Scary Collision and Leonys Martin

Last night I had flashes of 2001. A good defensive Cubs fielder careened into part of a Busch Stadium and was left writhing in pain after the encounter. The initial news on Albert Almora is very positive, and suggests that this is likely to be a day to day injury.

That is incredible good news because the initial views were indeed scary, and it highlights the precarious nature of projecting the Cubs playoff roster. Joe Maddon summoned the speedy Leonys Martin to replace Almora last night. Martin has struggled to find opportunities, but is an intriguing option in a very crowded picture for that unique beast of postseason play.

Martin’s debut marked the only thing he hasn’t done fast on a baseball field. It took 12 years for Leonys Martin to finally complete a professional inning pitched. Martin began his career in the Cuban National Series at age 17 in 2005, and during that season he retired the one batter he faced in his lone pitching appearance. He then played 12 professional seasons before making his unique debut as a pitcher for the Cubs on September 4. The scouting report on Martin has always been an extremely athletic outfielder, but speed has been Martin’s calling card. His arm is a stand out tool that rates as plus as well. Leonys Martin has hit 99.5 mph throwing from the outfield at least once since Statcast was implemented in 2015. By Fangraphs ARM metric he rates as the best in baseball since 2012 despite playing a lot fewer innings than many others on the list.
martin-arm

The fact that Martin is a right handed thrower might be the only reason he hasn’t pitched more often. However, the Cubs certainly didn’t acquire Martin to fulfil the John Baker/Miguel Montero role of emergency pitcher. Many were confused why the Cubs would add a speedy, defense first outfielder to a roster desperately in need of infield depth at shortstop in the first place. Some wondered what room on a potential postseason for the offensively challenged Martin, but the move is intriguing for a number of reasons.

The Cuban defector came to the United States on a 5 year 15.5 million dollar deal from the Texas Rangers. Martin’s speed and defense was unquestioned, but the bat was a clear question mark. It was the one thing in the way of Leonys developing into a first division starter. The story remains the same despite the peaks and valleys in Martin’s career to date. Martin became a full time starter in Texas starting in 2013 and put up a 2.4 and 4.3 win seasons according to Baseball Prospectus in those first two seasons. His bat was still below average in each of those campaigns with wRC+ of 87 and 91 respectively, but with his defense and base runner he was a valuable starter, clearly second division but starter none the less.

The bottom fell out in 2015 as the hits stopped falling, and Martin found himself demoted by the end of the season. The Mariners in cavernous SafeCo Field took a low risk gamble on the speedy centerfielder, and were rewarded with an excellent first half from Martin. Hitting Coach Edgar Martinez made one of the many shifts in Leonys Martin‘s hands that has occurred in his career. Nelson Cruz provided Martin a heavier bat, and Martin had a scorching May where he slashed .320/.388/.533. The rest of the season did not produce the same results, but Leonys Martin ended the season a 2 win player again with an 88 wRC+.

Martin went back to work in the offseason attempting to completely revamp his swing. He worked with Robinson Cano and hitting instructor Luis Mercedes in the Dominican Republic. Mercedes is crediting with helping Edwin Encarnacion, Jean Segura and Welington Castillo among others. The change was easy to spot even for my not a scout eyes. Martin always held his bat high, as can be seen in the images in this article about the swing changes. In Spring Training, Martin unveiled this swing against live competition.

martin-swing-1

The changes did not bring a Jean Segura like transformation at the plate however. It was quite the opposite as Martin had a Jason Heyward like offensive collapse and “hit” .111/.172/.130 while striking out in 24% of his 58 plate appearances from April 3 to April 20. Martin found himself designated for assignment and eventually back in AAA. He changed his swing back to the higher hand placement from earlier in his career almost instantly, and the results followed as Martin again hit his way through the Pacific Coast League.

martin-swing-3

He had a robust .306/.346/.492 line before finally earning his call up on July 30th with Mitch Haniger‘s injury. Martin hit his first home run of the season on July 30th, and was hitting .230/.266/.426 before being designated for assingment again at the end of August. It was pretty clear that the Mariners had moved on from Martin given how long he was left in AAA. His presence in Tacoma was complimented for bringing a high energy, veteran presence to the clubhouse, but with a still well below average slashline his 40 man roster spot became too valuable of a commodity.

