Saturday, March 23, 2013

Projecting The Offense: Catcher

Russell Martin is the first player up as I look at 2013 projections. He received the largest major league contract that the franchise has ever given a free agent to upgrade the club both defensively and offensively. He is also the major/only addition to a below average offense, so will need to improve on his 2012 performance if the Pirates are going to see the upgrade that the team as a whole requires if the club will continue to progress in 2013. 

2012: 485 PA, 18 doubles, 21 home runs, .211/.311/.403,.316 wOBA, 6 stolen bases 

2013 Projections: 
Bill James: 524 PA, 22 doubles, 16 home runs, .242/.340/.394,.322 wOBA, 8 stolen bases 
ZiPS: 466 PA, 19 doubles, 12 home runs, .238/.329/.373, .310 wOBA, 7 stolen bases 
Oliver: 484 PA, 21 doubles, 16 home runs, .244/.333/.408, .325 wOBA, 5 stolen bases

Summary: Both Bill James and Oliver project an overall offensive improvement, not by a significant amount but an improvement none the less. ZiPS project a small decline, linked to the larger home run decrease. All three have predicted that Martin will fail to reach the 20 home run plateau this season. 

Why Russell Martin may improve in 2013: 
Many pro-Russell Martin articles, blog posts and tweets have pointed to his 2012 batting average on balls in play as the single biggest reason why he could and should progress offensively in 2013. All three projection systems listed above point to an improvement on his .222 BABIP from last season, the lowest mark in the in the majors among hitters with a minimum 450 plate appearances. He still walks a lot, so I would personally project him to be among the team leaders in on-base percentage with the luck on balls in play boost. 

Why Russell Martin may not improve in 2013: 
Martin is moving from Yankee Stadium, a park that favours the home run hitter, to the pitcher friendly PNC Park. ESPN’s Park Factors from last season points to a large home run swing between the two fields, with PNC Park receiving a favourable rating for doubles:

Runs HR Hits 2B 3B BB
Yankee Stadium
PNC Park

While Martin tends to pull the ball, he also has opposite field power. Every ball that he pulled for a home run last season would have cleared the fences in Pittsburgh under the same conditions; however the short porch in Yankee Stadium bulked up his long ball total last season:

The Bench:
Michael McKenry enters the season as Martin’s primary backup. He’s received more than 200 plate appearances in each of the last two seasons, covering for injuries in 2011 and Rod Barajas’ ineffectiveness at the plate in 2012. If McKenry can repeat his .233/.320/.442 batting line (.330 wOBA) then he will have a lot of value backing up Martin, although it’s unlikely that he will receive as many at-bats with Martin as the primary option behind the plate. 

The Pirates will hope that Russell Martin can be the type of two-way catcher he was earlier in his career, however it’s unlikely that he will reach his 2007-2008 levels again. I would personally favour the Bill James/Oliver projection for Martin over his 2012 batting line; there’s almost no possible way that he could be as unlucky at the plate next season, while the bigger home field will also likely reduce his home run total and increase his doubles total at the same time.