It’s impossible to classify the struggles of J.D. Martinez in 2012 as a sophomore slump. The fact is, he went well past slump and into the realm of atrocious. Not only did he fail to produce in the Major Leagues (.241 with 11 HR in 395 AB), but he was arguably worse after being demoted to Triple-A (.233 with 0 HR in 90 AB). He has gone from sleeper to dud in record time and likely will be forgotten in the majority of fantasy drafts in 2013.
However, with the Astros boasting an outfield featuring Justin Maxwell and Fernando Martinez, there is going to be ample opportunities for Martinez to reestablish himself. As the team waits for prospects like George Springer why not see if Martinez can rediscover his swing? The question is if he is worth the risk to fantasy owners.
Let us not forget that it wasn’t long ago that Mrtinez hit .274 in 208 AB in his first taste of the Major Leagues. Prior to that, he was hitting .338 in 317 AB at Double-A. So, what happened?
The major difference was his ability to drive the ball with authority. At Double-A in’11 he posted a line drive rate of 27.5%. Upon being called up to the Majors he was at 25.2% (Minor League Central and Fangraphs calculate these numbers differently, as Fangraphs shows a 27.6% line drive rate). If we wanted to mark that number as believable or not, there was no questioning his ability to hit the ball and hit it well (his Double-A strikeout rate was 14.9%, which jumped to 21.2% in the Majors).
When we see a line drive rate in the Major Leagues of 15.7% (or 16.6% as per Fangraphs), there is little questioning why the numbers fell dramatically. While he does have some power upside, we all knew he wasn’t going to suddenly blossom into a 30 HR hitter. He needed to keep hitting the ball hard, and he simply didn’t do it.
Instead, he continually buried the ball into the ground, which, when coupled with the strikeout rate (21.9%), helped lead to the abysmal average.
Prior to the 2011 season Baseball America, who ranked him as the Astros’ sixth best prospect, said:
“A late bloomer physically, Martinez has added 20 pounds since signing, gaining strength for his unorthodox swing. He gets his front foot down early, lays the bat back and then unloads with good natural timing. Despite the front-foot approach, he recognizes pitches, stays back on breaking balls and squares up good pitches. His flat swing path means much of his power is to the gaps, and he projects to hit 35-40 doubles and 15-20 homers annually.”
You have to wonder if more exposure and film of his “unorthodox” swing helped teams learn how to get him out. Now, it is up to the Astros and Martinez to readjust (something they obviously couldn’t do in 2012) and get him back up and driving the baseball.
There are flukes in baseball, but you don’t hit the ball that hard for that long by accident. While 2012 was a major disappointment, we can’t just ignore the success he had in 2011. Is he going to be as good as many hoped in 2012? Who knows, but there is definite potential value as a post-hype sleeper.
In the later rounds, I wouldn’t be shy to roll the dice.
What are your thoughts of Martinez? Is there any hope he rebounds in 2012? Is he a player you would gamble on?
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