Joe Maddon apparently has had one consistent ask when leading a team into September with playoffs looming. That is a speedy defensive oriented outfielder and the front office obliged once again with Leonys Martin. The question is how often Joe Maddon uses that player in the postseason. Maddon has consistently used 11 pitchers. He has gone with 10 just twice in his managerial career, and went with 12 in the series against the southpaw challenged 2016 Dodgers. The first series he managed in the ALDS in 2008 and the 2015 wildcard. The early returns suggest that 4 starting pitchers and 7 relievers is likely. There is a spot for Leonys Martin or a third catcher it would seem currently.

The Cubs have had a few weeks to make that evaluation. Martin has entered 12 games since joining the team, but most have been late as a pinch runner. He has played 5 games where he has drawn no plate appearances, but he has hit well in the extremely limited playing time given. He has a .250/.400/.375 slash line in those games. I’m not willing to bet that Martin will make the Cubs 25 man roster that will face the Washington Nationals yet. However, Martin is not Quintin Berry. Martin adds a number of elements that makes his inclusion a lot more likely. Martin is a weapon defensively with his arm and range in the outfield late in games, and is noted for his clubhouse presence.

The focus has been on the 2017 postseason with the Leonys Martin acquistion, but Martin is also under club control for at least next season. Martin is making an inflated salary for his production at 4.85 million, and arbitration is unlikely to decrease that number much. However, as Albert Almora looks to increase his role moving forward Martin becomes an interesting compliment to the right handed center fielder. The Cubs would almost certainly non-tender him to try to work out an even deeper discount which would open Martin to sign with any club, but there is reason to believe that Martin is much more than his overall numbers in 2017 suggest.

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  • Would love to see what Schwarber could bring in the off-season if a great deal can be had (probably with a AL team) I think it might be best for both him and the Team as he seems very comfortable DHing.

    Intrigued if Boston would be willing to swap JBjr for Schwarber both have a high SO% but JBjr can go get them in CF and he bats left. sacrifice some power but an OF of Almora in LF, Bradley in CF and Heyward in RF gives the Cubs a top notch defensive OF takes away a lot of base hits Plus with both Zo and Happ as reserves and SH makes for a great set up.

  • In reply to CubFanStuckInStl:

    I'd rather see Schwarbs traded for pitching, especially if a young, cost-controlled starter could be had. I like Happ in LF and Almora in center. Defense wouldn't be quite as good as your suggested outfield, but I like Happ's bat in the lineup.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Agreed - while I don't really want to see Schwarber traded as that kid is fun to watch play - he could easily be worth some cost-controlled young pitching in the right package to an AL team.

    And with Contreras & Caritini as a solid 1-2 Catcher combination (assuming the Cubs don't try and keep Avila or something like that), and with Happ, Zobrist, Heyward, Almora, and maybe Jay in next year's corner OF competition/rotation,... moving Schwarber might make the most sense for both him and the team.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    I hate any deal for Schwarber. My opinion is he slots right behind Contreras in the 5 hole for the next decade. I believe he is a .300/.400/.550 hitter. He will have 35+ HR with 125+ RBI seasons. Those guys don't grow on trees.

    Any Schwarber talks makes me cringe and think of trading away Rafael Palmeiro.

    The guys with trade value to get pitching are Russell or Baez. And you don't trade Baez.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I don't think we want to trade Schwarber, Russell or Baez. Those are 3 building blocks for the team. If some team blows us away then OK, but I don't see that happening.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    What are your thoughts on Happ? Super utility? If the OF is Schwarber, Almora, Heyward, is Happ expendable?

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Possibly. I kinda like him playing all over and putting the guys in favorable match ups. He has excellent versatility so he is a guy to keep around, IMO.

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    In reply to rbrucato:

    .300 hitter? No chance. Too many holes in the swing.

    The .400 OBP is possible but not likely and .550 slug is a little generous as well.

    125+ rbi season? Not in our lifetime

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Interesting perspective. Last year, everyone was gushing over Schwarber's bat control and plate discipline. I don't know if he got "homer happy" or what happened the first half of this year, but if he still has the skills that got him here, he's going to be a HOF hitter.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Says you. I disagree. I believe he builds on his very good 2nd half and continues to improve.

