I’ve made no efforts to hide my J.D. Martinez fandom; Since his days in Houston he struck me as the type of player who has surprising potential and a willingness to make the best of the situation he’s placed into. Ever since his call up from Toledo he’s been going about his business and doing everything possible to get himself into the lineup, and with Torii Hunter’s cramps he’s gotten a chance to show how valuable a player he really is.
What I’m curious about now is whether or not Hunter should get his spot back when he gets healthy.
When he wasn’t cracking jokes about banging his wife despite a cramp, Hunter’s defense this season has been unsatisfying for fans to watch. Writers have lambasted his play in the outfield, with ESPN’s Mike Petriello saying, “Hunter (has) looked awful,” and the thing is they’re not wrong: Hunter’s defensive peripherals are trash.
Hunter currently sports a UZR of -14.0, which expands to -38.1 in UZR/150. His range is down considerably, his arm doesn’t seem nearly as good as it did last year, and he already has three errors, which is as many as he had in 143 games last year. Suffice it to say, the dude’s a hot mess in right.
Hunter’s offense has been equally putrid after a hot start, where he’s slashing .234/.240/.340 in June. His already miniscule walk rate has shrunk to 2.0%, his ISO now sits at .106, and he has all of three extra-base hits during this month. He is clearly not playing like a $13 million dollar player.
Martinez, on the other hand, has been playing well in the outfield and at the plate.
In right field – his natural position – Martinez sports a 0.9 UZR and a 6.2 UZR/150, which isn’t intrinsically wonderful but is a hell of a lot better than Hunter. He’s adapting well to a far more spacious park, his arm looks strong, and his range has been pleasantly decent.
At the plate Martinez is slashing .350/.341/.675 in June, along with three homers and four doubles. The guy has done progressively better in each month since his promotion and continues to improve with more playing time, and he’s doing all this for a pittance ($500k…which is, I mean, a whooooole lot of money, but less so when comparing it to Hunter’s salary).
Even when Hunter returns, he should not be the everyday right fielder – this is a perfect time for Detroit to begin its transition to Martinez (who I still believe should be the full-time right fielder for 2015), since resigning Hunter for anything more than a veteran’s minimum would be foolish. At this point Brad Ausmus should be going with players who produce, and putting players in position to succeed instead of going with who makes more or who’s a veteran or WWJLD (What Would Jim Leyland Do), but that’s a tirade for another day.
Simply put, JD Martinez is playing entirely too well right now, and has been one of the lone bright spots for the Tigers on offense during their recent funk, to relinquish his grip on the corner outfield spot. Hunter is owed nothing except an exorbitant salary, and it should stay that way.