In this series, I will be taking a tour around the diamond for in-depth looks at players who I value differently than the market consensus. Expert ranking lists are not worth the paper they are printed on without analysis as to why players are ranked where they are. Since the featured players in this column will be guys who I value much differently than the mainstream, you may not agree with where I rank them, but it is still important to understand why I have them where they are. Sometimes alternative viewpoints can be more illuminating than group think, even if you do not agree with the opinion.
Love – Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays
Among players expected to be catcher eligible in 2015, Russell Martin was the 7th most valuable fantasy backstop in 2014. He was able to produce top 10 catcher numbers despite his lowest power output in 4 seasons. Now Russell Martin is moving back to the power friendly AL East and is still likely to be ranked outside the top 12 catchers on draft day. What should fantasy owners expect in 2015?
Russell Martin hit .290 last season, following three consecutive seasons hitting less than .240. It is not difficult to look at Martin’s .336 BABIP (nearly 50 points higher than his career BABIP) and know that his 2014 batting average surge was a complete fluke. His line drive, ground ball and fly ball rates were all within tenths of a point of Martin’s career averages. Martin hits the ball on the ground nearly 50% of the time, and although he is quite fast for a catcher, he will not ever be confused with Billy Hamilton. He is highly unlikely to duplicate his 11.3% infield hit percentage from last season. Drafters should expect Martin’s batting average to dip back under .250 in 2015.
One thing Martin has always done exceptionally well, however, is draw walks. He walked 12.8% of the time in 2014 and has posted a walk rate greater than 10% every year since 2007. Because of the walks, he has always been able to get on base, even while he was struggling with his batting average. His OBP should be roughly .100 points higher than his batting average.
Russell Martin only hit 11 HRs in 2014, but he hit between 15 and 21 in each of his three prior seasons. Martin’s HR/FB rate dipped to 9.3% in 2014 despite an average fly ball distance of 292.77 feet. To put that number into proper perspective, consider that slugging teammates Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion had average fly ball distances of 286 and 288 feet respectively. Those guys both put the ball in the air a lot more frequently than Martin does, but this move to Toronto will do nothing but help Martin’s power numbers. If he can stay healthy, he is a near lock for 15 HRs with a chance to get back over 20.
In years past, Russell Martin has been one of the few catchers who will net owners with a handful of stolen bases. The good news is that the Blue Jays tend to be very aggressive on the bases. The bad news is that Martin appears to be slowing down rapidly. With the Yankees, Martin was successful on 14 of his 17 SB attempts over two seasons. In 2013 with the Pirates, he stole 9 out of 14. Last year, his success rate was only 50% as he stole 4 out of 8. Martin may still be able to get a couple steals here and there, but his days of approaching double digits in the steal category are likely over.
We know that the Blue Jays offense has a lot of run scoring potential, but Martin’s run production will depend on his lineup spot. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has suggested that he wants to take advantage of Martin’s on base skills by using him in the two hole. I am not convinced that this would be the best move for the Blue Jays, but it would be outstanding for Martin’s fantasy value. Batting in front of Bautista and Encarnacion would yield plenty of pitches to hit and a bunch of runs scored.
If Russell Martin does indeed stick in the two hole, he will be a threat to score 75 runs and to drive in 60+.
Russell Martin is one of the premier defensive catchers in the majors, so Dioner Navarro’s presence is unlikely to impact Martin’s at bat total too much. Martin will be the primary backstop regardless of his offensive performance, but if he is hitting well, there is always a chance that he picks up a few additional ABs in the DH spot.
Russell Martin is one of the main reasons I will not be reaching for a catcher in 2015. There is little difference between the catchers ranked between 5 and 15 this season. Rather than trying to guess on which guy to draft in round 7 or 8, I will let the room make the decision for me. That means I will likely end up owning quite a few shares of Russell Martin.
I expect Martin to be significantly undervalued this year because most will take a quick peek at the declining HR totals, the SB efficiency and the inflated BABIP and decide that Martin is safe to ignore on draft day.
Once owners factor in the expected price tag and the change in circumstance for Russell Martin, there is some real value here. I think Martin is a safe bet to produce as a low-end top 10 catcher with the upside to put it all together and be a top 5 option. Here is my projection for Russell Martin in 2015:
.240, 70 Runs, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 4 SB
Hate – Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies
Wilin Rosario was viewed by many (including me) as a high-end catcher option heading into 2014 draft season. This season, following a somewhat disappointing 2015, most early rank lists have Rosario somewhere near 10 (Fantasy Assembly’s early 2015 rank list had him at 9). Most people will look at Rosario’s recent past and assume that he is a strong bounce back candidate and a potential mid round value pick. While the 25-year-old backstop clearly has elite power potential, there are many factors that may make it extremely difficult for him to live up to his 2015 ADP. Make sure you know the downside before you decide to invest.
Overall, Rosario had a down year, but he actually made significant strides with his plate discipline. Rosario’s K% dropped from 23.4% all the way down to 17.1% and his BB rate rose to 5.6%. His swinging strike rate dropped as the season wore on also. He still chases far too many pitches, but the fact that he is making better contact bodes well for his consistency as a hitter.
Batted Ball Profile
One of the biggest issues for Rosario in 2014 was his spike in ground balls. A 50% ground ball rate is never going to be a good look for a slow power hitter. His BABIP still sat at a reasonable .293 with a batting average of .267, but there is risk of both falling further in 2015 if Rosario is an everyday player.
Along with the high ground ball rate, Rosario only hit fly balls 30.9% of the time and his HR/FB rate dropped from over 25.5% in 2012 to 13.1% last season. His average fly ball distance is down from is best power seasons, but his 286.91 foot average is about the same as what he posted in 2013. Rosario still has high-end power, but he will have to hit the ball in the air more frequently to take advantage of it.
Rosario’s splits are absolutely eye-popping. Check out the following stat lines:
vs. LHP: .422 wOBA, .327 ISO, and .989 OPS
vs. RHP: .283 wOBA, ,110 ISO, and .650 OPS
at Home: .396 wOBA, .197 ISO, and .928 OPS
on Road: .235 wOBA, .136 ISO, and .533 OPS
on Road vs. RHP: .178 wOBA, .051 ISO, and .393 O
His road split against righties look like a batting line I would expect to see from a pitcher, not an “elite” power hitter.
By themselves, these numbers are somewhat concerning. Once you factor in that Rosario is quite poor defensively, fantasy owners have a potential disaster on their hands. The Rockies have reportedly grown tired of playing Rosario behind the plate and are considering two possibilities this off-season.
The first option would be playing Rosario in a first base platoon with Justin Morneau. While Rosario would make a great daily league play when the Rox face a lefty at home, he would not get enough ABs to remain fantasy relevant in standard mixed leagues if this scenario plays out.
The second option involves trading Rosario to an AL team. Rosario might be able to get more ABs this way, but his value would depend entirely on his landing spot and his role. Judging by those road splits, there may only be a small handful of trade situations that would allow Rosario to remain as a mixed league relevant catcher.
Rosario can be a very good offensive player, but the potential risk of lost ABs is too high for me to consider him a top 10 catcher. If he were somehow able to find 250 ABs in Coors Field, then he would absolutely make a great bounce back candidate. Unfortunately, given the risk factors, he appears to be more likely to post fewer than 250 ABs all season. I do not think Rosario will get enough playing time to justify his current draft position. Therefore, I will not consider drafting him unless he falls outside the top 15 catchers on draft day, and his name value is unlikely to allow that to happen.