Detroit Tigers’ Victor Martinez–What To Expect

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Designated hitter Victor Martinez is on the brink of returning to the Detroit Tigers’ lineup.

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The question is, which V-Mart will show up in Gotham this weekend?

The one who slashed a robust .335 /.409/.565 last year and finished second to Mike Trout in the American League MVP voting?

Or the one who hobbled onto the disabled list on May 19th with a slash line of .216/.308/.270?

It appears Tiger fans will soon find out, as Martinez will rejoin the team Friday and may be activated for the weekend series against the New York Yankees.

The switch-hitting 36 year-old became a major leaguer in 2002 and has been a Tiger since 2010, when he signed a four-year, $50 million contract. He has been a fixture in the middle of the Tiger line-up except for 2012, when he lost the entire season due to an offseason training injury.

Following that setback, Martinez had a rough time recovering his timing in the first half of 2013, as he was hitting .225 as late as June 28th. But it came together with a vengeance from that point forward, and he terrorized pitchers for the balance of the year, finishing at .301/.355/.430.

That extended hot streak carried over to 2014, when Martinez had a career year as free agency loomed. Hitting fourth and providing ample protection for slug-mate Miguel Cabrera, he lit up the scoreboard while hitting .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBI’s.

By virtue of his sterling season, Martinez placed himself in an enviable position as a free agent. He commanded serious interest from several teams but ultimately signed a four-year, $68 million contract with the Tigers in November.

Unfortunately for Martinez and the Tigers, he injured his left knee in February, astoundingly while playing catch with his brother. The Tigers held their collective breath awaiting a diagnosis and were relieved to learn that unlike 2012, it would not obliterate Martinez’s entire season.

Nonetheless, with spring training approaching he would again require intensive rehab.

Martinez gamely attempted to work through the injury in Lakeland (.143 BA) and showed just enough to avoid the disabled list, allowing him to start the season as the team’s DH. Over the course of seven weeks, though, it eventually became obvious that he was laboring and not improving, particularly as a left hand hitter.

Moreover, Martinez’s knee problem not only limited him at the plate but compromised his ability to run. Far from a speed merchant in his natural state, the last thing he needed was to be further slowed by a leg injury, but that’s how it played out.

Barely able to run and with his lower body strength sapped, Martinez was placed on the disabled list on May 19th.

After a period of rest and subsequent rehabilitation, Martinez started a four-game assignment with Toledo on Sunday, and the early returns have been encouraging. He is reportedly running much better and taking healthy swings, particularly from the left side.

The Bottom Line

So what can the Detroit Tigers expect from Victor Martinez for the rest of the season?

It’s certainly unrealistic to expect Martinez to approximate his performance of last year, as by definition the “career year” he authored is a standalone event.

Besides, this year he is both a year older and remains subject to the lingering effects of the serious knee injury he incurred in February.

A third factor which could also negatively affect his production is the increasing tendency of defenses to shift three infielders to the right side of the infield against left-hand hitters. That configuration has been largely effective in deflating batting averages across both leagues and is now de riguer for most teams.

So whereas it’s unlikely Martinez will duplicate last year’s special season, he should comfortably fortify the middle of a mostly potent line-up.

Of course everything hinges upon Martinez’s fitness for duty.

Assuming a physically sound hitting foundation, there’s every reason to believe he’ll regain his precision timing sometime around the All-Star break and re-establish himself as a fearsome hitter.

Steamer, a performance projection system, estimates that at the conclusion of the season Martinez will have posted the following numbers:

BA: .301

HR’s: 10

RBI’s: 42

Not bad, but considering Martinez’s tenacity and track record, those “ballpark figures” might be a bit low.

Next: V-Mart returns, Avila inching closer, Cespedes HR derby

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