There was a time, not even one year ago, that it appeared Victor Martinez might be on his way down. For the better part of three months in 2013, VMart was terrible. He had no power and no position, a DH unable to produce much offense.
And then, suddenly, he was fine. Better than fine, really. Victor Martinez started the second half of the season and was good as new.
(Min 300 PA) Since the 2013 all-star break, what batter has the lowest strikeout rate? He has hit .357/.405/.507 during this stretch
— jasoncollette (@jasoncollette) April 10, 2014
Perhaps he was still recovering from the knee surgery that cost him all of 2012, but Martinez still carried a .226/.279/.326 line well into June, eventually finishing the first half with an OPS around .650 and only 5 home runs to his name.
Starting with a series against one of his former teams, the Boston Red Sox, something clicked for Martinez. Maybe a former teammate or coach saw something in his swing or the warmer weather agrees with his old bones. Whatever the reason, Martinez started hitting for power again and, as noted above, all but stopped striking out. Over the final 350 at bats of 2013, Martinez hit .354/.411/.504 with almost as many doubles (25) as strikeouts (29).
Martinez flashed his power stroke last night, taking Kenley Jansen deep in the tenth inning to plate the winning run in the Tigers 7-6 win over the Dodgers. VMart handled the Dodgers imposing closer the night before, as well. Martinez picked up a game-tying single against Jansen in the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s game, staying inside of a cutter on the outside part of the plate and driving it to center for a solid single.
During Martinez’s rebirth over the last half season of so, he’s made the most gains from the left side of the plate. Both his home runs this season came from the left side and overall he owns a .400 wOBA while only striking out seven times. 7 strikeouts in 186 plate appearances. His short swing and ability to put the bat on the ball have been evident his entire career, though his strikeout rates continue shrinking as he ages. To say nothing of his ability to produce high in-play averages in spite of his bulk and injury history – the man hits line drives.
Picking arbitrary endpoints to measure results doesn’t benefit anyone but in the case of a hitter with a long history of success, there could well be an element of “rounding into form” at play. The three months of struggle start to lose their predictive value when they’re dwarfed by high performance before and after.
Victor Martinez is a great hitter. Now that he’s healthy and showing he can still be a great hitter. Martinez even got the start behind the plate last night after only catching 22 innings in 2013.
With Prince Fielder gone, the Tigers are counting on Martinez to take advantage of all that hitting behind Miguel Cabrera provides. A healthy VMart is a productive VMart, something the Tigers need now more than ever.