From Hero to Zero: Has The Clock Struck Midnight On J.D. Martinez & His Fantasy Appeal?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Last season J.D. Martinez was a fantasy hero, seemingly coming out of nowhere to hit .315 with 23 HR over 441 AB.  This season?  It appears that the clock has struck 12 and Cinderella has turned back into a pumpkin.  Entering play on Thursday he was hitting .226 with 6 HR and 15 RBI.  While the power has been there, that’s nearly the only positive thing we can say.

Of course we never would’ve expected his average to be repeatable, given his .389 BABIP (22.7% line drive rate) and 26.3% strikeout rate.  Both were major concerns, though the latter has regressed even further this season standing at 33.6%.  Martinez posted a 28.4% mark in the second half last season and it got worse as the year progressed:

  • July – 22.3%
  • August – 25.6%
  • September – 31.8%

His April mark of 29.2% fits right in, wouldn’t you say?

Interestingly his line drive rate is actually at 27.9%, so his .290 BABIP would appear to be unlucky.  You could also argue that his line drive rate is unsustainable, which would cancel out that argument.  Given his 0.00% line drive rate over his first four games of May, which easily could be the beginning of the regression.

So we have significant concerns about his average, luck or no luck, but what about the power?  In 2014 he posted an average distance on non-groundballs of 285.983.  So far in 2015 that has fallen all the way to 266.877.  That’s a significant dropoff and obviously calls into question his ability to maintain the power he’s shown, both in 2014 and thus far in 2015.

Unsurprisingly the problem has been against breaking balls and offspeed pitches:

  • Hard – .265 with 6 HR
  • Breaking – .120 with 0 HR
  • Offspeed – .231 with 0 HR

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that opponents have shifted their approach against him:

  • Hard – 58.8% in April, 47.9% in May
  • Breaking – 28.0% in April, 35.2% in May
  • Offspeed – 13.2% in April, 16.9% in May

Until he adjusts there is no reason for opposing pitchers to change their approach.  Sure he hit .301 against breaking balls last season, but he still hit just 3 HR (18 against hard pitches).  The fact is they aren’t going to, unless they have a reason to.

It’s too early to give up on Martinez, given his success from 2014, but we need to watch him closely.  If he can’t adjust and prove that he can hit something other than a fastball he’s going to be an extremely risky play.  Bench him?  Sure, that makes sense.  Give up on him altogether?  We just aren’t there, at least not yet.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Heat Maps, Brooks Baseball

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