by Joshua Worley
Paul LoDuca was often called the "heart and soul" of the Dodgers, especially after he was traded away, but was he, really? He was a good hitter for average, a popular player, but ... did he ever mean as much to Dodgers as Russ Martin means to the Dodgers now? I don't think so. LoDuca was good, but not as good as Russ.
Russ leads the NL in OPS by a catcher at 0.838, and is fourth in the major leagues in OPS by a catcher. He's stolen 8 of 9 bases, which makes him the most valuable base stealer on the team, according to linear weights. I've used the linear weights formula that Andrew Grant at True Blue LA uses, which has a plus 0.178 for a steal and a minus 0.441 for a caught stealing. Juan Pierre has more steals, but his caught stealing number makes him less valuable than Russ as a base-stealer. In overall linear weights Russ is second on the Dodgers so far to Jeff Kent.
Yet there's so much more to Russ Martin than his offense, as every Dodger fan knows. In Sunday's 2-1 win over the Cubs, Martin made four outs in four plate appearances, and yet defensively he was brilliant. He threw out foolish Mike Barrett trying to steal third with two outs in the second inning. He saved several possible wild pitches from Wolf with a man on third in the fifth inning. He made a terrific over-the-rope-fence catch in the seventh inning.
Martin has thrown out 34% of base-stealers, good for seventh in the major leagues. His catcher ERA is second in the major leagues, for what that's worth ... which is probably nothing. But anecdotal evidence such as the famous story of him telling Lowe he would stay out at the mound until Lowe calmed down suggests that Martin is very good at handling pitchers. He has only 2 passed balls, but more importantly, the Dodgers as a team have only 12 wild pitches, putting them in the bottom ten in the major leagues in wild pitches thrown. Martin has saved a lot of wild pitches during the season.
Martin also leads the major leagues in games started among catchers, with 45. Jason Kendall is second with 43; most starting catchers have between 30-40 starts right now.
Before Sunday's game, Jon Weisman said: Don't want to hear any complaining about Russell Martin being in the lineup. He rested Thursday and he'll rest again Monday.
There has been a lot of talk in the comments at Dodger Thoughts about the rest Russ is getting, questioning if it's enough. To be honest, I hate it when Russ rests, though I know he absolutely has to have some. I'm more likely to complain if he isn't in the lineup, especially if it's a game I'm seeing in person.
So, how much rest has Russ received? Below is a text graphic showing each week of the season so far ( a week starts on a Monday here ). If Russ started at catcher, there is an X, if he didn't start at catcher, there is an underscore. There is a lowercase x for one game Russ started then came out of after Tomko kerploded. ( I was at that game. )
Russ has had 11 days off so far. The entire team had the day off 6 times; Lieberthal started at catcher 5 times. Russ was the DH once when Lieberthal started, but I've counted this as a day off. Russ has started 45 games in 56 days. That seems like enough rest to me.
Russ has had one long stretch of 10 days playing catcher in a row; otherwise he usually plays 4 or 5 in a row then gets a rest day. He's had at least one rest day in all but one week ( during his 10 in a row ) and multiple rest days in 3 separate weeks.
I don't think Russ should start 10 days in a row very often, but I don't have a problem if he does it 2 or 3 times in a season. The Dodgers may need him to start 10 in a row down the stretch; and it's good to see how he holds up doing that once early in the season. And he did get a half-game off in the middle of the 10 in a row, for what that is worth.
About the possible stretch drive: The Dodgers have every Monday off during the last three weeks of the season, so Martin could easily start every game of the last three weeks and still have enough rest during that time.
After today's off day the Dodgers have 16 games in a row. Martin should rest at least once during this stretch, probably twice, but no more. It's just not the same team without him in the lineup and behind the plate. I want to see him play!