Although most of the issues for the Red Sox in this terrible, no good 2020 season can be traced back to the pitching staff, there has been one glaring issue offensively as well. At least relative to expectations, of course. I speak of J.D. Martinez, which you know because you have eyes and his name is in the headline and his picture is at the top of this page. You’re not dumb. Anyway, yeah, it’s been a bad one for Martinez. As of this writing, he is hitting .206/.294/.371 for a wRC+ of 73, meaning he’s been 27 percent worse than the league-average hitter. For additional context, in 2019 (regarded by many as a down year for Martinez), he put up a wRC+ of 139. So, yeah, it hasn’t been great!
Given the market we’re expecting to see this winter combined with this poor performance, it’s unlikely Martinez will opt out of his contract and hit the open market after the season. Furthermore, it’s unlikely the team will sell him for pennies on the dollar in a trade before next season. So, it seems reasonable to assume (yes, I know what they say about assuming) that Martinez will be in the 2021 lineup. That makes it reasonable to ask what I asked the staff for this week’s roundup question: On a scale of 1-10, how worried are you about J.D. Maritnez looking ahead to 2021?
On a scale of 1-10, I’m sitting at a 3 with J.D. Martinez. Yeah, his average is horrible and he has not looked like himself the entire season. I’m totally giving him a mulligan. This year has been topsy-turvy and he has also said that he has not been able to look at video during the game, which is a big part of his game. I still believe in his talent and trust in his work ethic to become the hitter he has been in previous seasons. Taking a look at his plate discipline numbers, nothing looks crazy out of whack so I chalk this up to everything else and not a decrease in his abilities.
I think I’m at a 4 out of 10. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s been one of the best hitters in MLB for, like, 5-plus years now, though it is concerning that his hard-hit rate, exit velo, and barrel rate are all down. His batting average on balls in play is .100 points lower than his career mark so that does suggest he has had some terrible luck at the plate. However that doesn’t claw everything back. It is encouraging that his strikeout rate and walk rates are all within his normal range for his career so it really boils down to just making consistent hard contact. These new rules for what you can and can’t look at in the dugout certainly seems to be part of it, but given Martinez’s ability to hit a baseball and his dedication to the craft I think next year he’ll figure something out that makes him more comfortable and he’ll be fine again.
I’m definitely low on Martinez at the moment, so I would say a 6 out of 10. All of his metrics are way down from last year, and he’s been a (significantly) below-average hitter. One could argue he’s having poor batted ball luck, but the reality is that he’s just not hitting the ball hard; his exit velocity and hard hit rate are the lowest they’ve been since his stints with the Astros. With such a down year, it seems very likely he’ll opt into his contract next year, where he’s due to make $19 million. However, my worry is only at a 6/10 because J.D. is a great clubhouse guy and is known for working with and improving the swings of numerous Red Sox teammates. While his performance this year clearly isn’t worth the $19 million he’s due, the hope is for him to bounce back next year and continue to provide stability in the locker room.
I’m going to give two numbers. The first is based on how worried I am about Martinez’s ability to be an impact hitter in 2021. That is set at a two. Martinez clearly hasn’t been the Silver Slugger we know he can be in 2020, but I find it hard to believe that he just lost all of his skills in one offseason. His wRC+ obviously looks horrible and he has actually been worth a negative in the fWAR category, so I don’t think there should be zero concern; however, he is just a year removed from a 139 wRC+ campaign and I expect him to figure things out for next season, especially since he has been exceptionally unlucky as evidenced by his .254 BABIP.
The second number I will give is based on how worried I am about Martinez staying with the Red Sox for next season. That sits at a zero right now. Entering this season, that mark would have been at a 10, as I assumed he would exercise his opt-out as quickly as possible at the end of the season given the Red Sox’s clear plans to rebuild following the Mookie Betts trade. However, due to his struggles in 2020, I am on the opposite end of the spectrum and fully expect Martinez to remain with the Red Sox for at least 2021. His future from there is more nebulous, but right now I don’t see why he would want to test the free agent market on the heels of such a poor season.
J.D. Martinez is supposed to be something of the rock of the Red Sox. He (mostly) does one thing: hit. He’s worked with other players in the past to actually help them improve their offensive performance. With success! But this year it’s all gone. Career worsts in all three components of the triple slash (.208/.289/.375). His lowest percentage of hard hit balls in the Statcast era (39% vs 48% career). But with the on-again, off-again spring training, shortened season, unusual travel, I’m not giving up after just 60 games. In June 2021 I’ll put the risk at a 7. Right now I’m only worried about 3 on the scale.
I’m giving J.D. Martinez a solid 8 on the worry scale heading into 2021. After struggling much more against righties than lefties in 2019, Martinez has made that trend even worse here in 2020. In 2019 he posted a 242 wRC+ against lefties compared to a 103 wRC+ against righties. This year those marks are down to 107 and 62, respectively. In addition to this troubling trend, his slugging percentage against fastballs has dropped from .574 in 2019 to .360 in 2020. These struggles against the fastball are new and in 2019 he already was ineffective slugging against breaking pitches. I’m very worried that with his health issues, the lack of video assistance, and a swing that needs constant tinkering that the Martinez of old is long gone. There is no way this player is opting out with all these red flags so the most we can do is hope for a big time skills rebound. I’m not very confident.
I’ve gone back and forth on this one about a billion times. Before the season I did pick Martinez as my most disappointing player on the team, which would maybe suggest I saw this coming. I did not. I was mostly concerned that back spasms would render him largely average. He’s clearly been worse than average. On the one hand, he’s not getting any younger, and so it’s hard to see him getting back to his peak. On the other hand, this has been a bizarre season. The sample is tiny, the team is horrible, he can’t look at video, the world is literally on fire. There are excuses for underperformance! I think I’m going to cheat and put it at a neutral 5. Like I said, I don’t think we’ll see 2018 Martinez again, but a 125-135 wRC+ next season is well within reach, I think. Or maybe I just hope.
I’m not worried about JDM at all this season. There’s nothing that could happen that would convince me to ever care about any stat this season unless one of my team’s pitchers tangibly changed something that turned something around. And even then, I’d be wary because we’re dealing with 60 game samples. I don’t see any reason to freak out over a 60 game sample size where he’s playing in front of empty stadiums, facing the same 7 teams over and over again, and not able to dissect himself on video per usual. Maybe I should be worried about that because it’s looking like this thing will be hanging around for a while, but I’m choosing not to because freaking out over 60 games is against my moral code.