June 27, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (41) at bat against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
To say that Victor Martinez’s 2013 season to date has been a massive dissapointment would be a significant understatement. He was to replace Delmon Young – whose .267/.297/.411 (.707 OPS) batting line netted him -0.9 WAR in 2012 – in an upgraded that was acclaimed by at least one well-intentioned writer to be the most significant of the Tigers’ offseason.
But now the Tigers are 88 games through the season – slightly more than halfway – and Martinez has thus far failed to match Young’s meager batting line, putting up his own pitiful slash line: .245/.304/.361 (.665 OPS). According to FanGraphs, this performance out of the DH slot has been worth -0.7 WAR. We’re well past the point of expecting Martinez’s 2013 season to be a two-to-three win upgrade over Delmon’s 2012 season, but there’s still hope that Victor can put together a solid second half to finish the season above replacement level. That seems like a small victory for a $13 million designated hitter, but it’s all we can really ask for at this point.
Fortunately, Victor is showing signs that this may in fact be possible. He’s off to a torrid start in the month of July with five extra bas hits in eight games and an OPS just north of 1.000, but he’s been somewhere between good enough and as expected for a even longer than that. If we reach back to his last 20 games (90 PA), he has basically matched his career batting line with a .291/.378/.443 (.821 OPS) mark. And, if you’re feeling extremely optimistic, we can track his progress since May 21 – 46 games and 193 plate appearances ago – to realize that he’s been a league average DH for going on two months now.
This comparison is admittedly more of a commentary on the present-day run environment and relative lack of full-time designated hitters than it is a praise of Martinez’s hitting, but his .755 OPS over that stretch exactly matches the .755 OPS that American League designated hitters have produced as a combined group this season (though Victor has done it with slighly more on-base ability and slightly less slugging – a narrowly more valuable combination).
This is, of course, all a way of saying that if we carefully select our endpoints and squint at the numbers, that we can see Martinez breaking out of his slumpiest of seasons and returning to the .850-ish OPS that we expect. That may or may not be the case, but I choose to be encouraged by the fact that Martinez has acutally been non-terrible in now more than half of his games (the more recent half).
The Tigers certainly don’t need Martinez to be the same hitter he was in 2011 to get the job done this year – they own the American League’s best runs per game scoring mark with him languishing below mediocrity – but the Tigers and their fans would all love to have their most professional of hitters back in the room as they move toward the stretch run.