Russell Martin Scouting Report - Comps
The Dan Wilson concept


Q.  Who is Russell Martin?

A.  He is Mike Zunino's 50th-percentile** manifestation at age 29.  Or he is Dan Wilson, if Wilson had a bit more pop and a bit less HIT skill.  If Wilson had worn a size 48R blazer, had swung like Sammy Sosa and had played in New York, he'd have been Russell Martin.

In this quick series, SSI is going to get to the white meat without running through and provide evidence for each assertion.  Time's a precious commodity for Dr D this week and most Gentle Readers have a feel by this time as to how many numbers or video reels there are, or aren't, behind his evaluations.  

  1. Take it
  2. Leave it


Q.  Why Dan Wilson as a comp?

A.  Dan Wilson, as a concept, is this:  Lou Piniella's fortune-cookie script when he brought Wilson over from the Reds where Lou had been.  "This kid is a Number One Catcher."

  • Classy, tough personality, team leader, sets a focused, selfless atmosphere
  • Drop-dead gorgeous body movements behind the plate
  • Measurable, and considerable, defensive contributions (legit defensive specialist)
  • Pitches in with a good solid reliable 90 OPS+ offensively
  • The guys standing on the mound lovva lovva lovva him - glassy-smooth rapport

For a team to want this is NOT merely an affectation.  If you heavily value defense at SS and CF, as you should, then you should value it at least as much at catcher.  The catcher is part of each pitcher-catcher team on the ballclub.


Q.  Why Mike Zunino as a comp?

A.  Zunino has upside at the plate; he could easily be a 110 or 120 OPS+ hitter, or who knows what he could be.  But just out of AA, you've got to objectively pencil him in as less than that.  Hoping for more.

What makes Zunino special is that he is fun to watch behind the plate.  Dan Wilson really wasn't; Ivan Rodriguez was.  Zunino is like Pudge -- you could watch a game just to enjoy Zunino's ballet behind the plate.  

Russell Martin is also fun to watch behind the plate.  For example, here is a video where he guns down Anthony Gose at 3B:  watch the footwork.  

  • Aiki-precise in foot placement, spread of feet, under the hips, etc
  • Martin looks like he weighs 150 lbs hopping out of his crouch
  • Throwing stroke is to die for
  • Throw itself, yowza

You could watch that video 20 times.  Zunino's like this, too.

Or here's a vid in which Martin does the same thing at second base, the longer throw.  Look at how accurate the footwork is, how effortless it is.  The throw stays low, arrives wellllll over to 1B ... it's less of a catcher's throw and more of a personal statement, 007.  You run on me and you'll be out by THREE steps.

We don't mean to make Martin out to be Pudge Rodriguez; he's not.  But he's a pleasure to watch back there.  Same as Dan Wilson.


Q.  So Martin is a defensive specialist?  Or an extreme defensive specialist?

A.  It's unclear.  

Or here's a vid of Martin stealing a strike for CC Sabathia.  Don't fail to click on that link, brother.  Martin has been #1 in the American League, both 2011 and 2012, for runs saved by stealing strikes -- an estimated 20+ runs per season in strike-stealing alone.  

If the numbers held up -- and who knows whether Martin's getting the strikes or the Yankees are -- then Martin would be literally worth his salary in pitch framing alone.

There isn't ANY way to capture the defensive contributions of catchers.  But Martin is definitely a plus defensive catcher, and what would Brendan Ryan be worth if he hit .240 with 20 home runs?




** - I know, I know.  Strictly speaking, there's almost no such thing as a AA player whose 50th-percentile projection is to be a borderline All-Star.



I have to wonder what a grizzled vet like Martin could do for our pitching staff... especially the ones most have given up on already like Noesi, Beavan and Vargas.
If these guys could be coached on the field during at bats, and then get a couple of extra strikes that they have never gotten before... who knows we all could become Noesi fans.


In defense of your point, this has been tried before and in that short trial, the outcome was "Yes."
As you think about it .... Zduriencik invested a whale of a lot in Hector Noesi (apparently rejecting Nova for him) and when an executive commits to a project and sees it fouled up, he's going to be ticked.
You wonder how much Noesi's situation specifically has led Jay-Z to decide to ---> clean house behind the plate.  Not saying it's correct or incorrect, but am saying that if I were reporting to Zduriencik, I would PRESUME that the Noesi foulup had been a big reason behind the cleaning house.

