How much better does Victor Martinez make the Red Sox?

Just before the trade deadline passed a few hours ago, the Red Sox and Indians completed a trade which will send catcher Victor Martinez to the Red Sox in exchange for pitchers Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, and Bryan Price. Masterson is the best-known pitcher in the deal, having made quite an impact last season but struggling a bit this year despite strong peripherals. Victor Martinez is considered one of the better offensive catchers in the game, but is also considered one of the worst defensive players at the position.

Presumably, he won’t be playing much defense at catcher for the Red Sox with the presence of team captain Jason Varitek behind the plate. In addition to Varitek blocking him at catcher, the Red Sox have players already positioned at the other two places Martinez is capable of playing–designated hitter and first base. Let’s rule out the possibility of Martinez playing catcher more often that Varitek’s current backup. It’s also convenient to do this because catcher defense is incredibly difficult to measure, if it’s currently possible to do so at all. So how many runs better does this make the Red Sox in these three scenarios:

1) Martinez plays first base, Kevin Youkilis slides over to third base, Mike Lowell plays DH, David Ortiz sits.
2) Martinez is the DH, Youkilis and Lowell stay where they are, and Ortiz sits again.
3) Martinez plays first base, Youkilis plays third, Ortiz stays at DH, and Lowell sits.

One and two result in the same offensive lineup, so we’ll combine those two. Here is what ZiPS projects each player to provide offensively (above average) over the rest of the season:

Victor Martinez: 5.4 runs
Kevin Youkilis: 11.2
Mike Lowell: 5.1
David Ortiz: 9.3

That projection for Ortiz looks pretty out of whack considering what he’s done so far this year after his decline last season. I’m don’t think it’s fair to adjust that line, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just say it balances out with the added rest Martinez could provide to the aging and aching Lowell.

If Martinez plays catcher twice a week, he’d only provide about two runs above what George Kottaras would provide. If we look at the first two scenarios happening every day for the rest of the season, the Red Sox would get 5.4+11.2+5.1=21.7 runs above average. The third scenario results in 25.9 runs above average. When we look at the configuration the Red Sox had been running out there all year, we get 25.6 runs above average.

Now onto the defense. Martinez actually makes this defense worse, and you don’t need UZR to prove it. Youkilis is better than Martinez at first, Lowell is better than Youkilis at third, and Varitek is obviously better than Martinez at catcher. The only scenario where Victor Martinez doesn’t make this defense worse is when he’s playing DH. Couple this with the recently departed Justin Masterson being an above average reliever and swing-man, I don’t see how this could be a win.

When I started writing this, I figured the Red Sox would come out ahead, but not by as much as people thought. This completely surprised me, and I don’t think I missed anything major here. The Red Sox were already strong at the positions Victor Martinez affects right now. He’s a good player, but I don’t think this deal made the Red Sox that much better, if at all.

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  1. GreggB said...

    You are ignoring splits and Lowell’s defensive liabilities.

    Lowell’s OPS is .951 facing lefties, just .766 against lefties.

    Lowell used to be a great third baseman, but the guy just can’t move laterally any more after the hip surgery.  Dewan had him at -20 runs a couple weeks ago, calling it “intolerable defense.” 

    Plus Tek is 37 and showing his age, so he should get rested more.

    Use real numbers for defense at 3B, run the split numbers with Lowell sitting down against righties, and you will see very different results.

  2. Bama Len said...

    Like the Peavy trade, VMart will help Sox more in future than this year.  How much longer can Ortiz, Tek, and Lowell continue at a Red Sox level of competence?  One or more of the trio will be gone after ‘09.  If VMart plays 4 days a week this year, I expect him to be a solid contributor.  His production begin to drop with the Indians around mid -June from playing every day.  Sure Masterson has a good future, but the Sox are loaded with pitchers.  No loss for Sox and lots of potential.  Don’t forget World Series will require pinch hitters for up to 3 games this year.  Yes, I can believe that as a plus to trade for VMart.

  3. Dan Novick said...

    When I refer to “Red Sox Nation” saying that he’s not a bad fielder, I was referring to the fans scouting report. I think the only Red Sox games I’ve watched this year were against the Yankees, and that’s not enough for me to tell whether Lowell has lost a lot of range (and you can’t tell range for a third baseman on TV anyway).

  4. Boston Dan said...

    Seriously, Lowell is better than Youk in 2009?  I don’t believe that is possible.  Lowell can hardly move out there.

    Also, Varitek and Ortiz have hit very poorly on the road this season.  The same was true last season.  Maybe it’s random, or maybe it has to do with wear and tear, injuries, age and who knows what else.

    Do you take into account that Masterson’s value is replaced by other good relievers that will simply pitch more?  Frankly there probably hasn’t been enough to go around there stacked bullpen.

  5. Dan Novick said...

    Andrew, your statement is ironic in that the advanced defensive stats support your argument, but the fan vote does not! The stat geeks who seem to worship the numbers will believe that Lowell is good defensively, while the fans know he’s bad. But the regular fans think that Lowell is very good on defense, according to the fans scouting report. And as you said, the stat geeks still think he’s a good defender. Red Sox Nation and the advances stats agree with me.

  6. Andrew said...

    Advanced stats agree with you that “Lowell is better than Youkilis at third?”

    I can’t speak for all of Red Sox Nation (and generally identify more with the stat geek contingent myself, hence my frustration when otherwise good analysis overlooks circumstances like injury; any fan contingent that doesn’t boo Mark Kotsay out of town is one with which I can’t wholly identify!), but as someone who watches the team day in and day out, it’s pretty plain to see that Lowell has lost several steps and is the biggest defensive problem on the infield.

    I agree with your central premise – that the upgrade for the Red Sox isn’t as huge as Martinez’ reputation might have some think – but I’d argue that while the offensive gains may be small, getting Lowell out of the field on occasion would be a good thing for the defense as well.

  7. Linus said...

    As a certified member of the Red Sox Nation AND a stats geek, I think you’re wrong. The advanced stats in fact indicate a massive decline for Lowell in the field this year, as is obvious to the nakekd eye of even a non-scout. Watch him play. He has absolutely no lateral movement at all anymore.

  8. Andrew said...

    You’re reinforcing the stereotype of a stat geek who doesn’t watch games.  Lowell’s defense is awful these days because of injury issues, so multi-year averages seem ill-advised.  With so many aging players, Martinez is there to provide rest to the incumbents more than to be a star by himself.

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