Welcome to Player-A-Day. The purpose of this column is to identify interesting major league players who may be fantasy-relevant in 2014. We will discuss the real world roles that the player may fill, set a range of potential expectations, identify any wild card factors in play, and comment on how this affects the player’s fantasy value.
The high level
After defecting from Cuba and signing with the Rangers in 2011, Leonys Martin has grown to become a solid major league role player. Unfortunately, a lot of his value comes in the field and on the base paths, so he’s worth less to fantasy owners than real baseball teams. The Rangers also use him strategically, sitting him against tough left-handed pitching when possible.
While he could swat roughly 10 home runs in a full season of work, the reason to roster him is for the 30 plus steals he can provide. The Rangers have limited him to just 152 plate appearances against left-handers throughout his career and he’s managed a meager .220/.272/.298 against them. Despite the tiny sample of work, the Rangers are likely to continue this usage pattern.
Martin should be a lock to receive all starts against right-handed pitching. The Rangers have a ready-made platoon mate in Craig Gentry, so it doesn’t make sense for them to go out of their way to block Martin. He’s also managed a much healthier .268/.319/.419 career line against righties. Combined with his defense, that makes him a great value for the Rangers.
Delving into his PITCHf/x data to learn more about his platoon splits leaves little to report. Left-handed sliders appear to be his kryptonite, which isn’t unusual for left-handed hitters. Righty pitchers liked attacking him with change-ups, which resulted in whiffs, ground balls, and home runs (ISO .326). The sample sizes involved in his 2013 data are small enough that everything we observe may be misleading.
Usually when a batter demonstrates huge platoon splits like Martin, it’s because he strikes out more and/or walks less against same-handed pitching. In Martin’s case, he’s struck out only one percent more frequently while walking two percent less frequently against lefty pitching. Given the sample sizes involved, we don’t know for sure if there’s any statistical difference in his plate discipline. The chart below is a measure of his aggressiveness/passivity by pitcher handedness.
Again, the sample size is such that what we see here may be misleading. But Martin seemingly has a steady approach against both lefties and righties. It’s possible that increasing his exposure against left-handed pitching could allow him to learn to become a useful everyday player.
The areas of concern with Martin when facing lefties are his isolated power (ISO) and balls in play average (BABIP). In 2013, his ISO against lefties was 80 points less than that against righties. He also converted balls in play into hits nearly five percent more frequently as a righty. Both issues could be random variation or symptomatic of an inability to make strong contact when facing left-handers.
Line drives rate tends to have a large effect on BABIP. Martin’s generally hit more line drives per ball in play against righty pitchers, which may indicate that he makes better contact.
Despite there being some room for hope that Martin could become a full time player, the Rangers’ roster probably precludes the possibility. With Alex Rios returning and a free agent signing likely &dash either Nelson Cruz or somebody new &dash the Rangers will use Martin’s spot in the lineup to get Gentry enough work to stay sharp. The Rangers will have to see some injuries before Martin gets more plate appearances against left-handers.
Where he bats can have a strong effect on his value. In 2013, he spent some time in the leadoff spot by mostly batted ninth. At the bottom of the order, he will see fewer plate appearances which translates into fewer counting stats. He also has the opportunity to score a few more runs as the leadoff man. Ron Washington responds to hot streaks, so expect Martin to bounce around a bit based on what he’s done lately.
It’s hard to get too excited about a platoon outfielder who hits roughly league average against right-handers, but Martin offers enough value on the basepaths to help fantasy owners. Unfortunately, the cat’s out of the bag after a solid 2013 season. We can expect many fantasy owners to pursue Martin’s 40 plus home runs plus steals and a few of them may mistakenly project growth since he only received 508 plate appearances this past season.
However, if you have room to manage a platoon and need some steals late in the draft, Martin is a solid candidate. He’ll probably be the kind of guy who owners draft and continue to roster until he hits a deep slump. It may make more sense to count on an opportunity to pull him out of the waiver bin while aiming at higher upside talent in the draft.
Keep in mind that it’s not hard to find hitters who offer stolen bases but few home runs on the waiver wire. Martin swats a few more balls out of the park than your typical waiver fodder, but it’s a very marginal advantage.
Like with so many other players, Martin is somebody to watch heading into the draft. If you find that stolen bases are a problem category in the late rounds and you have room to manage a platoon, then he can be fairly valuable. Teams that already have plenty of stolen bases or multiple platoons should avoid drafting him altogether.