Monday was a really fun day to be a Red Sox fan, which was the first time we could say that since the team clinched the division in September. Sure, the Mitch Moreland and Eduardo Nuñez re-signings were neat, but they didn’t really move the needle on a pure emotional level quite like Monday. See, on Monday the Red Sox added the big bat they’ve been searching for all offseason and the one they’d been connected to since Day One of the offseason. The team now has J.D. Martinez in the fold, and all of a sudden they have a legitimately deep and potentially scary lineup. We all know about the 2017 team and that, while they were a good overall squad, they sorely lacked a guy who was a threat to put the ball over the fence every time he stepped up to the plate. Martinez is now that power bat to be placed right in the middle of the lineup on a daily basis. There’s no doubt he is that power threat so many people have been looking for. The even better news is that J.D. Martinez is not just the power upgrade they needed. The dude is an amazing all-around hitter.
By now, most of us know the story of J.D. Martinez by now, but here’s a quick refresher if you don’t. The now-elite hitter wasn’t always this way, as he came up with the Astros as a bench player who performed as a below replacement level player for most of his Houston career. He was so bad that he was straight-up cut by the team when they were at the lowest point of their rebuild. From there he ended up in Detroit after being brought in by Dave Dombrowski, and he transformed. He quickly became the face of the flyball revolution as well as one of the elite hitters in baseball. Not only has this affected that power, but it’s slowly come around in the rest of his game as well.
With that background, let’s take a quick look at the overall performer he has become. I want to start with his plate discipline, because his evolution in this area is perhaps the most underrated part of his current game. Martinez came up as an ultra-agressive hitter who rarely drew a walk, but he’s improved this area of his game with each passing season. In his first season with Detroit when he first burst onto the scene, Martinez walked in just six percent of his plate appearances. He’s improved that rate in each successive season and is coming off a year in which he walked in over ten percent of his plate appearances. Part of that is pitchers attacking him differently as he’s become a more feared hitter, of course, but he’s also done a better job of recognizing bad pitches and making better decisions on when to swing.
Of course, it should also be mentioned that Martinez tends to strike out a lot, too. This has been a theme of his over the course of his entire career and it’s not something he’s found a way to improve. In 2017 he struck out in 26 percent of his plate appearances, a rate that he’s consistently hovered around every year in his career. That being said, those strikeouts aren’t a huge deal for a few reasons. For one thing, strikeouts are up around the league and striking out in a quarter of your plate appearances is no longer a huge detriment like it used to be. Secondly, that big power certainly helps offset it.
The third reason to not worry about the strikeouts is that Martinez is one of the best pure hitters in the game and he can make up for his propensity to strikeout by turning a relatively high number of balls in play into hits. Martinez has a career batting average on balls in play of .341 and his .327 mark last season was actually his lowest since his Astros day. There aren’t many true-talent .330 BABIP hitters around the league, but Martinez is just that and he has upside for much more. It’s why he’s been able to maintain a .300 batting average over the last four years while striking out so often. There’s no reason to expect this to change with Boston, either. Martinez simply crushes the ball at a high rate — according to Fangraphs he had a hard-hit rate of 49 percent last year! — and it’s really hard to defend hard hit balls all over the field. He’s going to hit a ton of home runs, yes, but he’ll also hit plenty of singles and he’s going to absolutely abuse the Green Monster for doubles.
Martinez has his flaws on defense and on the basepaths, and the Red Sox will do everything they can to minimize the impact of both of those. He’s an incredible all-around hitter, though, and makes this lineup a real threat. Boston entered the offseason really lacking a true home run threat in the middle of the order and they got that with Martinez. Fortunately that’s not all they got, as along with the home runs comes one of the scariest and most well-round offensive skill sets in all of baseball.