Detroit Tigers Finally Get It Right With Victor Martinez
By Tom Pollin
Victor Martinez is a tough competitor and has been an important part of the Detroit Tigers since he joined the team in 2011, at least until the start of the 2015 season. This week the team finally took the obvious step they’ve been refusing to take all season by putting Martinez on the 15-day disabled list.
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Tigers’ management has been watching the switch-hitting Martinez struggle since opening day due to the partially healed meniscus tear in his left knee and have continued to indulge him, keeping him active on the roster while hoping a miracle cure was only a game or an at-bat away.
From the right side of the plate Martinez has been giving the Tigers the same threatening lineup presence that he delivered from both sides in 2014. Right-handed he has 26 at-bats with a slash line of .462/.516/.654. Unfortunately for him, a majority Major League pitching deals from the right side.
Martinez has 85 left-handed at-bats this season and has only delivered an anemic .141/.242/.153 slash line. He’s also struck out 12 times as a left-hander, an average of once every seven at-bats while only striking out once right-handed (you can do the math for that one). With that production the Tigers would almost be better off letting their pitchers hit.
Even with the right-handed numbers included Martinez has a -.09 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) so far in 2015. In other words, a minor league player would be a better option for the Tigers’ lineup, a fact they finally acknowledged when they promoted Tyler Collins from the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens this week. To further emphasize how terrible Martinez’ WAR is, Hernan Perez‘ is only -.04.
Despite those numbers the Tigers have failed to make the obvious move to sit Martinez down in an effort to help his knee further continue to heal. Each line drive hit has delayed a decision that has contributed to the troubles the Tigers’ lineup has had this season.
In the team’s first 42 games they’ve scored two or fewer runs 20 times, most in Major League Baseball. Brad Ausmus has been quoted saying that the Tigers have “underachieved to this point”, yet has allowed his belief in Martinez to undermine his lineup, especially by keeping him in the clean-up spot.
One way that Martinez could have avoided a stay on the DL while also avoiding putting pressure on the knee would have been to hit right-handed every trip to the plate, something that he’s been stubbornly refusing to consider every time the subject is brought up.
Ausmus has defended Martinez in his stance, arguing that VMart hasn’t hit strictly right-handed “in a decade,” actually since 2011. That season he went right-handed against righties in nine games with 23 plate appearances. He also got decent results, going seven for 19 for a .269 batting average and an excellent 1.057 OPS.
One drawback of playing Martinez as a right-handed only hitter would be his continued inability to run the bases effectively. He’s been base path cholesterol no matter from what side his hits come from.
Running is also how the latest tweek to his knee took place, the one that finally put him on the disabled list.
In the first game of their series against the Milwaukee Brewers, after an extended rest on the bench on the road against the St. Louis Cardinals, he came up in the eighth inning with runners on first and second and no outs. Martinez grounded into a double-play and in his effort to beat out the throw to first, which went under a lengthy review, he ended up limping back to the dugout.
The next hope in the ongoing Victor Martinez saga is that the Tigers don’t try to rush him back into the lineup. He’s only 36-years old, which still gives him a couple of more seasons to be a prime weapon for the team, but only if he’s allowed to rehab his left knee back to full strength.