On March 22, 2014, the Houston Astros released J.D. Martinez. Yes, the cheap, slowly rebuilding from nothing Houston Astros had seen enough out of a 26-year-old outfielder after three seasons and 975 plate appearances in Houston. Although the Astros have promoted George Springer, who has been very productive in his short time in the majors, Houston should weep due to the old hindsight massacre that Martinez is creating for them, as they run out Robbie Grossman and Alex Presley in left field these days.
J.D. Martinez has developed into a monster. An offseason of swing adjustments that led to dropping his hands in his approach to keep the bat in the zone longer has led to an offensive outburst that no one was expecting. After those three seasons in Houston, Martinez had a .251/.300/.387 triple-slash, with 44 doubles, three triples, 24 home runs, and a whopping 226:63 K:BB. Sure, he may not be Jose Bautista, but Bautista was tossed aside after posting a .239/.324/.398 triple-slash over his first 1,634 plate appearances, ending up with trade to Toronto prior to his age-28 season in 2009, which led to a change in his production after a similar swing adjustment.
The Tigers have reaped the benefits of gambling on J.D. Martinez and his new approach, as the right-handed hitting “slugger” has settled in nicely in the fifth spot in the order behind Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. After another solid game on Wednesday night against the Texas Rangers, Martinez has a 14-game hitting streak. After going 2-for-3 with a double, home run, and a walk, Martinez is hitting .418/.431/.891 over his hitting streak with eight doubles, six home runs, and 17 RBI, bringing his season line to .322/.359/.653 to go with a .370 BABIP, .430 wOBA, and 175 wRC+ in 131 plate appearances.
While Martinez did struggle with Houston, there was always some potential in the bat. His minor league numbers are full of extra-base hits, solid improvements to his approach at the plate, and solid performance while being younger than league average:
The production at Double-A in 2011 led to the promotion to the majors for J.D. Martinez, and it was warranted. He wasn’t totally overmatched at the major league level, either, posting a .742 OPS and 104 OPS+ over his first 53 games and 226 plate appearances in Houston, but he seemed to press in 2012 and 2013 at the major league level, posting a .245/.295/.376 triple-slash with 18 home runs, 31 doubles, and 91 RBI over 749 plate appearances to go along with a 178:50 K:BB. At 25, the Astros had seen enough, which is odd considering that he was pre-arbitration (not eligible for arbitration until after the 2015 season, which is good timing on his part for his breakout), and could have had his contract renewed for close to the league minimum.
Regardless, it is 2014, Martinez is finally getting a chance, taking over the full-time left field job from Rajai Davis and Don Kelly, while giving the Tigers another offensive force in the middle of the lineup. While Ian Kinsler looked lost at times in Texas and Prince Fielder‘s absence was worrisome for the future of the Detroit lineup, the Tigers seemed to have replaced the production with a rejuvenated Kinsler and J.D. Martinez looking like an All-Star as potent replacements to that “lost” production, as Fielder is shelved for the Rangers after having neck surgery in May.
Sure, the offensive outburst that J.D. Martinez has shown in the month of June and over the 2014 season seems unlikely to maintain at its current rate, but, as Dan Farnsworth of FanGraphs wrote in December of 2013, when he broke down the adjustments to his swing that Martinez discussed in the previous video, “he’s a legitimate Major League power hitter.”