Martin helps to defuse threats on basepaths for Bucs
Since joining the Pirates, catcher has thrown out more than 40 baserunners
There's no question a catcher can change the momentum of an inning when he throws out a would-be base stealer, and Russell Martin is one of the best in the business when it comes to that particular skill. In fact, in a little more than a season and a half as a Pittsburgh Pirate, he's gunned down more than 40 runners attempting to steal (44 through July 19) to lead the Majors in that department.
"Anytime you throw somebody out it's a lift for the team that gets the out and it's like a charley horse for the other team," Martin said. "It definitely can set the tone. I mean nobody likes getting thrown out at second base, especially when they get a good jump. If they get a good jump and they feel like they've got the bag and then you throw them out, the coach definitely questions, 'I don't know if we're going to steal anymore.' It puts pressure on them because they don't want to give up outs. They don't want to just give them away. Any time you try to steal a base, it's a risk."
Sure, especially when a guy like Martin is behind the plate.
Last year there were stretches when it seemed like Martin threw out every baserunner who attempted to steal against him. Martin believes catchers can get in a groove in that regard just as hitters can get in a groove swinging the bat.
"You definitely can get in a groove where you gain that confidence, and it just seems like everything slows down," he said.
Of course, pitchers can do things to help catchers nab opposing baserunners too.
"It's having pitchers hold runners the right way -- varying their times, their looks and their holds, and how quick they are to the plate," Martin said. "All of that makes it tougher for the base stealer to get a good jump. There aren't many guys that have that pure base-stealing speed where they just steal it with their legs. There's only a handful of those guys.
"All the other people, they need to get good jumps and great reads, and you counter that by holding the ball, throwing over. But not just throwing over to throw over -- throw over to get somebody out. You plant that fear, 'This guy (the pitcher) has got pretty quick feet. I've got to get back there.' That slows them down just enough, and often the plays at second base are bang-bang. You know? We're talking about a split second. So any edge you can get is huge, and pitchers play a huge part in that."
Martin, who was born in Canada and played high school baseball in the Montreal area, grew up admiring players such as Ozzie Smith and Ken Griffey Jr. Back then, he didn't pay much attention to catchers or have any interest in playing the position. Martin was an infielder -- primarily a third baseman -- until being converted into a catcher after spending his first professional season in the Dodgers Minor league system in the Gulf Coast League in 2002.
He's such a good catcher now -- in all aspects, not just throwing out baserunners -- that you might think the transition was easy for him. But you would be wrong.
"It took a while to get comfortable back there, that's for sure," Martin said. "It was a lot of work, a lot of repetition, a lot of failure -- and dealing with that. I always received well, but then when it came to blocking balls and positioning my body to get good bounces off the chest and recognizing breaking balls -- the ones that were going to be good pitches, the ones that were going to be in the dirt -- that wasn't easy. But I've always been pretty athletic and as I went along I kind of just used that as my strength."
When it came to throwing out would-be base stealers, Martin learned that he didn't have to throw the ball 100 miles an hour to second base. He needed to make good, strong and accurate throws.
"I've always had a strong throwing arm, and early in my career I relied on that probably too much," he said. "I tried to generate so much power into my throw, but I wasn't as accurate. Every once in a while I would open somebody's eyes and they would be like, 'Wow. He can throw.' That was because I'd be unleashing these cannon throws. But then I realized, you can throw the ball as hard as you want, but if it's on the wrong side of the bag or high, the guy is probably safe.
"So the accuracy is something I've really worked on. And obviously there's the footwork and executing the same action, kind of like a pitcher would do with his mechanics and the ability to repeat the pitch. That's totally based on how sound your mechanics are. And my mechanics -- as far as my step, my footwork and landing in the same spot with my foot and having that same release point -- are super important in the accuracy of throwing the ball to second base."
Listen to Martin. He knows what he's talking about. Plenty of baserunners that have been caught stealing by the nine-year veteran will tell you that.