    Hitting in front of Bryant, Rizzo, and Contreras would allow for a lot of RBI. Heck, Russell had 95 at the bottom of our order and left more runners on than any guy in baseball last year. Again, I disagree with you.

    Palmeiro would never hit over 15 HR per year either, right?

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Palmeiro had a little help.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    There is that.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    False narrative. He had plenty of power before everyone in baseball began taking Fred Flintstone vitamins.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I disagree. Palmeiro was a good, disciplined hitter who gained power with the use of anabolic steroids. To me, he is the epitome of the player who found the right comination of drugs that worked for him, transforming a good career to a hall-of -fame type career. Without the PED's, I don't think he has the consistency and longevity, and certainly doesn't have his most monsterous seasons late into his 30's.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Back to your original point, Palmeiro had 15+ HR power, and I'm sure would have produced multiple 20+ seasons without PED's. And I agree with most of what you say about Schwarber. I just thought that using Palmeiro as an example was odd.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    How much do you really think it mattered?

  • In reply to WaitUntilNextYear:

    I made a couple other comments before I saw your question, but as I stated, I think it mattered A LOT. The difference between 20 HR and 40+ HR is huge. Another former Cub, Luis Gonzalez, comes to mind. Thin, wiry-strong guy who could hit 20 HR in a season suddenly hits 57.

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    In reply to rbrucato:

    Improving, I can see that and I agree w you.

    I will be very happy to be wrong and will be the first to admit it. I can see him def agree w you that he will improve.

    Your calling for a HOF type track w perennial 35+ homers, 125+ rbi seasons with a 300/400/550 slash line? I just don't see him as a HOF, but then again I consider HOF type players "unicorns"

    I guess we will see over the next couple of years.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I agree with Jim that Schwarber will never be a 300 hitter.

    Russell batted 5th much of ;last year

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Schwarber is a hard guy to project. I don't know if he's the next Big Papi or a lefty Mark Trumbo. His defense and baserunning make him barely a positive WAR player though which is why so many, including myself, think he's destined for the AL via trade.

  • In reply to LAX2ORD:

    I understand that some feel like you do. IMO, it is a mistake if he were dealt. We are talking about a guy who has played 1 full year and is going to hit 30 HR despite some real struggles adjusting back to playing everyday. And has had a very good 2nd half of the season .250/.335/.564 with a wRC+ of 130. He is scratching the surface of the hitter he will become (again, just my opinion). :-)

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    In reply to rbrucato:

    Schwarber is a very talented player. But he is also a player that might have MORE value to another team than he does with the Cubs. He could certainly be special, but the Cubs could likely survive the loss of a player like Schwarber better than other teams because they have other good young players who might be able to do more things (such as Ian Happ as a Switch Hitter and can play multiple positions including 2B, possibly 3B and CF). The Cubs do have some holes to fill such as another really good cost controlled pitcher. If another team offers us that I might be inclined to say, "Yes."

    I am not interested in trading him just for the sake of trading him as if he is a burden to the team. But I could imagine there might be an AL team willing to trade us something we might value more than them and cost us less than if we had to trade Schwarber.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I doubt an AL team would trade the Cubs something the Cubs think is more valuable than Schwarber. The Cubs FO just absolutely love Schwarber.

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    In reply to CubFanStuckInStl:

    Not real familiar with BOS. Who do they have play CF if they trade JBjr?

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    In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Mookie Betts or maybe Benetendi but prob Mookie

  • Martin should not be on "this" seasons playoff roster. He's not good enough "this" year. Maybe he works hard this off season & makes the Cubs out of spring training. I'm good with that if he earns it. You are right, he is not Barry & he is not Billy Hamilton.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Well his slash line is .250/.400/.375 with the Cubs "this" season. Add to that he is very good defensively and has a great arm. What do you want him to do to make the team?

  • In reply to John57:

    It's awfully tough to predict whether a player should make the playoff roster on such a small sample size. If he does, I think it will be because Joe wants his speed and defense, but a lot will depend on how many pitchers he wants to carry.

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    In reply to Cliff1969:

    I think If he makes it, he makes it for the 5 game series because Joe prob could get away w 1 less pitcher in a shorter series.

