Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Rooting for Russell Martin

I know the consensus of most Dodger fans is that they prefer to see the Tigers and Cardinals in the World Series, but based on the players remaining, I’ll dare say it.  I’m rooting for the Yankees.   I know, it's almost like rooting for Darth Vadar in Star Wars but due to my loyalties to former Dodgers Russell Martin and Hiroki Kuroda, I'll pull for the Bronx Bombers.  I’m going to speak of Martin this post though.  Who couldn’t love that kid when he first arrived in the majors as a Dodger  in 2006?

Marin was almost immediately an All Star catcher that many of us thought would be a Dodger for life.  He hustled, gave 100% and was awesome on both sides of the field.  His story was a great story.  Remember when his dad would come to the ball park with all that enthusiasm?  The tale of Russell Martin’s rise to the majors was a story-book tale.  The fact that Logan White saw the kid as a catcher and converted him from a third baseman was another amazing success story of the great Dodger scout.
Will Russell Martin get another chance to get in Pablo Sandoval's face during the Fall Classic this year?  (photo by Ben Margot/AP)
Martin would work counts and take walks.  There was a time he’d slash balls to the opposite field.  He stole 20 bags one year and many of us thought he'd do so year in and year out.  He ran the bases with aggressiveness and baseball savvy. There was also his gold glove defense along with his Silver Slugger offensive performance.  Defensively he was athletic and and a workhorse.  I remember arguing with Braves fans that he was better than McCann.  At the time, it was a legitimate argument.  A few years later, the thought was almost laughable.

Martin thought he was indestructible and felt he didn’t need days off playing in 151 and 155 games during the 2007 and 2008 seasons.  Grady Liddle loved the kid and he didn’t like to take him out of the lineup.  His athleticism made us wonder if he could play shortstop or third base to keep his bat in the lineup on days that he didn’t catch.  Who can forget his contribution to the historic four consecutive homer game int he heat of the '06 pennant race?

Russell Martin slams a historic homer on Sept. 18, 2006, the third of four consecutive in the ninth inning off of trevor Hoffman.  Marlon Anderson's blurry image is seen on deck.  

But something happened to Martin.  It seemed like he forgot how to hit.  A near .300 hitter with an OBP in the mid .380-.390 range suddenly was struggling to hit above the Mendoza line.  The power had been sapped from his game and his double digit homer numbers had reduced to 5 in his final year as a Dodger.  His plate approach changed.  He was often attempting to pull pitches that he used to slash the opposite way.  Often times we were dreading when his turn at the plate was approaching.  On defense, he wasn’t throwing out base stealers.  He was becoming lackadaisical when blocking pitches in the dirt.  His final day as a Dodger resulted in a season ending hip injury because he failed to slide on a play at the plate due to inattentiveness.  That was something we never used to see in Martin.  His baseball IQ had been off the charts.

When Colletti let him walk following the 2010 season, there wasn’t much of a wimper from the fans.  He had a late season injury and his future was uncertain.  The timing of the injury couldn’t have been worse.  “I think he was juicing and once the PED testing was ramped up, his offensive numbers dropped,” said one respected blogger to me who will remain nameless.  The more I thought about, the more I thought he might be right.
Russell Martin celebrates Canada's hockey team gold medal in the 2010 Vancouver games alone in Dodger locker room at Camelback Ranch.  There were bets to collect on.  (photo by Jon Soo Hoo/Dodgers)

Martin’s good offensive numbers tailed off the year the CBA called for drug testing.  We all remember him reporting to Spring Training that year in what he said was the “best shape of his life.”  Martin said he wanted to improve his flexibility and he completed extensive yoga workouts.  His bulk was gone.  He looked  about half his previous size - like a slender baseball player form the 70s.  

Sure enough, the power numbers tailed off.  That didn’t keep Martin from swinging for the fences though.  In 2009 that batting average dropped 30 points and the OBP fell 33 points.  Those weren’t significant drops, but the OPS were (went down over 100 points), and that was noticeable.  WAR reduced from 3.7 to 1.2.  It was obvious Martin wasn’t the same player.  All his offensive numbers dropped.  From homers to total bases, runs scored to doubles.  We knew this wasn’t the Martin that broke into the league in 2006.  
Martin and Kemp reunite at the 2011 All Star Game Home Run Derby festivities. (photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Interestingly, as Martin shifted over the the American League East as a Yankee, his power numbers have risen.  He hit 18 homers in 2011 and another 21 this year.   So perhaps the PEDs argument has no standing.  Hitting in smaller ballparks may have something to do with that too.  Russell continues to work counts and walk a lot, with his OBP about 100 points higher than his average, but this year, he meandered below a .200 batting average for most of the season before a late season surge raised his average to .211.

I still root for the kid.  Martin is a player that I’ll probably always call “kid” becasue of his youthful exuberance.  He’s 29 years old now, and a 7 year MLB vet, but a kid to me.  I still think of him blasting the first pitch off of Trevor Hoffman into the Left Field Pavilion, as the third consecutive homer on September 18, 2006.  His running around the bases in excitement as we knew that something historic was about to happen.  That was a great moment.  That was a time when we knew we had something special in Russell Martin.

(photo by John Munson/US Presswire)

I hope he gets his championship in pinstripes this year.  It would be sweet to see him break the Giants hearts in the process too.


  1. I don't want any players in pinstripes to get the ring, Martin or Kuroda. Some guys detest the Giants. I put the Yankees on the very bottom of my dislike list.

    Very disappointed with Russell and the PED's. I had looked forward to Martin catching for Gagne. Two Canadians and Dodgers. Man, that upset me and still does. Evan, that something "special", for me, died when I found out Russell wasn't the real deal.

  2. it was a legitimate argument. A few years later, the thought was almost laughable.