wasn't sustainable, but I also didn't expect him to fall off a cliff as bad as he has since then.  from 170 wRC+ to 29 isn't just slumping.  That's falling right off the face of the earth.  So what is there in the numbers that can explain this dramatic decline in production?  For starters, we know he's not pressing at the plate and swinging too much, because the one thing Martin has done is consistently walk.  His BB rate doubled from April to June (8.2% to 16.7%), and he's still at a very nice 10.2% rate this month.  He also doesn't seem to be making much weaker contact than he did earlier in the year as his LD% has gone from 19.0% in Mar/Apr to 18.2% this month.

Martin could very well be suffering from the same BABIP luck that Teix is right now, and there is some support for that.  His value was at its highest, .281, in the first month of the year, and is currently sitting at a measly .205 in June.  The percentages also show that Martin is hitting more groundballs and fewer flyballs this month than he has all year, so it seems reasonable to expect that, even if they are decently struck balls, if they're on the ground there's a good chance they're going to produce more outs than hits.  And you definitely aren't going to be racking up any extra bases hits with the ball on ground more, no matter how fast you are.

My thought is that Martin is still probably feeling the effects of his earlier injuries, and while they aren't enough to keep him out of the lineup nor produce any significant holes in his swing, they might be just enough to have him keep them in the back of his mind when he's at the plate and adjust his approach slightly so as not to re-aggravate the injury.  That combined with the resulting increased GB rate should logically add up to a lower BABIP and lower all around offensive numbers as a result.  And just as it would have been insane to expect him to put up a .963 OPS all season, it would also be stupid to think that Martin will stay in this prolonged slump for the rest of the year.  Sooner or later things have to balance out and we'll probably see him back around the .250/.350/.410 line.

Teix Making The Most Of The Hits He Does Get

(And exhale.  Good.  Courtesy of The AP)

Here's your food for thought on a Wednesday morning.  Check out where Mark Teixeira ranks amongst the 160 qualifying players in MLB in some offensive categories:

HR- 24 (Tied for 1st)

RBI- 62 (Tied for 4th)

ISO- .296 (5th)

SLG- .542 (12th)

wOBA- .388 (19th)

wRC+- 145 (18th)

BABIP- .214 (158th)

And right there is your smoking gun, ladies and gentlemen.  Mark Teixeira is being cursed by some horrific BABIP bad luck.  Not only is he 3rd to last out of all MLB qualifiers, he's a full 16 BABIP points behind the guy ahead of him, Alex Rios.  With a value like that, he should be putting up Jorge-type numbers (no offense, Jorge), not ranking in the top 2-12.5% in the most important offensive categories.  People are going to look at the .246 BA and the sub-.900 OPS and assume Teix is having some kind of Rob Deer-like garbage year where he's either a homer or an automatic out, but that simply isn't the case.

The Yankees as a team hit .282 on balls in play.  Imagine what Teix's numbers would look like if he was just hitting that!  We wouldn't be talking about him possibly getting squeezed out of the All Star Game for Adrian Gonzalez, Paul Konerko, and Miguel Cabrera.  We'd be talking about Teix being the runaway favorite for AL MVP and possibly knocking in 150 runs this year.

Now I'll be fair and admit that maybe Teix is guilty of becoming a little pull happy with the short porch at The Stadium, and so he could be contributing to his own bad luck.  After all, both his BABIP and BA numbers dropped off last year from where he was in '09 while his power stayed the same.  But Teix is too good a hitter to be wallowing away in the Chone Figgins and Kurt Suzuki levels of BABIP mediocrity.  Sooner or later, some of these balls have to start finding gaps and green space instead of gloves.  And when they do, watch out.