Floundering with the bat late in the 2013 season, J.D. Martinez might have consulted a Duke Ellington composition from the Babe Ruth era for guidance–”It Don’t Mean a Thing (If You Ain’t Got the Swing)”.
Martinez, a 6’3″, 220 pound native of Miami, broke into the majors with Houston in 2011. In three years with the Astros he hit .251, with 24 home runs in 899 at bats–decent but unspectacular statistics for a corner outfielder.
He wondered how he could fortify those numbers.
So what’s the big deal, you say? Throughout baseball history, ballplayers of every stripe have tried and failed to emulate the syrupy swings of the immortals.
You know the guys–the ones who are tending bar or selling used cars while still dreaming of getting paid to hit a horsehide in anger with a Louisville Slugger.
Well, the big deal in the case of Martinez was that it worked.
Removed from the Astros’ 40-man roster after the 2013 season, Martinez headed to Venezuela’s winter league to work on a total swing makeover. While he was confident his approach was progressing, he only got 18 at-bats in spring training as a non-roster invitee for Houston.
At which point the worst team in baseball summarily cut him, leaving Martinez a seeming has-been at the tender age of 26.
Which is when the Tigers’ front office swooped in.
Assistant general manager Al Avila had known Martinez since his Little League days in the Miami area, and the outfielder became Tiger property within two days of his release. Though he didn’t make the big club out of spring training, it didn’t take long for Martinez to groove his new weaponized swing in Toledo – where in 65 at-bats, he launched an improbable 10 home-runs.
Power of that magnitude tends to get noticed, and unsurprisingly, Martinez was summoned to Detroit in late April.
Playing sporadically, though, he promptly cooled off–hitting a powerless .200 in his first 35 at bats.
In late May Martinez banged his first two home runs and began to collect more playing time.
By June (.345/.367/.702) he was raking and even earned AL player-of-the-week honors late in the month. He continued his hot hitting in July (.345/.383/.689), but like most of his teammates slumped into August (.265/.304/.419)
As evidenced by a recent offensive spurt capped by his dramatic ninth-inning, three-run homer against the Indians on Tuesday, though, Julio Daniel Martinez’s jazzed-up bat appears to be making noise again.
Which would be welcome September music in Motown, coming from a man the team picked up for a song in March.