Thursday, January 09, 2014

Mailbag: A 2007 UD Black Lustrous Autographed Card of the Best Defensive Catcher in the Game

I've been on a buying rampage of late.  Over the past month, I've picked up over 40 different Dodgers autographed cards, and I just don't have the time or inclination to scan them all.  So, instead I'll focus on some of my favorites.

Check out this 2007 Upper Deck Black Lustrous Russell Martin autographed card.   It is super thick and made entirely of plastic.  The autograph and portrait photo on the card look like they float above some open space.  The white background is actually clear plastic.

I remember when this set first came out in 2007.  The Upper Deck Black Baseball card product was a high-end set, so cards that sold on eBay at the time sold for huge premiums.  If I'm not mistaken, the above Russell Martin card sold for upwards of $20 to $30 bucks in 2007.  Jump forward six plus years and I was able to purchase it for just $8, delivered. 

This card also begs me to make note a recent article by Evan Kendall at Beyond the Box Score that focuses on how great Russell was defensively last season.  Heck, it's fair to say that his play behind the plate was the main reason the Pirates made the playoffs - which leads me to point out that offense from a catcher is oftentimes the least important statistic.  Russell batted just .226, but was arguably the leagues best defensive catcher.
Martin was an integral part of the Pirates' success in 2013. Still, considering everything -- Martin's seemingly paltry offensive numbers compared to both Molina and Posey, juxtaposed with his elite defense at one of the most important positions in baseball -- it's hard to conceptualize just how important Martin was to his team.

Although Martin's 4.1 fWAR was a far cry from NL MVP Andrew McCutchen's 8.2, it still ranked him third on the team, just behind the speedy centerfielder Starling Marte, who posted a 4.6. Remember, that's better than Pedro Alvarez, who smashed 36 home runs with a .473 SLG% and 111 wRC+; A.J. Burnett, who posted nearly 200 innings of 76 FIP- ball; and Francisco Liriano, who had a team-leading 16 wins with an 80 FIP- over the span of just over 160 innings.

At this point, it's clear that statisticians are finding it difficult to quantify the defensive value of a catcher. Maybe it will always be difficult to quantify one of the most cerebral parts of the game. But, one thing is for sure: Russell Martin is one of the best catchers in the game, and he has put himself in that conversation almost entirely with his glove.
AJ Ellis naysayers should take note.  Offense isn't everything.

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