With Spring Training approaching in a few short days, the Detroit Tigers and their off-season activities have made them a team to watch.
One of the best transactions of the winter was the two-year extension given to J.D. Martinez. His contract was nowhere near the immense one given to fellow outfielder Justin Upton, but it was significant nonetheless. His quick success in 2014 and 2015 raises the question: Does Martinez have the ability to maintain or improve upon the work he has done with the Tigers?
Martinez had his first All-Star season in 2015 batting .282/.344/.535 with a 4.6 oWAR. He hit 38 home runs, 102 RBIs, and he scored 93 runs. He was second only in runs scored to Ian Kinsler who crossed the plate 94 times. The entire team scored 689 runs. His earned his very first Silver Slugger award in 2015, too.
His fielding wasn’t too shabby either. While he does not have the same style in the outfield as Bryce Harper, Martinez actually had a better fielding percentage (.993) and fewer errors (2). Martinez also had more assists (15) than the NL MVP . Martinez finished third in the AL with assists in the outfield. His dWAR was -0.2.
Every player in the MLB has room to improve in their defensive play, including Martinez. After only one season in that spot, he has become a dominant defensive player not just the AL, but the entire league. In an article from The Oakland Press, Matthew B. Mowery quoted Brad Ausmus as saying: “He’s improved, for sure. I think part of it is that he’s been consistently in right field, this year, I think helps.” Martinez was more than improved, he had the top fielding percentage in the American League. He had the second highest number of assists and second most double-plays from right field. The only place to go for Martinez in right field is first in all fielding categories. This is challenging for any player to do, but Martinez seems to have the drive to do it.
During the 2015 season, Martinez was affectionately known as “Just Dingers” for obvious reasons. He finished 8th in the AL for his 38 home runs after spending the 2015 season chasing the top spot in this illustrious batting category. Does he have what it takes to lead this category in 2016? Of course it will depend on the pitches he sees and whether he can maintain the Miguel Cabrera-inspired swing he developed in his pursuit of greatness.
In 2015, Brooks Baseball called him “very aggressive” when batting, earning a 21% swing-and-miss average. He hit for power with 91.3-mph average exit velocity. The majority of his home runs (14) were hit off of the four-seam fastball, but he had troubles with changeups against right-handed pitchers, hitting only .088 against 132 pitches. He also could improve hitting the slider against right-handed (.255) and left-handed pitchers (.048). While the Tigers are often criticized for their weaknesses against right-handed pitchers, Martinez performs better against right-handed pitchers in nearly every category except the changeup. He hits fastballs at an average of .270 against right-handed and .290 against left-handed.
Even his spray charts show the similar successes against right- and left-handed pitchers. Brooks Baseball‘s spray chart shows his tendencies to hit ground balls to the left side, which is one of the issues he could improve upon. With their high number of right-handed batters in the lineup, the Tigers had serious issues with GIDP stats in 2016. But, Martinez had success hitting to all areas of the outfield.
His chart looks relatively similar against left-handed pitchers. Even though he sees fewer left-handed pitchers, simply because there aren’t many of them in the MLB, his tendencies are the same.
For comparison purposes, this is Miguel Cabrera’s 2012 Triple Crown spray chart against all pitchers:
Signs point to J.D. Martinez continuing his dominance at the plate and in the field. He knows what the Tigers front office is capable of paying their favorite players, which can be an incentive for any player approaching free agency.
Whether Martinez is looking for a big payday or a post-season championship, he has shown that he has what it takes to be a top player in the MLB. Nothing is certain in baseball, but Martinez’s stats in Detroit point to good things coming.