It is no secret that Russell Martin has struggled mightily offensively for the Toronto Blue Jays this season. His “backup” Luke Maile has outperformed him if you look solely at basic numbers like average, and prospect Danny Jansen putting on a show with the AAA Buffalo Bisons. Looking deeper, if all things are equal, the performances of Martin and Maile have not been that different at all. What stands out is how good Danny Jansen has been, and that he hasn’t had the chance to play for the big club yet.
Before we look at what Jansen has done, let’s compare Martin and Maile.
Based purely off of the above table, Luke Maile is clearly out playing Russell Martin. He is out hitting Martin, getting on base more often, and slugging more as well. Martin is striking out less and walking more for what it’s worth.
Batted Ball and Weighted Stats
Yikes. That was the word out of my mouth when I saw Martin’s abysmal BABIP. His career BABIP is .283, so he’s been the victim of some bad luck over the first two months of 2018. Maile on the other hand is experiencing otherworldly luck. Let’s be clear: a .420 BABIP is not sustainable. That number is over 100 points higher than typical, meaning that regression is going to happen sooner or later. Similar ISO means that both players are showing similar power numbers like extra base hits and home runs. ISO doesn’t always show the overall value of a player as is such in this comparison. These players are having very different seasons as shown by the difference in weighted on base average(wOBA) and wRC+. With 100 being the league average wRC+, Martin has performed much worse than average while Maile has produced slightly more.
Luke Maile is hitting the ball hard, which helps to explain his .420 BABIP from earlier. So is he really getting lucky, or has he simply just been making solid contact? 92.3% of his contact has been medium of higher, which is higher than his 83.1% career mark. It isn’t unrealistic to believe that Maile can’t maintain a medium or higher contact percentage around 86%, but we should see it drop a bit in the coming months. In contrast, Russell Martin is generating soft contact 10.7% more than his career average, 14.4% less medium contact, and 3.7% more hard contact. Looking further, last year 83.5% of Martin’s contact was medium or high. This year that number has plummeted to 71.6%, This drop is likely a big reason for his BABIP being what it is, and could be a sign of a larger problem with his swing.
We are getting pretty deep into this analysis at this point. Looking at swing rates and contact percentages gives insight into the type of batter a player is. O-Swing% shows us how often a pitcher swings at pitchers outside of the strike zone and Z-Swing% is the same for pitches in the strike zone. Luke Maile clearly swings at more pitches in general. 6.7% more in fact. He also swings at 10.3% more pitches outside of the zone, and makes contact 5.9% less than Russell Martin. Again this only shows that Maile has been the more aggressive hitter this season and even though he makes contact at a lesser rate than Martin, he is hitting the ball harder which has resulted in the better batting line.
Luke Maile has earned the right to start at catcher which is why we have seen John Gibbons putting Martin in other positions. I won’t get into whether that is a good move in this article, but from the outside looking in Martin hasn’t done anything to warrant him being in the lineup everyday.
What about Danny?
Danny Jansen, who played his way from High A to AAA in 2017, has been playing at a high level during his time with the Buffalo Bisons so far in 2018. Many thought he deserved to make the Opening Day roster as Martin’s backup, but the Blue Jays elected to go with the more experienced Maile. Don’t get me wrong, Maile has played his way into a key role with the Jays so far this season and deserves to be on the 25-man roster. Jansen has shown that he also deserves that chance. It is hard to make meaningful comparisons between AAA and MLB numbers, but bear with me anyways. We also don’t have batted ball statistics for Jansen, so our comparison will not be as extensive.
Adding Jansen’s AAA numbers to our first table, we can see right away that he has been a beast for the Bisons. He has walked one more time than he has struck out, and has collected 14 extra base hits in 124 at bats. A 16th round pick in 2013, Jansen has taken a few years to truly blossom into a major league ready player. Now 23, he is proving that he is ready for the challenge that accompanies a promotion to the big leagues,
Batted Ball and Weighted Stats
Before I get too excited, it is important to once again note that these are AAA numbers. That 163 wRC+ and .410 wOBA really jump out. Just like Maile and Martin, his ISO is right where you like to see it. We can speculate that he is generating solid contact based on the BABIP.
Why isn’t he on the big league roster you ask? That is a great question. The answer is probably simple in the mind of the organization. They already have two catchers on the roster. One of them is a veteran making $20 million this year and next year. Shed a tear for that one. Luke Maile is under team control through 2019, and is only making $558,400 this season. Martin’s contract hurts big time, and it makes it nearly impossible to move him, even if he was playing well. Danny Jansen deserves a shot, and it’s likely going to take an injury to give him one.
Statistics from FanGraphs.