Platooning Martinez a mistake

Posted on August 9, 2010 by

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With no return date imminent for Jason Bay, the Mets decided to promote Fernando Martinez from Triple-A to help fill Bay’s spot in the lineup. The lefty-hitting Martinez, originally out of the lineup as the Phillies started southpaw Cole Hamels, entered Saturday’s game as part of a double-switch in the eighth inning. Sunday Martinez drew the start and batted sixth against righty Roy Halladay, going 1-for-4.

While it is up for debate if promoting Martinez is a good move, it is a mistake to have him in the majors as a platoon player. Martinez, long the club’s top prospect, has been rushed through the system. Further hindering his development have been constant injuries which have kept him sidelined. Since beginning his professional career in 2006, Martinez has never topped 366 ABs in a season.

This year a hamstring injury sidelined Martinez. His overall numbers at Triple-A Buffalo were underwhelming at .255/.321/.466 but he had been performing much better recently, especially in the power department. Since the All-Star break Martinez had a .547 SLG mark with 5 HR in 64 ABs. In his last 10 games before the promotion, he had a .324/.425/.588 line.

No one doubts Martinez’ tools. Last year he finally started turning those tools into production at Buffalo, where as a 20-year old he had a .290/.337/.540 line in 190 PA. Injuries to the parent club forced a call-up and Martinez again looked overmatched before going on the DL himself, keeping alive his streak of getting injured every season.

Martinez needs to play. While a gifted athlete, Martinez still has many things to work on, ranging from improving his OBP to handling LHP, against whom he batted just .238 this season in Buffalo. In 354 lifetime ABs in the minors against southpaws, Martinez has a .234 AVG and a .689 OPS.

How is Martinez going to improve against lefties if he is sitting against them in the majors? As ill-advised as it was to turn Jenrry Mejia, the club’s top pitching prospect, into a reliever, it is equally head scratching to see the Mets turn Martinez, their top hitting prospect, into a platoon player. And now comes word that manager Jerry Manuel says that it is not a strict platoon, that Jeff Francoeur will play against some RHP instead of Martinez.

It is bad enough that injuries have kept Martinez from getting a full season’s worth of at-bats as a professional. The last thing the Mets need to do is artificially restrict his playing time. If Martinez is not going to play every day, send him back to the minors so he can receive much-needed playing time and experience.

But as bad as limiting Martinez’ playing time is, the idea that the club needs to create more playing time for Francoeur is even worse. I have talked over and over and over again why playing Francoeur is a bad idea. But it keeps being necessary to repeat, as both Manuel and the media continue their respective desires to keep the myth alive that Francoeur is worthy of additional playing time.

Yes, Francoeur has delivered game-winning homers in the last two victories for the Mets. He also has just 11 HR in 348 ABs and a .679 OPS. Omir Santos had some big clutch hits for the Mets last year but they signed every catcher they could in the offseason rather than suffer his .688 OPS again this year. Mets fans were up in arms when the club traded for Gary Matthews Jr. this offseason. He had a .697 OPS for the Angels in 2009. If an outfielder is giving worse production than Santos and Matthews, he really is not good.

The Mets need to commit to playing Martinez full time if he is going to be on the major league roster. Even the most optimistic fan has written off the team’s playoff chances after the 2-9 road trip to start the second half and this past week’s 2-4 showing against the Braves and Phillies. It is better to suffer the growing pains with Martinez rather than the “He’s just not that good” pains they get with Francoeur.

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Posted in: Perspectives