The position of catcher in today’s MLB is often overlooked and undervalued. Catchers have become journeymen that never stay in one place very long. There are only a handful of catchers that are considered franchise players and aren’t just on the latest stop of their MLB tour that they call a career.
The one thing you’ve noticed if you’ve followed the Pittsburgh Pirates the past two seasons is that Russell Martin is not just another catcher that is passing through the Steel City, but an invaluable member of the team and not just to the pitching staff.
Is Martin the next Johnny Bench, or the modern day Buster Posey? Certainly not, but is he invaluable in a way that should make the Pirates organization seriously think about how they handle their starting catcher at the season’s end? It should. Martin’s work with the pitching staff in 2013 was a borderline miracle as he had a hand in Francisco Liriano‘s revival, had Jeff Locke become an All-Star and even helped get Gerrit Cole get in prime shape for the team’s playoff run. However, it isn’t just his work with pitchers that makes him a very valuable part of the Pirates.
Anyone else remember the days of Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry? Although “the Fort” was a fan favorite, neither could throw out a baserunner to save their lives. It was painstaking to watch the two catchers fail time and time again and see the opposition get in scoring position on the basepaths without even blinking an eye. Speaking of Barajas, remember his incredible batting average? I believe he topped out the 2012 season with a whopping .192 BA. Pretty solid stuff, right?
Martin has come into the Pirates clubhouse and been a leader, a well above-average player and a difference-maker in the way other teams approach their game plan when playing the Pirates. In 2013, Martin had a .226 BA with 15 home runs in pitcher-friendly PNC Park. Behind the dish, he threw out 40 percent of base stealers, a career-high. In 2014, Martin has mostly picked up where he left off. After 12 games played, he is batting .292 with two home runs and has thrown out 33 percent of attempted base stealers, although a lot of teams are wisely not running on him as much.
Martin is not just another journeyman catcher looking to find his niche for a team’s postseason run, but a player who should get a contract extension. After all, the Pirates don’t have anyone truly capable of being their everyday catcher ready and waiting in the wings. If the Pirates are smart, and that is a stretch at times, they should extend Martin’s contract for another two seasons.
It would not just be a smart move, but a move that would prove the Pirates are serious about keeping players who make a difference.