Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Victor Martinez is a really good hitter. Truth? Absolutely. Understatement? Oh, I’d certainly say so. So much was made over the long off-season about losing Prince Fielder‘s power and the protection he offered to superstar slugger Miguel Cabrera. I read umpteen articles, comments, and tweets decrying the Tigers’ trade for Kinsler, saying Miggy would never see another pitch to hit so long as he played. And yet Friday night facing off against Kansas City Royals’ ace James Shields, Cabrera was pitched too aggressively and Martinez was carefully avoided. This isn’t to knock Miggy and his hitting prowess, it’s to highlight the rare, incredible threat that is Victor Martinez.
So short are our memories as fans. So easy it is to forget who was following Miguel Cabrera in the batting order the season he started his streak of three consecutive batting titles. It’s easier still to forget that the lack of Victor Martinez for the 2012 season is what led to the Tigers’ signing of Prince Fielder in the first place.
It all comes back to Victor.
And Victor continues to impress and astonish. In 89 plate appearances this season, Martinez has struck out THREE times. Not three times in one game, or three times in one series. Three times total. Tom Gage from the Detroit News tweeted Friday that the last time VMart took a called third strike was nearly a year ago, May 21, 2013 against Cleveland. It should be noted that this time frame includes Victor’s massive first half slump coming off the knee injury last season. So, even when Victor wasn’t producing, he wasn’t an easy out. In 631 plate appearances as of Friday, May 2nd, 2014 Martinez has not had a single called third strike. Victor is most definitely NOT the house by the side of the road.
And that’s really what it comes down to. Is Victor Martinez a power threat the likes of Prince Fielder, when Fielder is at his best? No. And it’s not even close. But that really doesn’t matter. Not when you’re Victor Martinez. Not when you make the opposing team’s pitcher work on every single pitch. Not when you work every at bat like it’s the final out of a World Series clinching game. That may sound over the top and hyperbolic, but look at the numbers. Watch a Victor Martinez at bat. Any of his at bats will do. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a hit or an out, because the message is the same. The laser focus and natural talent for finding his pitch is there every. Single. Time.
The Tigers are a better team with Victor following Miggy in the lineup. Victor is more than capable to hold down the fort while Miggy gets his timing down, just as Miggy did for Victor when he struggled to start last season. And when he does, these two are going to rake. Just wait for the chorus of “Prince, who?” to resound. It will. Because Victor is Victor.
He makes the team stronger, not just because he’s a phenomenal hitter, but also because he pushes his teammates to avoid being easy outs as well. His laser focus and dedication to making the most of every pitch is contagious; it trickles down through the line up, from batter to batter. The mentality that, yeah, this pitcher might get an out on my at bat, but I’m not going to give one away. If the pitcher wants an out against the Tigers’ line up, he’ll have to earn one. That’s Martinez’s way. It’s becoming the way of the Tigers as a ball club, too, and it’s hard not to attribute at least part of that to the example being set in every at bat by Victor Martinez.
With that said, how about a two-year extension for VMart, Mr. Dombrowski? I know I’m not the only one who wants one. Just ask his teammates.