Almost exactly a year ago, I put words on the page about JD Martinez’s breakout. At the time, he was on fire, or en fuego if you’re 15 and want to sound like you’re cool because you know words in another language. Looking at Martinez using that article as a bookmark (through June 19, 2014).
Martinez’s walk rate and strikeout rate got a little better no matter the split you compare it to and his ISO got worse as well. You also have the matter of a much lower BABIP in 2015 compared to the summer of 2014. In other words, the discipline got a little better and the BABIP and power regressed. But they didn’t regress to pre-Detroit levels. Let’s look at it this way. Since becoming a Tiger, Martinez has 767 PA and a .379 wOBA (.365 BABIP).
About two weeks later, I wrote about Martinez again for TigsTown. I can’t find the link, but here’s the PDF of the draft I submitted. My assessment, to save you the time, was that he had improved himself from a .300 wOBA nothing to a .340 wOBA real baseball player over the course of a few months. He wouldn’t stay that hot, but he would be good.
And I was right on the money until he hit three dingers on Sunday and shot up to .360 wOBA. The projections now say he’s a .340-.350 wOBA guy and I think they’re right. JD Martinez is, in fact, about 20% better than the average hitter. His plate discipline holds him back from becoming a world-beater, but his ability to smack the ball is enough to make him legit. There’s virtually no way to be consistently better than .360ish if you have his BB and K numbers, but that’s plenty good. And a .340-.350 wOBA guy who is average-ish or so in a corner is like a 3 WAR player.
And he’s in his age 27 season, under team control through 2017. The Tigers are going to pay him less than $30 million for 2015-2017 and they’re going to get something like $70 million in production. Al Avila, take a bow.
His underlying discipline numbers are the same, he’s a hitting a more fly balls, and his BABIP is settling in at an appropriate .320 or so. This appears to be JD Martinez. Not a hitter on par with Cabrera and Trout, like he was in 2014, but one on par the Cespedeses of the world. And they got him for free.
I want to point out one bit of confirmation. Obviously, the numbers are good and they’ve been good long enough that we’re starting to believe it. If you look at something like Hard Hit% (percentage of batted balls classified as hard-hit by Baseball Info Solutions), Martinez’s rate went up from high 20s in 2011-12 to mid 30s in 2013 to low 40s in 2014-2015.
We shouldn’t pretend that the JD Martinez of 2014 is the true JD Martinez, but at this point, it’s time to accept him as a legitimate hitter whose bottom probably won’t fall out. It’s tough to be a good hitter with a walk rate below average and a strikeout rate about 25%, but Martinez hits the ball hard enough to make it work. There’s really no way to sustain what he did last year with those BB and K rates, but there absolutely is a path to sustain his 2015 performance. “Swing changes” are almost always nonsense explanations. Not this time.