Welcome back to the One Big Question series here at Over The Monster. For those who weren’t around for last year’s series or simply forgot what it entails — there’s a lot going on in the world today, so don’t be ashamed! — here’s a brief reminder. Every day, Monday through Friday, for the next eight weeks we’ll profile a new member of Red Sox 40-man roster. Rather than simply going through a simple profile of their overall game and what they offer the team, we’ll focus on the one question that could very well dictate how their season will go in 2018. In order to keep the order objective and avoid side conversations like ranking the players on the roster, we’ll go straight down the roster in alphabetical order by position. In other words, we’ll go by how things are ordered here. If you miss any editions or would like to look back on some of last year’s, you can see all of them here. Today, we’re looking at J.D. Martinez.
The Question: Is J.D. Martinez going to stay on the field all year for the Red Sox?
Dave Dombrowski has been at the helm of the Red Sox front office for three offseasons, and all three offseasons have included at least one major splash, all of which have had varying effects. Craig Kimbrel has been good one year and bananas in the other. David Price was underrated but also not elite in one year and injury in the other. Chris Sale was bananas in his only season. The track record for these moves, while not perfect, has been largely good. This year, the focus shifted from the pitching staff to a lineup that was in desperate need of a major addition, and they got just that with one of the best hitters in baseball. It took longer than any of us expected, but J.D. Martinez eventually agreed to terms to come to the Red Sox and hit in the middle of Boston’s lineup. Martinez is, of course, not a perfect player and there are questions about his overall value, but there is little reason to doubt that he is going to straight-up mash. It’s what he does. Of course, if he’s going to maximize that impact at the plate he’s going to have to stay on the field.
This relative inability to play everyday has been one of the biggest critiques around what Martinez brings to the table all offseason, and there’s at least some merit to it. There have been four years of the new, post-breakout version of Martinez, and in those seasons his games played totals have been: 123, 158, 120 and 119. There’s no totally lost season in the mix, but there’s only one true full season of play.
The injury history isn’t quite as long as those game totals would suggest, though. He’s really only suffered two big injuries in his career. One was an elbow injury that resulted from running into a wall. That’s obviously not great, but it also doesn’t say much about his durability other than the fact that he is not an invincible being. Last season, Martinez suffered through a foot injury that caused him to miss the beginning of the year. While there is no immediate concern about this particularly injury, this is one that could potentially re-emerge over his career. That’s it, though. He suffered one fluky injury and one potentially worrisome one and missed time in that first season of this four-year run because he started the year in the minors. Overall, there is some concern but it’s likely been overblown.
As we look toward his Red Sox career, though, that foot injury in particular is something to at least consider and hope doesn’t crop back up. The good news is that his role in Boston should presumably help at least a bit in keeping him healthier. Martinez, of course, is going to spend most of his time at designated hitter. At least, we think that’ll be the case. He will get some time in the outfield which opens him up to fluky injuries along with more general wear and tear, but he should be off the foot more often and just generally not exerting himself to the same extent in the past. Obviously, that does not mean it’s a lock he stays healthy, but one would have to imagine this new role would help the cause more than it would hurt.
It’s no secret why Martinez staying on the field is so important to the Red Sox, but I’m going to get into it anyway because I’ll talk about his hitting prowess whenever I get a chance. Martinez is, in a word, incredible with the bat in his hand. The former Astro, Tiger and Diamondback does just about everything well at the plate. He’s most famous for his power, and while he’s almost certainly not going to repeat 2017’s .387 Isolated Power — the sixth highest mark since 2000 — he’s consistently posted ISOs above .225 and the ZiPS projection system projects him to post a crazy .308 mark. It’s not just the power, though. Martinez has improved his walk rate in every year since his 2014 breakout, topping out with an 11 percent rate last season. He also combines that with huge batting averages on balls in play — his .327 BABIP last year was his lowest over the last four years — to help cancel out his above-average strikeout rate and allow him to consistently post strong OBPs. The Red Sox have some very good hitters, but it goes without saying that their lineup is brought to another level by having someone who can consistently be more than 40 percent better than the league-average hitter.
We know what J.D. Martinez is at this point. He’s going to be an elite hitter who will spend most of his time in the DH role with some subpar appearances in the outfield. That trade off is more than worth it, and if the Red Sox are going to be as good as they possibly can be they’ll need him in the lineup as close to everyday as possible. That’s been an issue for him in his career, but moving forward it’s less of a concern than it initially may seem. There’s no guarantee of health for anyone, but there’s at least reason for optimism that Martinez will stay healthy all year and mash in the middle of the Red Sox lineup on an everyday basis.