Okay kids, one last pop quiz before summer vacation.
Question one: Who is the best hitter on the Detroit Tigers, not to mention all of baseball?
Question two: Who is the best hitter on the 2014 Detroit Tigers?
Need a clue? (The answer to each question is a different player.)
Alright, I know these are trick questions, because the answer to question one is based on performance over several years.
Question two, on the other hand, deals solely with 2014.
Miguel Cabrera is the universally acknowledged best hitter in baseball, and as such is the obvious answer to question one. After a sluggish start, he is back to his usual lethal self with a bat in his hands.
However, that lofty status does not automatically make him the best hitter among the 2014 Detroit Tigers, as to date that distinction belongs to switch-hitting DH Victor Martinez, who is off to a thundering start.
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The 35 year-old is hitting the ball hard and often. After a torrid second-half last year, Martinez has continued his assault upon American League pitchers, and currently leads the league in hitting with a .332 batting average.
He has also banged 13 home runs, while posting a slugging percentage of .578. Miraculously, despite his step-up in power numbers this year (he totaled only 12 home runs in 2013), Martinez has struck out an improbably low 15 times.
In addition to the measurables, his focus and supreme bat-handling ability at the plate wear down opposing pitchers, as he frequently goes deep into counts before getting a clutch hit.
This tendency to grind out at-bats was on full display last Friday night in Seattle, as Martinez fouled off a series of quality pitches against a top right-hander, Hisashi Iwakuma, before stroking a key three-run homer.
After a weak first half last year while returning from ACL surgery, which caused him to miss all of 2012, Martinez regained his stroke in July and hasn’t stopped raking since.
For the last three months of the 2013 regular season, Martinez hit a sizzling .367. He was also the team’s most consistent hitter in the postseason, as he led the team in batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage (.405/.432/.571) in 42 AB’s.
A major question which arose from the off-season trade of Prince Fielder to Texas was who would protect number three hitter Miguel Cabrera in the line-up. With Martinez securely locked and loaded in the clean-up position and on a prolonged tear, that question has been emphatically answered.
With that situation in hand, the spotlight now shines on the fifth spot in the order, and whether it can be sufficiently fortified to dissuade the opposition from pitching around Victor Martinez.
If they flounder as a group, it will have negative implications for an offense that has done minimal damage in the lower half of the batting order in the season’s first two months.
Whatever happens behind him in the line-up in the next 100 games or so, though, it’s clear Victor Martinez is doing some of the best hitting of his productive career.
And as long as he doesn’t go on a prolonged summer vacation, the clean-up position–at the very least–is in good hands.