By Matt Snyder
Even if overshadowed by the A-Rod grand slam and six RBI, Russell Martin is sure to be a hot topic of conversation after the Yankees 15-3 throttling of the Orioles -- especially since he was hit with a pitch in the eighth that may or may not have been intentional. But let's keep the focus on his hot bat and how he seems to have rediscovered how to swing it.
Once an up-and-coming star, he regressed to the point that the Dodgers let him walk as a 27 year old.
Back in 2007, he ended the season with a .293 average, 19 home runs, 87 RBI, 32 doubles, 21 stolen bases, an .843 OPS and a Gold Glove. He was establishing himself as one of the game's elite catchers. Since then, however, things went progressively downhill until you end up looking at a 2010 season where he had a .679 OPS with just five home runs and 26 RBI in 97 games. His shortcomings were not all related to injury issues, either. He just wasn't hitting the ball hard, nor was he comfortable in the box.
Boy, how things have changed.
The 28-year-old catcher is swinging a really hot stick right now, as he hit his fifth and sixth home runs of the season and drove home four -- giving him 15 RBI in 16 games -- Saturday. He's hitting .333 with an OPS now over 1.000. He's even squaring up many of the outs he's making and looks really comfortable in the box. And with good reason, considering he's rarely hit like this ever before.
Now the question becomes whether or not he can keep it up. Well, the power isn't likely to remain close to this rate. He's hitting about 30 percent of his fly balls into the seats. For a point of reference, Joey Votto led the majors with 25 percent home runs per fly ball last season. The rest of the top five were Jose Bautista, Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena and Ryan Howard. Martin obviously hasn't developed that kind of power, so the bombs will slow down. But that doesn't mean he's going to completely come all the way back to Earth. No other advanced batted ball metrics jump off the page as being unsustainable, so it's very reasonable to expect numbers similar or even better than his aforementioned 2007 season. And don't forget about how much easier it is to hit with renewed confidence and in such a loaded lineup.
Suffice it to say, Russell Martin is back -- and he may be better than ever.
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