J.D. Martinez Has Been One of Baseball's Most Dominant Hitters
J.D. Martinez's 2017 season didn't exactly get off to the start he was hoping for -- after all, he didn't get activated until May 12th due to a stint on the disabled list for a sprained foot. He's doing his best to make up for lost time, though.
The outfielder has hit the ground running and has been one of baseball's best hitters through the 50 games he's been active for. He just hasn't been recognized for it. Yet.
A Strong Start
Although 50 games (and 202 plate appearances) is a much smaller sample size than some others in the league, Martinez has been very impressive. He's slashing .297/.381/.623 so far this year, and while that batting average is right in line with the rest of his career for the Detroit Tigers, the other two are much higher than normal.
That .381 on-base percentage is on pace to be a career high, and it's fueled by a 12.4% walk rate, which is also on track to be the best of his career. His .623 slugging percentage can be explained by a .326 ISO, which includes 14 home runs -- just eight fewer than he hit last season in 517 plate appearances. As is the theme here, Martinez's 157 wRC+ is also on pace to be a career high, and it's a perfect highlight to exactly how strong his game has been. So is his current 1.4 fWAR, which is already very close to the number he produced in 2016 (1.8).
Potentially the most eye-popping part of this start is his .325 BABIP, which is lower than any of his previous seasons in Detroit. He's done that despite a 49.3% hard-hit rate, which would be a new single-season career high if he kept this pace up. So, even with his big start, there is a possibility that he can get even better moving forward.
Comparing to the Rest of the League
Due to the time he missed because of injury, Martinez is nowhere to be found on the qualified hitter leaderboards. Regardless of that, he's been one of the league's most impressive hitters.
Among the 239 hitters who have racked up 200-plus plate appearances so far in 2017, here is where Martinez ranks with regard to ISO, wRC+ and OPS.
Ranking this high in three separate categories despite a late start to the season is incredible, and he deserves to grab more headlines than he has.
How He's Doing It
As mentioned earlier, Martinez's ability to make hard contact frequently is one of the main drivers behind this strong start.
That 49.3% hard-hit rate of his would be awfully rare if he maintained it through the end of the year. Ryan Howard's 2007 season in which he produced a 55.2% hard-hit rate is the only instance in history where a qualified hitter produced a mark higher than 50.0% in a single season.
His 14.2% soft-hit rate is very close to his career number, which is the same story when we take a look at his fly-ball rate, line-drive rate, and ground-ball rate. So, the main difference in his numbers this season compared to years past is simply how hard he's hitting the ball.
Martinez is trying to debunk conventional wisdom about hitting. He wants to hit the ball hard in the air, and according to Statcast, that's exactly what he's doing. His average exit velocity of 93.1 miles per hour is tied for 10th among all hitters, and his averaged batted-ball distance of 238.6 feet is just behind some guy grabbing a ton of headlines in Aaron Judge. He's also added in an average launch angle of 16.4 degrees, which easily gives us his recipe for success -- hitting the ball hard at an elite rate with a good launch angle that helps send the ball deep.
All of this has helped Martinez enjoy what is on track to be a career year, and at the perfect time.
The current version of J.D. Martinez has been the best version. Despite an injury-plagued start to the year and the Tigers being stuck in mediocrity, he may not be far away from truly being in the spotlight. The slugging outfielder could (and should) be one of the most prized assets prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. And since he'll be a free agent this winter, he's also in line for a substantial new contract.
For now, it seems like it's just a matter of time before Martinez's performance gets the attention it deserves.