The typical 2014 NL MVP discussion consists of the same few names: Jonathan Lucroy, Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton, and Andrew McCutchen. Well, let’s change it up and throw Pirates’ catcher Russell Martin into the mix.
The 31-year old veteran is having a season to remember, although few others will. He touts a stellar .409 on-base percentage that tops all catchers to go along with a .296 batting average. His OPS of .850 is second among all catchers, only behind the Reds’ Devin Mesoraco, but ahead of Lucroy and Buster Posey.
Martin has shown exemplary patience at the plate this season, taking 57 walks in his 440 plate appearances. Additionally, his contact rate has improved marginally from last year, up from 76.8% to 80%. Simply put, Russell Martin looks like a polished hitter at the plate, one who opposing pitchers have to take note of when he steps to the batter’s box. All it takes is one look at his 2013 slash line of .226/.327/.377 to notice the work that Martin has put in to re-establishing himself as an offensive force.
And despite only hitting 11 home runs, Martin has supplied his power when it counts, including this three-run, go-ahead jack to sink the division rival Brewers.
Just by taking a look at his offensive numbers, Russell Martin looks to be an above average catcher, maybe not MVP material. But then there’s defense.
The only catcher that has proven himself to be more of a shutdown presence behind the plate is Yadier Molina (who’s 64.1% caught stealing rate in 2005 is still the highest since Roy Campanella in 1952). Martin’s 38.9% caught stealing rate in 2014 is the second highest behind Molina among catchers who have played over 100 games. The 2013 league-average of 28% pales in comparison, as does Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy’s 26.1%. Not only does Russell Martin make runners pay for trying to take an extra base on him, but knowing that there’s a cannon arm behind the plate makes runners more hesitant to even try. The Pirates’ pitching staff have Martin to thank for keeping runners out of scoring position.
Martin has been an invaluable asset to the 2014 Pirates as they try to secure their second postseason berth in a row. His WAR of 5.4 embodies his ubiquitous impact on the game, whether at the plate or behind it. Perhaps overshadowed by the presence of star Andrew McCutchen, Russell Martin should be recognized for his extraordinary production and should be welcomed into the discussion for the 2014 NL MVP.