tjm's picture

It seems clear they've made a decision to get a new catcher which means somebody has to go. Jaso is the only lefty in the entire group so you'd think he'd be a sure thing to stay, especially since he was not incidentally the team's best hitter and one of its best baserunners. That leaves Montero and Zunino and I sincerely doubt they'd move Zunino, which leaves you with the question: What is Montero worth?
Last year, when he was judged to be a future MOTO bat with no position he was worth one of the best young righthanders in baseball. Is he worth more or less now? The consensus judgement seems to be that he is worth less.I don't really understand why. I simply don't buy the repeated asseertion from other sites that Montero failed as a hitter. I thought for a young catcher in his first full season he hit remarkably well - killed lefties and improved as the season went on against righties. Montero and one of the Big 3.5 would get you what?
Of course, it doesn't matter at all what I think or even what Jack thinks. It matters what other GM's think and by now Jack would know the answer to that. Seems to me he wouldn't be pursuing another catcher so vigorously if he didn't think he could make a good deal on Montero either now or by mid-year when Zunino has had another few months in the high minors.


But wasn't that the point of Olivo? And didn't that fail miserably? And isn't Napoli only nominally a catcher, like Montero or Jaso?
Now, Russell has volunteered to play SHORTSTOP for the Canadian WBC team, and his pitchers seem to really appreciate him as a receiver, so he has the athleticism and receiving skills going for him - but again, I thought that was what Zunino was for. You don't draft Tim Lincecum then block him off with a bunch of Vargases, do you? Or trade your best young pitcher for a catcher/DH who is a top-10 prospect in all of baseball, then block him off at both catcher and DH?
And Martin's RH, just like Montero and Zunino and Napoli. I know we're "fixing" the park, but that doesn't help us with matchups if all our MOTO guys are right-handed hitters.
*shakes head* I'm just not sure what we're doing right now. I understand Napoli better than Martin, unless Zunino is being traded - and we can't trade him til mid-year since he was just drafted.
I just can't see enough of the plan right now. The problem is, the other offseasons when I've said that (ie, all of them) it hasn't been a plan I liked or appreciated in any meaningful way when it was over. So this is not encouraging.
Maybe Montero is moving to first base. Maybe Zunino's being held back/stalled. Maybe there's a trade that will make sense of this, or we're putting the 2013 season completely in the hands of the young arms. If we're gonna run Paxton, Erasmo and Hultzen out there in April, perhaps Martin is the key to getting them all to land on their feet.
That, for me, is the most likely reason for a Martin acquisition - no more stalling on the young arms. If Walker's ready, then he's taking the mound. Perhaps Oakland's rookie hurlers inspired us not to dip a toe in that water but cannonball in.
And they don't want to put those guys in the tender care of Zunino and Montero.
But if Zunino and Montero are two cornerstones of your future pennant winners... how are you maximizing their talents?
Like I said, still confused about the 2013 formula for success we're trying to work out on the blackboard. Hope to be enlightened soon.


I'm becoming quite confused about the way (it seems) our FA pursuits are going.
Napoli, as a homer hitting DH makes some sense, I was in.....but not as a long-term catching addition.
And with Zunino banging on the door and other serviceable catchers in-house a Martin pursuit confuses me, mostly for what it says about our Zunino plans. Montero and Jaso had their moments behind the plate last year. Each caught stellar pitching games. they held their own. Their CERA (if that is of any value) was as good as Olivo's, who is supposed to be a defensive stalwart. But evidently, we've completely decided that they can't catch.
Perhaps we have a deal on the table that includes Montero. Or perhaps Montero is becoming a fulltime 1B/DH and Smoak is gone. Maybe we want Martin to tutor our young starters. But my head is beginning to spin with all of our new catcher infatuation.
Two years of Martin means Zunino shows up in late 2014! Three years of Martin and Zunino become expendable. Both of those decisions confuse me as Zunino applears to be close to ready...but it now appears that Wedge (I think that's who is deciding on catchers) think he needs tons of Tacoma time to be a MLB catcher. Wedge has certain things he wants in his catchers: Veteran status is one of them.
Doc, James may have been right when he said that the best clubs seek proven talent. I'll buy in to a degree, but sometimes you go with the guy who is young and talented. You have to on the best of them. It only took the Yankees 85 AAA games to decide that Cano was their 2B of the future. The first 61 ('04) of those he hit all of .259.
Yet despite that, he was clearly in line for the quick callup the next year. 25 games more was enough in '05.
I'm a believer in putting youthful talent on the field. The NFL starts 21-22 year old rookie QB's. The NBA starts 20 year old rookie point guards. Yet in baseball, a 21 yr old is still (most often) 2-3 years away from being "polished" enough.
If Zunino has got game....and a future, then Seattle (sooner rather than later) is the place for him. Signing Martin doesn't allow him to grow, it probably sets back his development. I suppose that it is possible that we've decided that Zunino isn't the catcher of the future...which means that Z took a nose dive on that draft pick.
maybe all we're hearing in unsubstantiated rumors and all is actually quiet and calm in the Z camp. It doesn't appear to be, however. That scares and confuses me.
I'll trust there is method to the (perceived) madness. However, a mashing platoon of Montero/Jaso makes up for some pitch framing issues, if they exist. Perhaps Martin signing means those two guys are a DH platoon? Hmmmmmm? Interesting, that.
But then there's the Zunino thing.

