Leonys Martin Is Underrated

When a team is in the midst of a difficult season it can have an effect on how we view certain performances. If a team happens to be struggling offensively, it makes sense that the players who fail to produce in that area will be more harshly criticized, regardless of their overall value. This seems to be the case with Leonys Martin. Many have bemoaned the Cuban centerfielder, wondering if he will ever be the player that they had hoped he would be when the Rangers signed him. It’s easy to see the struggles that he has had at the plate at times, but his value extends beyond just what he can do with the bat.

People have openly questioned whether or not the organization pursued the right Cuban defector when they signed Leonys instead of potentially going after Yeonis Cespedes. While Cespedes’s power numbers have dwarfed Martin’s, their WARs since the start of the 2013 season are shockingly similar. While all of Cespedes’s value comes from his bat, Leonys has a significant edge defensively and in the running game.

When you consider that Cespedes is getting paid $10.5 million this year compared to Leonys’s $3.75 million, it doesn’t appear that the Rangers are getting the short end of the stick.

It’s also not as if Martin isn’t measuring up to the other centerfielders across the league. His fWAR of 1.5 trumps that of fellow centerfielders Jacoby Ellsbury (1.4), Coco Crisp (1.2), B.J. Upton (0.4), Austin Jackson (0.4), and Michael Bourn (0.3), and currently ranks 4th in the AL, trailing only Mike Trout, Adam Jones and Desmond Jennings. To put it simply, finding a good centerfielder is difficult to do. Martin’s bat has remained around replacement level this season, which actually continues a steady improvement over 2012 and 2013. He has also been hitting above his 2014 ZIPS projections, while his defense in CF has again been stellar, ranking 2nd in the AL according to FanGraphs.

His value to the team is also undeniable. While everyone continues to sing the praises of the offensive prowess of Alex Rios, Martin has quietly surpassed him in fWAR, moving into second on the team amongst non-pitchers. Beltre is currently ranked first with a 1.6, followed closely by Martin’s 1.5. I’m not blind to the fact that he strikes out too much and lacks a good deal of plate discipline, but he’s proving to be a valuable player that isn’t costing the team a lot of money. This kind of value is what allowed the Rangers the flexibility to sign a big time free agent like Choo in the offseason.

In a different season without all of the injuries the Rangers would have Beltre, Rios, Fielder and Choo carrying the bulk of the offensive load, taking the focus away from guys like Martin and Andrus. That’s not the world we live in, unfortunately, so we’re forced to look to a guy like Martin to provide a spark offensively. He may never develop into the guy that we imagined he could be when first signed here, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a productive player. With Leonys, it’s time to stop asking “what if” and start appreciating the things that he is doing on a regular basis to help this team win.

Tyler Kern

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