I want to put these disclaimers on this post: Russell Martin is the best player on the 2007 Dodgers. He is, at the very least, the second or third most valuable player in the organization. He's everything that we thought we had in Paul LoDuca, and he has a talent above and beyond hitting singles. If Joe Mauer and Brain McCann weren't so absurdly good, there isn't a catcher in baseball you'd want on your team besides Russ.
With that said, sometimes I wonder if expectations are too high for Russell Martin. It seems like whenever something goes wrong with him, we wonder if it's because he's playing too much, or some sort of random cosmic influence. Every time Russ comes to the plate, there's tremendous disappointment if he doesn't come through. Every time he throws less than a perfect strike to second base, he must not be getting enough off days. I think it's unfair to put these types of expectations on Russell Martin right now because he simply isn't the superstar that a lot of us think he is.
Coming into this season, PECOTA projected that Martin would take a slight step backwards, dropping from his 2006 line of .283/.358/.437 to .270/.350/.410. This seemed like a reasonable projection to me at the start of the year. Most people didn't think that Martin would be nearly as productive as he was in 2006, so a little bit of regression was inevitable. It's not that PECOTA is against Martin, it has him getting better every year up until 2010, it's just that most players don't make a giant leap forward in performance, and then follow it up with even more improvement the next year.
For the first two months of the season, it looked like Russ had broken PECOTA's brain. On June Fifth Martin was hitting a team leading .314/.388/.505. Since then, he's gone 5 for 35 with one walk and no extra base hits. While you can argue that Russ is hurting from his lack of rest, it's also conceivable that he's simply regressing to where his numbers should actually be. His .288/.356/.450 line is almost identical to what he did last year.
If it's true that Martin is actually back to where he should be, it gives us a lesson on how long we should wait to make a judgment. The last player that did something like this for the Dodgers was Cesar Izturis. Izturis went from being absolutely hapless at the plate in 2003 to putting up a decent .288/.330/.381 line in 2004. After he got off to a .342/.387/.425 start in 2005, many people, including myself, we're hailing the man as a savior, saying things like they'd rather have Izturis than Eric Gagne. Since then, Izturis has done absolutely nothing. I'm not saying that Russ is going to never be this good again, rather, it's just a warning about how an above average year followed by a great two months can shoot our expectations way higher than they should be.
Russell Martin is a very, very good player, and he could some day be one of the best players in the league. However, he has not yet reached that elite level, and we as fans shouldn't expect him to be great day after day. It's only fair to him.