M-Pops's picture

C has to be the most demanding position on the team. How does it hurt to have 3 legit C's rotating through C/DH? In case of injury, you're covered. Also, if fewer innings behind the plate=better health, does it not make sense to protect the health of the cornerstone players in Montero and Zunino (possibly Jaso, who I quite like)?
Montero, Jaso, and Martin/Napoli could handle sharing DH and C. And they may not really have to, depending on injuries. And I like the idea of players earning more AB's. It always seems to work for those befuddlingly competetive A's, who added yet another OFer this offseason!
Both Martin and Naps are familiar with the AL, and could take the pressure off both our young cornerstone C's.
I like it ;-)


I don't think there is any mystery here. They've decided that Montero has no future at C. They've decided that Jaso isn't more than a platoon partner at C. Zunino looks good but you can't plan around a guy with a couple dozen games above A ball. So, they've decided that they need to sign a catcher.
Shrug. I would prefer Martin over Napoli, simply because he'll age better and be easier to trade once Zunino is ready. Just because they ink a guy for 3-4 years doesn't necessarily mean he'll be here for the duration of the contract. (Unless, of course, the guy sucks and becomes an untradeable "Figgins" type of player.)

Lonnie of MC's picture

... that shows me blowing chips? There is no way that Hector Noesi will EVER become useful on a MLB mound.*
* I reserve the right to be wrong every once in a while...

Lonnie of MC's picture

... that any and all talks with vet catchers include language to the extent that they can expect to hit quite a bit as the DH AND there is a possibility of moving to 1st base. I'm willing to bet a lot of Jeff's money on that.


I just can't see the Martin deal as a real likelihood. Maybe we sniffed, maybe as due diligence, maybe as a GM-ish ploy; I don't know. But 4 years of Martin, with the steal of the draft in the hopper, doesn't make sense.
Our problem last year was not that we didn't have enough catching ability. If we're spending $9-$10M on a FA, we're getting a bat, there was the problem.
Martin's a very nice player, don't get me wrong, but I just don't think he's the guy on our radar screen.
Edit: Just read Dave Cameron's USSM post. He's heading down this same track. I actually agree with DC. Doesn't happen all that frequently.

ghost's picture

There's no way Zunino limits himself to hitting .235...and you can't claim thatn Martin is secretly a better hitter than that...his HIT skill and K rate have been heading the wrong way for the last several years running.


"We're looking at FA catchers, including you, so that means we'll let you catch some. We want you but we're willing to sign someone else. And 4 years isn't scaring us off. Come play here..."
That makes sense - but only if you can get Napoli to ink. Napoli has a bat that can play at DH, Martin doesn't. If we sign Napoli, then Montero can play 1B (or be traded), Jaso is a platoon bat who can get play at both C and DH, and Napoli can C/DH til Zunino gets here when he'll slide over to more of a full-time DH. That means Smoak and Carp are out, and Right-ifies our lineup to a significant degree (hope that fence-moving thing helps).
Signing Martin blocks off Zunino who might be your most talented minor league hitter (although he can't be traded til mid-year), doesn't solve the need for a real hitter at DH (unless we're going with Montero there, at a position he hit terribly at in 2012), and ties up funds you might use to sign said real hitter. And it still rightifies the lineup a bit. It COULD work, if we turn Zunino around for something shiny, but why draft a young cheap hitter, hit the apparent jackpot immediately, and then move the club-controlled wunderkind out because you've blocked him off?
I guess we could move Zunino to the OF a la Bryce Harper, but Harper was always an iffy catcher, more Montero-like than Zunino has been. Zunino's a true catcher. We could deploy him elsewhere.. but why? Why make this harder on ourselves?
Just makes me think Martin has to be a ploy, to show we're serious about stalling Zunino a while longer should Napoli require catching duties the next year or whatever in order to ink his name to the line. If we get Napoli, it worked! And we'll figure out the Zunino thing. If we don't get Napoli, I don't expect the Martin thing to go anywhere.


Montero, Jaso, and Martin/Napoli could handle sharing DH and C, but that sets up a situation where you would have potentially three of the best hitters on your team but only be able to play two at at time. Just seems like an inefficient use of resources.

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