Letters of Intent
By Neil Munro
Despite missing four weeks of the 2014 campaign because of injuries, Russell Martin leads all major league catchers in throwing out would-be base stealers (he has cut down 36 going into Tuesday’s play in 2014).
If he winds up leading the league in this category 2014, it will mark the fifth time in his nine year career that he has been the league leader in base runners caught stealing. Indeed, in two of those nine years, he did not play enough games to be listed among the league leaders in that category. You would think that would-be base stealers would exercise a little more caution on the base paths when Martin is catching.
Martin is always listed among the best at his position in fielding (he is perhaps the best in baseball at blocking the plate, and the pitching staff ERA of the teams he plays for always improve over their efforts from seasons before he arrives and after he departs). Martin owns three of the all-time top seven single season marks for putouts by a catcher in the history of the game.
However in 2014, he is making a significant offensive contribution to the Pirates’ batting feats in their run at a spot in post-season play. With one week left in the season, his batting average of .297 is the best of his career (his previous high mark was .293 in 2007 when he won the Silver Slugger Award as the best hitting catcher in the NL). In addition to his high batting average (in a year when most NL sluggers are struggling at the plate in a season dominated by the pitchers), Martin has an excellent on-base percentage as a result of his proficiency in drawing walks and getting hit by a pitch.
Despite the fact that he has played in just 107 games to date in 2014, he now hold the best single-season record of 15 times being plunked, among all Canadians who have ever played in the majors. The previous Canadian best for this category was Larry Walker who had been hit by a pitch 14 times in three different seasons.
Martin currently owns an OBP of .409, and this average is better that either the NL leader (Pirate teammate Andrew McCutchen at .404) or the AL league leader (Victor Martinez, who also has a .404 mark). Martin will not qualify for the NL leadership in this category as he will fall well short of the minimum 502 plate appearances necessary for being listed among the league leaders in percentage categories (batting, slugging and OBP).
Martin has come through in the clutch with numerous key hits this year; none more so that in the recent series between the Pirates and the Milwaukee Brewers. The team taking the most wins in this three-game set was almost certain to hold down one of the two wild card spots at the season’s end. Sure enough, the Bucs captures two out of three games this past weekend, almost guaranteeing a playoff spot. Martin won the first game for the Pirates with a dramatic three-run homer in a come-from-behind 4-2 victory last Friday and then drove in the only run of the game with a clutch single in Sunday’s 1-0 pitching duel.
Now it remains to be determined as to whether the Pirates or the San Francisco Giants will gain home field advantage in the one-game playoff contest between the wild card entries. Right now they are tied with 84-71 W-L records. The Bucs actually still have a mathematical chance of overtaking the St. Louis Cardinals to win their division, but that is a long short at best.
It is no coincidence that Martin’s teams almost always qualify for post-season play (he has performed for the Dodgers, Yankees and Pirates in his nine-year stint in the big leagues). If the Bucs make it as a wild card club in 2014, it will mark the seventh time in nine years that Martin’s team is still in action in October.
While none of his ball clubs have made it to the World Series as yet, Martin has played in more post-season games than any other Canadian in the 144 years of major league play. His 39 playoff games is one more than the 38 accumulated by Tip O’Neill back in the 1880’s. It should be noted however, that most of O’Neill’s playoff contests were really barnstorming exhibitions as an effort to earn the players extra cash, rather than officially sanctioned contests to recognize a championship ball club.
Just to see how important Martin’s contributions have been to the Pittsburgh club in 2014, the Pirates have a W-L record of 60 wins and 43 losses when Martin is the starting catcher for the club (a 58.3%), while the team’s record is just 25 wins and 29 losses (just a 47.2%) when another Pittsburgh catcher starts.
Montreal, where Martin now lives, Chelsea, Que. where he lived as a youngster and East York where he was born, can all be proud of one of their own as Martin repeatedly demonstrates that a Canadian can be among the very best in America’s National Pastime.