DINGERS FROM THE 6IX
by Quinn Sweetzir
The Toronto Blue Jays have a problem; their very good starting second baseman is injured again. As a result of Travis’ unfortunate injury, the current second base platoon of Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins has resulted in minimal offensive production. Even though other options such as the likes of minor leaguer Jason Leblebijian, or free agent Brett Lawrie, and a wide assortment of trade targets from across the major leagues have been discussed, the fact remains that if a move like that was coming, it’s likely that it would have occurred by now. Instead, we’re seemingly stuck with the mediocre performance of Barney and Goins in the meantime.
The recent acquisition Miguel Montero doesn’t appear to change anything on the surface, but rather appears to be an overall upgrade over a historically bad offensive performer in Luke Maile. Although this is likely the most clear reason for making the move, it could indirectly improve Toronto’s second base situation by making one simple change; make Russell Martin the Jays second baseman, at least on a part time basis.
For a club that’s struggling offensively, the goal of the Blue Jays needs to be putting the best offensive club possible. Unfortunately, both Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins have limited skills with the bats, so there will continue to be a hole at the bottom of the lineup as they remain in place. This problem could be partially solved by playing Martin at second base, and allowing Miguel Montero to catch for a significant portion of the time.
If we explore the offensive abilities of Martin, Montero, Barney, and Goins, a very clear offensive trend becomes apparent. Just consider the following.
Career WRC+ vs RHP
Against right handed pitching, it’s obvious that Montero and Martin are the best hitters of the bunch, and if this team wants more offensive production, it’s going to be necessary to get both Martin and Montero into the lineup. The only plausible way this is going to happen is by playing Martin at second during many games where the Jays face a right handed starter.
Despite the obvious offensive improvement which results from having Montero and Martin would result in against right handers, the same cannot be said for lefties. Just consider their offensive performance against the opposite handedness.
Career WRC+ vs LHP
Against lefties, Montero’s offensive performance is drasticailly reduced, and so Martin would continue to catch part time with Barney filling in at second base during these times. This unconventional platoon would obviously result in the most possible offensive production, but how would we fair defensively? In this scenario, the defensive concern would not be with the left handed side of the platoon, but the right side. This leaves the question of whether Martin and Montero’s increased offensive performance could make up for the seemingly lesser defensive performance.
First off, let’s compare the defensive performance of both Montero and Martin behind the dish. From a pitch framing standpoint, StatCorner grades Montero as a reasonably more talented pitch framer than Martin to this point in 2017. Additionally, both players have been rather poor at throwing out baserunners to this point in the season (although Martin has managed to be slightly better), however this is offset by reputations for calling solid games for their pitchers. The overall result is that there is no significant defensive drop off between starting one of the pair over the other.
This leads to the final question related to this unconventional idea, which is how well Russell Martin would perform as a second baseman. The honest answer is that we can’t have a certain answer until he plays the position consistently, however his reasonable performance in limited action at third base indicates that his skills as an infielder are solid enough to perform decently. Furthermore, Team Canada’s apparent willingness to play Martin at shortstop during the WBC (which was unsuccessful thanks to an insurance issue), demonstrates that there is at least some confidence in Martin’s ability to play the middle infield. Another reason why trying Martin at shortstop isn’t a terrible idea defensively is that neither Goins nor Barney have performed as well as you might infer by their reputations. In fact, Goins and Barney have performed rather mediocrely overall, as they’ve managed just 1 and -2 DRS at the position respectively. If the defensive performance of Goins and Barney is average at best anyway, than the price to pay on the field for having Martin at second base should be offset by offensive improvement.
On at least a part time basis, Russell Martin should begin to start playing second base with Montero catching. The increase in offensive performance could be significant, however the drop off in defensive performance is limited, making this a risk worth taking. The offensively struggling Jays need more runs than they are currently getting, and moving Martin to second on a part time basis could be extremely beneficial in terms of increasing general offence. For a team badly in need of an offensive spark, this could be the motivation to get on a roll, and turn the Jays into buyers heading into the deadline, but even if it fails to spark everyone else, it could still lead to increased production from the bottom of the order.