Is Victor Martinez a Fit in Detroit?

Last week, on Boston radio station WEEI, Peter Gammons stopped by and made quite the bold statement:

I don’t expect Victor Martinez to come back, I think Detroit is going to give him four or five years. And I don’t think anybody else is going to give him four or five years to be a catcher.

Bringing in Martinez would certainly help the Tigers at catcher in 2011. In 2010 their catchers, Gerald Laird and Alex Avila, combined to produce a .277 wOBA, which ranked 25th in the majors. Martinez, despite a slow start and a mid-season thumb injury, produced a .364 wOBA, which ranked fourth among MLB catchers with at least 400 PA.

The Tigers also certainly have the payroll to add Martinez. After shedding a number of contracts the have just $61 million on the 2011 payroll, plus a number of arbitration and pre-arbitration players. They should have plenty of room to maneuver, even if they lower payroll from the $134 million they paid in 2010. They’ll save money on a third baseman by re-signing Brandon Inge, so they can afford to put their payroll to work elsewhere. Since they went the defensive route at third, perhaps they will choose to go offense heavy at catcher.

Martinez, for his part, does have issues behind the plate. Of the 12 MLB catchers who qualified for the batting title, Martinez ranked lat in caught stealing percentage, at 21.4 percent. His career caught stealing rate is just 24 percent. Our defensive metrics also rate him poorly. DRS has him at two runs below average, while the fan scouting reports are a bit more harsh, pegging him at eight runs below average. Martinez will turn 32 in December, so it’s unrealistic to expect much of an improvement. In other words, while Gammons doesn’t think that anybody else is going to give Martinez four to five years to be a catcher, it doesn’t appear that the Tigers will, either. He’ll have to play elsewhere, too.

The question, of course, is of where. In the past he has taken reps at first base, but Miguel Cabrera will fill that spot now and in the future. That relegates Martinez to DH duties while he’s not catching — perhaps he’ll play some first while Cabrera DHs, but that probably wouldn’t be a frequent occurrence. The better chance is that he DHs when Alex Avila catches, and that Carlos Guillen, who turned 35 at season’s end, will take reps at DH when Martinez catches. Then, when Guillen’s contract expires after the 2011 season, Martinez can move into the DH role more often, perhaps acting as Avila’s backup as well.

That arrangement does put some pressure on Avila, the team’s fifth round draft pick in 2008. The Tigers certainly do like him; they previously drafted him in the 34th round of the 2005 draft. After getting a cup of coffee in 2009, Avila ranked No. 6 on Baseball America’s Tigers prospects list and third on Marc Hulet’s list. Both Hulet and BA agree that Avila will have to improve against LHP if he’s going to succeed in the majors. He didn’t fare well in that department last year, producing a .244 wOBA against lefties. With Martinez, who produced a .492 wOBA against lefties in 2010 and has a .370 career wOBA against them, there might be a platoon temptation. That will certainly help the 2011 Tigers, but Avila needs to face lefties in order to improve. That could create a tough balancing act for Jim Leyland.

Given the holes in the Tigers roster, their need for offense at catcher, and their available payroll, it does appear that Martinez fits well. The only drawback is that they can’t get him reps at first base, since they have a perennial MVP candidate there. But they can easily get Martinez 600 at-bats between catcher and DH. It would not surprise me one bit to see Gammons end up correct on this one. The pairing makes plenty of sense for both parties.

It also makes sense for the White Sox, a topic we’ll explore next week.





Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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this guy
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this guy

Martinez is a fit anywhere. Still one of the game’s best hitters. Highly respected in any clubhouse.

Horace
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Horace

You consistently say ridiculous things. “Still one of the games best hitters”. He is one of the best hitting cathers in the game. Not one of the best hitters. Never has been, never will be. Couple that with his tremendously poor defense and you have a player that only makes sense to a team in desperate need of a catcher, like the Tigers. Certainly not a fit anywhere.

Michael
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Michael

I agree with you that he’s not anywhere close to one of the best hitters in baseball, but he’s a valuable catcher. The offensive production he produces from the position is only matched by a couple players.

I wouldn’t want to give him a 4 year deal, but there’s a good chance he’s well worth his salary over the next two seasons.

this guy
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this guy

.844 OPS, only 52 ks to 40 walks, 20+ HR Guy in a full season’s at bat.

He’s one of the top pure hitters in the game. Fickle fans like you count maybe 20 hitters as the “top hitters”, but when you are dealing with a whole league full of teams with 25 man rosters, a guy like this qualifies as one of the top hitters.

Not all .844 OPSs are the same. A switch hitting guy who Ks only 52 times, while maintaining 20+ HRs is a different type of hitter than the .850 OPS, 3 outcome guy (HR, K, walk).

You saber morons like to oversimplify the game, and wonder why your models are incorrect so often. Watch a fucking game once in a while. You might actually learn something about the actual sport.

this guy
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this guy

As for your use of “ridiculous”….it only seems ridiculous to your simple, 1 dimensional mind. You’re so stupid, the powers that be have managed to limit your scope to the extent that they can use your own brain against you.

You are the victim of “your own” thoughts.

Danmay
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Danmay

this guy – With all due respect for your time and the thought that goes into your comments at Fangraphs I have to believe that you come to this site for one of two general reasons: either you see Fangraphs as a place to express your baseball opinions and analysis, or you love getting a rise out of people. If it’s the former, then you are welcome to talk baseball here (at least by me you are), but I suggest laying off of “saber morons” if you don’t want everyone that recognizes your name to immediately ignore your comments. If it’s the latter, then I would say you are very successful at what you do, I just hope you spread it around to other sites too. If you don’t fall into either category, then please feel free to explain because I’m curious.

this guy
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this guy

rather than explain, i’ll just go away.

Anon
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Anon

Good riddance.