Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Russell Martin vs. Joe Mauer: It's On

Tim Kurkjian is fielding the debate right now in a live chat debating the best young catcher in baseball. The set up:

Who is the best young catcher in baseball, Joe Mauer or Russell Martin? Can we please have both of them, then just alternate the two between catcher and DH? They're both that good.

The case for Mauer: He is 24 years old, and is a lifetime .313 hitter. He also has more walks (208) than strikeouts (183) in his career, which is sensational for a player his age. In 2006, he became the second catcher ever to lead his league in hitting (.347), and the first catcher ever to lead the major leagues in hitting.

"His swing is perfect," one scout said. "He'll be a great hitter for years to come."

Mauer is an above-average receiver who has thrown out 44.7 percent (a fabulous percentage) of potential base stealers over the last two years. And, he is a tremendous athlete, which allows him to make adjustments, and makes him a good runner for a catcher -- he has 29 steals in 34 tries in his career. The only downside is that he hasn't been as durable as a catcher needs to be. He got hurt his rookie year in 2004, and last season he was limited to 109 games.

The case for Martin: Over the last two years, he has been out-hit by Mauer, .324-.288, but Martin has more home runs (29-20), more RBIs (152-144) and more steals (31-15). Plus, Martin has been amazingly durable, playing 262 games to Mauer's 211. Several years ago, soon after Martin was moved from third base to catcher, one instructor in the Dodger minor league system suggested in an organizational meeting that Martin was the best player in the Dodgers' system. The remark was greeted with great surprise. "You watch," the instructor said.

Martin can hit, and his defense is equally good. "He catches and throws as well as anyone in the game," said former Dodgers third base coach Rich Donnelly. Plus, he runs a game very well, and is very vocal with pitchers, which is what leaders do.

Martin plays with a fire that few players have these days. "If he was a boxer, the guy in the other corner would look across at him and say, 'Oh, no, not him,'" Donnelly said. "Before every game, in his catching gear, he runs the length of the dugout. He is so ready. I've never seen him have an off-day. He might go 0-for-4, but mentally, he never has an off night."

So Mauer is better at hitting and throwing out runners (the latter of which is admittedly not great for Russell, who is streaky at best). Martin is clearly more durable, hits for more power, steals bases, and is a better leader. Sounds like a slam dunk for Martin, right?

UPDATE 12:28P PST: Well, Martin seemed to get more of the commendations from both Kurkjian and the chatters. Specifically, Kurkjian thinks Martin manages a pitching staff better (but could show "even more leadership", a reference to the vets-vs.-youth schism last year), is capable of "25 homes, 100 RBIs, and a .300 average", and "the fire that burns inside this guy is a little hotter than in most players." Martin "will be the face of the Dodgers." (No pressure, Russell.) There was no comment from Kurkjian if this potential could be attained while Alyssa Milano drags him down like an albatross.

On the flipside, Kurkjian did agree with a Minnesota chatter's question that Mauer "has the sweetest sideburuns in the pros."


Rob said...

Woulja believe ... Victor Martinez? Russ Martin just barely edges Mauer, and both place third and fourth respectively to Martinez and the apparently ageless Jorge Posada.

Steve Sax said...

Three catchers with last initials beginning with M...mamma mia!