Could Yankees Pitchers Fare Better Without Rusell Martin?

Don’t be fooled by the title – the Yankees will undeniably miss Russell Martin in 2013. He may not have been the best offensive player, but he put together good at bats and pounded left-hand pitching. Additionally, he’s garnered a very good reputation behind the dish in terms of framing pitches and throwing out runners. However, by sheer pitching performance, would the Yankees be better off with Chris Stewart? Brian Cashman has stated that he’s fine with  the in-house options replacing Martin. First, let’s compare Stewart and Martin in terms of their battery mates performances, and then take a look at the other options, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine.

Granted, 395.1 innings is a sample size: odds are Stewart’s 3.41 catcher ERA would have approached Martin’s 4.03 mark in 1,045 innings if he was given extended time. In terms of FIP, Stewart checks in at 3.63 and Martin at 4.27. Still, though, let’s examine how Stewart fared in 2012 with what will likely be the Yankees rotation in 2013:

First, let’s look at the ace CC Sabathia. Stewart was pretty much Sabathia’s personal catcher in the regular season, catching 18 of CC’s 29 games. Sabathia fared moderately better with Stewart, posting a 3.16 ERA compared to a 3.75 ERA with Martin. Interestingly, CC limited the home run ball much more effectively with Stewart, allowing 12 home runs in 128 innings, while surrendering 10 in 72 with Russell. FIP also confirms that CC thrived with Stewart over Martin: 3.20 compared to 3.87.

The rest of the rotation has much smaller sample sizes compared to Sabathia, which makes it hard to make a conclusive judgement. However, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova all performed better with Stewart behind the plate, even if it was only a few starts.

Martin received 30 of Kuroda’s 33 starts, and had plenty of experience with Hiroki back in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, in those 3 Stewart starts, Kuroda allowed just 3 runs in 21.1 frames. That’s certainly success, albeit a very limited amount that we really can’t draw conclusions from.

Andy Pettitte missed much of the season due to a broken ankle, making just 12 starts. Stewart caught two of those, in which Pettitte gave up 3 runs in 13.2 innings. Once again, it’s too small of a sample size to make a determination.

Phil Hughes? Same story: Stewart caught 3 of his 32 starts, recording a 2.95 ERA in 18.1. Martin’s catcher ERA was much higher, 4.37, but again we’re dealing with sample size limitations.

Ivan Nova was the starter Stewart was paired with the most after Sabathia. He was behind the plate for 7 of Nova’s 28 starts. In 128 innings, Nova and Martin struggled to a tune of a 5.70 ERA. On the other hand, Stewart and Martin clicked: 2.76 ERA in 42.1 frames. FIP saw the same: 5.01 for Martin, 3.77 for Stewart. Nova probably got a little luckier with Stewart and was victimized by some bad luck with Martin (high HR/FB), but it’s still clear Nova was better with Stewart in a slightly larger sample compared to Kuroda, Pettitte, and Hughes.

While it’s somewhat comforting to know that Stewart saw success with the Yankees staff, even in very limited work with 3/5 of the rotation, we cannot unequivocally say that the staff will perform better without Martin as the backstop. There’s something to be said about a catcher’s relationship with his battery mate, which Martin has had time to do with this staff. In 2013, whoever winds up being the starting catcher will have to develop a camaraderie with the pitching staff.

Even if it was true that Stewart gave the Yankees’ staff an edge behind the dish, his offense (or lack their of) would be a detriment to the lineup next season. The drop off from Martin to Stewart offensively will be noticed. Martin has a career 102 wRC+, while Stewart has a paltry mark of 59. If Cervelli got the nod, its not like he’d be much better: 88 wRC+ for his career. Plus, Cervelli is known to be a putrid defensive catcher.

Romine could be the wild card in this situation. When healthy (which hasn’t been often the past couple of seasons), Romine has put up mediocre offensive numbers in the minors, which I guess could be considered slightly above average for a catcher. Defensively, he’s drawn good reviews including being named the best defensive catcher within the organization, per Baseball America. The questions with Romine are the following: Is his bat good enough to stay in the lineup? Can the Yankees really allow a rookie to catch when trying to compete? I don’t think the first answer is an issue whatsoever, considering Stewart and Cervelli are not adept with the bat. The second question would be my biggest concern. Catcher is the most important defensive position on the field, and trusting a rookie with no experience with this staff would be a huge risk.

In short, the Yankees will undoubtedly miss Martin, which comes to a surprise to no one. A sample size of better pitching results is not enough to convince me nor anyone else with some semblance of logic. Sure, it may be partially comforting to have seen Stewart succeed in 2012 with the staff, but then again it’s Chris Stewart we’re talking about. He’s not an ideal replacement, nor are Cervelli and Romine.

Again, it looks like Cashman is prepared to go into the season with one of these in-house options. Yes, he said the same thing about Bubba Crosby in 2005 and subsequently signed Johnny Damon, but this time he’s dealing with an ownership budget mandate. It would be nice for Cashman to find some level of insurance on the market, but I think he believes he can get away with a no-hit, all glove catcher over the course of the year. Let’s hope he’s right, or let’s hope he’s got a smart move up his sleeve.

Photo By Keith Allison on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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