I’m sure most Tigers fans are aware that Victor Martinez’s number this year aren’t very good. He’s had a few productive games, but on the whole they don’t look great. He’s hitting .230/.280/.319 good for 59 wRC+ in 225 PA. I don’t have to tell you that isn’t enough from a full time DH.
But there is more to the story than that. I know this is going to sound like an excuse, but Victor Martinez has been terribly unlucky. I’m serious, I have data to prove it. This isn’t just an eyeball test, it’s a real thing. I’ll show you.
First of all, the walk rate is almost identical to his strong ’11 season and he’s swinging at fewer pitches outside the strikezone so far this season (26.8% versus 30.2%). So it’s not like he’s chasing bad pitches or anything. There are two explanations. First, he’s getting unlucky. Second, he’s not hitting the ball with as much authority as he used to.
I’m going to argue this is mostly about luck, but I’ll give some credence to the type of contact he is making. He is hitting fewer line drives this year in favor of more flyballs, which is generally bad for your production, but it’s not dramatic enough that you would expect someone to lose .100 off their batting average. His 2013 ratios are very similar to his 2007 ratios and in that season he hit .301/.374/.505.
So yes, the trajectory of the ball is slightly off his 2011 numbers, but he’s been successful with the 2013 numbers before. He’s not walking less. He’s not chasing bad pitches. This is a story about bad luck.
A number of people have commented, myself included, that Victor is hitting a lot of balls hard that are turning into outs. That’s true. ESPN Stats and Info tracks hard hit balls (balls can be soft, medium, or hard) and ESPN Stats and Info Researcher and former podcast standout Mark Simon often posts the statistic on Twitter. Here is his most recent update (June 3):
As you can see, Martinez is 6th in MLB with 24.4% of his PA ending in a hard his ball. The average MLBer hits 17% hard hit balls. That’s 7% better than league average, but if you look at his batting average, it doesn’t reflect that. You have to drop pretty far down the list to find someone with a lower average than Martinez (Ruggiano at 22). In other words, it’s very rare to have someone hit the ball hard this often without getting better results. How rare? I asked Simon and this is what he said:
The picture he posted in accordance with that tweet indicates that all but one of Martinez’s hard hit balls at home have turned into outs:
So what you can see here is that your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Victor Martinez is hitting the ball hard and has nothing to show for it. He’s been unlucky in a very uncommon way. We should expect this luck to even out over the course of the season and his hard hit balls will start to fall for hits. Everyone above him on that list is crushing the ball and Martinez has been at the top of this list all season long.
You may look at his .230 batting average and say he’s having a bad year. That’s only partially right. The results have been bad, but based on everything I’m looking at here, the process has been good. And good process will yield good results, even if it hasn’t over the first third of the season.
That said, I still wouldn’t advise Victor Martinez spend any time in Vegas, just in case he’s pissed off the God’s of probability.
Editor’s Note: A follow up piece on the same subject can be found here.