    If he proves valuable and the Cubs advance, he's added for the next series.

    Thats my 2 cents on it.

  • In reply to John57:

    He's 2 for 8. Not the largest of sample sizes.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    It is a very small sample size I will agree with you. But he is playing well right now and his defense and speed are a constant. I would think it depends on how the Cubs brain trust wants to set up the playoff rosters. I am not saying he will definitely make it but he does have a chance. Some are saying he has no chance.

  • Yesterday in the game thread we were briefly discussing MVP, and I said Stanton, Votto, Bryant would be my choices. CubFaninNorway asked "what about Goldschmidt or Arenado?" And I saw his question 19 hours later...
    So I'm using this section to address my feeling on Arenado for anyone who cares to listen: OVERRATED
    Now hear me - Nolan Arenado is a really good player. I'd love it if he were my team's 3B. But his numbers look so amazing precisely because he plays in Coors Field. He's probably the 5th-ish best 3B in baseball, but he continuously gets put in the conversation for the number one spot. Bryant, Machado, Donaldson, are all a tier above, and this year Rendon and Turner have been better hitters than Arenado. Again, this doesn't mean Arenado is bad. And I'm not saying he's overrated because of his home/road splits. He hits fine away from Coors. I'm saying if Bryant or Machado or Donaldson played 81 games in Coors Field they'd hit 50 or 60 HR with a batting average of .350. Arenado ranks 16th in the National League in wRC+ at 128. He's been 28% better than the league average hitter (wRC+ bakes park factor in). Bryant (148), Rendon (141), Turner (151), Donaldson (151) have all been much better hitters (Machado has had a bad year).
    Again, 128 is really good. But Arenado isn't even the best player on his own team this year. If he didn't play in Colorado, people would talk about him like they talk about Kyle Seager. Really good player, belongs no where near the MVP discussion.

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    Thanks for the report on Martin. I always enjoy these and he has the one element we don't have on this team--speed. The fact that he's a plus defender and has a plus arm makes him even more valuable.
    As for Schwarber, I have advocated trading him in the off season. I think Happ fills in for him in LF, is better defensively and has HR power too. Schwarbs has done so well in the 2nd half that his trade value is very high too. It would hurt, but if we could get good pitching I think it would be worth it.
    Let's win tonight--I don't want this to drag on and on.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    No predictions tonight. I promise. :)

  • Matt Cain just said he plans on retiring after this year. He makes his last start Saturday, one day shy of his 33rd bithday. Several years ago he was a young pitcher on the rise, sure to be a perennial Cy Young candidate. Shows how fickle pitching can be, and how impressive the pitchers who remain aces for a decade or more truly are.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    He was great (or really good) from age 20 to 27 and then got injured and was never the same again.

  • Martin had an awful ab vs the brewers last week with the bases loaded. He swung at everything and struck out on 3 pitches 2 were high fastballs out the zone,I think it was the same game la stella drew the game winning walk.I am interested to see what martin can bring to the table the fo acquired him for a reason.

  • And I'm 100% on board with trading schwarber(for pitching).I know some will disagree and I deep don't want to see schwarber traded but he's a DH.Happ is more versatile,switch hits,has equal power and strikes out just as much as schwarber happ is better.Say goodbye to schwarbs it's obvious his days are numbered in a cubs uniform

  • On paper, an argument can be made to trade Schwarber.
    But what I always fall back on are the hints given to us from the front office. They seem to really really like Schwarber. John use to mention that the front office had very high esteem for his vocal leadership style.
    I could be wrong, as the team changes so do the needs, but I lean towards the Cubs staying with the core position players they have, and trying to find pitching other ways.

  • In reply to couch:

    I think the issue perky comes down to defense. The games I've watched live this year they just seems to be a black-hole in left field.

    Albert Almora's batting average this year coupled with his elite level defense and instincts may be Schwarber's only saving grace as an outfield with Jay or Happ alongside Schwarber don't give you the same confidence

  • In reply to Hustlelikereed:

    Issue purely**

  • In reply to Hustlelikereed:

    I think Schwarber can be perky. :-)

  • In reply to couch:

    I agree with 100% of what you said.

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