Detroit Tigers: J. D. Feeling the Pressure With V-Mart Out
By Tom Pollin
J. D. Martinez didn’t start 2015 flashing the stats that made him a breakout star for the Detroit Tigers but his struggles worsened after Victor Martinez hit the disabled list.
Prior to the season there was one advanced stat indicator Batting Average for Balls In Play (BABIP) that showed J. D. wouldn’t be enjoying the same level of success in 2015 that he did last season, even with having V-Mart ahead of him in the clean-up spot.
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BABIP measures how often a ball that stays in the field of play falls for a hit and it’s one of the easiest advanced stats to figure out. Just divide a player’s number of hits minus home runs by their at bats, minus home runs, strikeouts and sacrifices.
For 2014, J. D.’s BABIP was a stratosperic .389, which would have been a Major League best if he’d had enough plate appearances to qualify. The best hitters in baseball will usually be in the .350 range (Miguel Cabrera‘s is .365 this season) while the average for a Major League hitter is around .300 (the best detailed description I’ve found of this stat is here on Fangraphs.com).
From the start of the season on April 6 until May 19, when Victor Martinez was put on the disabled list, D. J.’s BABIP was still a very good .330. according to Baseball-Reference.com. One of the reasons why his batting average in this stretch was mired 55 points below his 2014 level was because of the drastic increase in his strikeout rate.
His 126 strikeouts in 2014 project out to 166 if J.D. had played a 162-game schedule. This season, up to May 19 Martinez had struck out 47 times. That projected out to a 2015 total of 196, a number that would have led the Major Leagues last season.
Still, for six weeks Martinez was on a pace to score 92 runs, walk 63 times, hit 34 doubles and 34 home runs. Those numbers, along with the defense he provides in right field, would have been welcomed by the Tigers in their effort to win a fifth straight A.L. Central title.
In the 22 games the Tigers have played since V-Mart has been sidelined, J. D.’s output has nose-dived. While his BABIP has only dropped slightly, to .322, and his batting average has stayed steady, .256 compared to .260 before, his on-base percentage along with his power stats, slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging, have fallen off a cliff.
From May 19 to June 12 Martinez’ on-base percentage has been .303, compared to .333 for the first six weeks of 2015. His slugging percentage was .479 with V-Mart in the lineup, .378 without. His on-base plus slugging percentage since mid-May has been an anemic .681.
While those stats are rough to look at, when Brad Ausmus tries to use J. D. to fill V-Mart’s shoes in the DH spot the numbers get really frightening. In six games and 25 at-bats Martinez has five hits, one of those a double, scored two runs, struck out eight times and is hitting .200 with a .240 slugging percentage.
Martinez has also changed his plate approach this season, probably in an effort to create more power. In 2014 he was driving the ball well to all fields, pulling 38 percent and hitting to center in 40 percent of his at-bats. In 2015 he’s pulled the ball 43 percent of the time and to center only 32 percent.
Fortunately for the Tigers, Martinez is showing signs that he might be becoming more comfortable with his expanded role in the offense. In the last seven days he’s started three games and has four hits in his 12 at-bats with one home run. He’s also only struck out once. With a timetable still not set for V-Mart’s return the Tigers will need more production like that to stay in contention in the tough A.L. Central.