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Numbers Game: Pirates ink free agent catcher Martin

Scott Cullen
11/30/2012 1:56:30 PM
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The Pittsburgh Pirates opened up the purse strings to pluck a free agent away from the New York Yankees.

Numbers Game looks at the Pirates' acquisition of Canadian catcher Russell Martin.

The Pirates Get: C Russell Martin.

Martin, 29, finished the 2012 season with a career-low .211 batting average, but slugged a career-best 21 home runs, finishing the year with a flourish, belting seven home runs and driving in 17 in his last 24 games, in the process raising his batting average above the Mendoza Line, which had been out of reach from June 23 through September 5.

Martin was relatively unlucky last season, htting a career-low .222 on balls in play, which compares poorly with a .286 career BABIP, so that suggests that regression to the mean could be working in Martin's favour next season.

Just as that regression would suggest Martin is due to hit for a higher average in 2013, the fact that his HR/Flyball Rate was 19.8%, also a career-high, indicates that he's not likely to hit as many home runs.

Behind the plate, Martin has generally been an above average fielder, though he had a career-low negative-6 rating on Defensive Runs Saved in 2012 (www.fangraphs.com). He also threw out 24.1% of opposing base stealers, which was a career-low, but still better than the Pirates' backstops (Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry, who combined to throw out 8.9% of attempted base-stealers) posted last season.

If Martin can produce an OPS north of .700, which he did in each of the last two seasons with the Yankees (and ought to be able to continue moving to the NL Central), then he's a fine starter, who can be spelled by McKenry, a 27-year-old who showed some pop, hitting a dozen home runs in 88 games last season.

With Martin gone, the New York Yankees are left with a hole to fill in their lineup. For the time being that hole can be filled by Francisco Cervelli. While the Yankees might want an upgrade at the position, they really need a short-term solution because some of their best prospects, including Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez, are behind the plate.

Martin is signed for two years and $17-million, not an unreasonable price for a starting catcher, particularly considering the lack of depth at the position on the free agent market. From the Pirates' perspective, they've upgraded at a position of need and the Yankees may have saved some money by letting Martin go, but it's difficult to argue that they are currently better off with Francisco Cervelli, who had one major league at-bat last season.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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