What’s Changed for J.D. Martinez?

Before the 2012 season, some folks drafted J.D. Martinez as a deep sleeper, coming off a decent debut with the Astros in 2011 and a solid minor league profile. He went on to slug only 11 HR in 439 PA and hit a disappointing .241/.311/.375.  What went wrong? Well, he pounded the ball into the ground at a 51.8 % clip. His line drive % dropped to 16.6 % and he hit only 31.6 % flyballs. It’s hard to hit HR’s and hit for average with that kind of batted ball profile.

He got demoted to AA after failing to impress in 2013 and got injured. This year, for the Tigers, he mashed in AAA, was called up in late April, and has already hit 7 HR’s in only 117 PA with a .312/.342/.596 batting line. So what has changed? Small samples aside, his batted ball profile for 2014 looks like this: 26.3% LD, 38.8% GB, 35.0 % FB. Remember when he was pounding the ball into the ground over 50% of the time? Now, it’s down to only 38.8%. His BABIP is unsustainable at .370, but his healthy 26.3% line drive rate should help keep it above .300. That should help his batting average. His flyball rate has increased ever so slightly to 35.0%. That still isn’t that good for a power hitter, as a league average HR/FB% would put him in the low 20’s for HR output over a full season. Right now, he has an unsustainable 25.0% HR/FB, so I would expect that HR pace to slow down a bit. However, he can still be a productive fantasy outfielder.

Look what he used to do in 2012 to pitches thrown in the upper half of the strike zone, particularly on pitches up and on the inner half of the strike zone for a right handed batter.

J.D. Martinez GB/P vs All Pitchers
Season: 2012 | Count: All | Total Pitches: 1641 | Viewpoint: Batter
0 %
3 %
0 %
6 %
5 %
7 %
9 %
9 %
12 %
4 %
0 %
24 %
14 %
16 %
11 %
11 %
13 %
7 %
1 %
27 %
20 %
15 %
15 %
9 %
11 %
6 %
1 %
2 %
11 %
19 %
15 %
18 %
14 %
12 %
8 %
4 %
2 %
7 %
13 %
23 %
20 %
18 %
18 %
10 %
7 %
3 %
8 %
18 %
26 %
17 %
15 %
12 %
5 %
0 %
3 %
10 %
18 %
17 %
11 %
6 %
3 %
0 %
2 %
12 %
14 %
12 %
9 %
4 %
1 %
0 %
3 %
0 %

Yes, he was pounding those pitches into the ground. Pitches up in the zone were inducing ground balls. Even pitches thrown down the middle and low were inducing ground balls.

Now look at which pitches are inducing ground balls from him in 2014:

J.D. Martinez GB/P vs All Pitchers
Season: 2014 | Count: All | Total Pitches: 451 | Viewpoint: Batter
0 %
0 %
0 %
0 %
3 %
5 %
0 %
0 %
0 %
0 %
0 %
0 %
2 %
8 %
2 %
0 %
0 %
0 %
0 %
4 %
5 %
7 %
3 %
4 %
5 %
3 %
0 %
0 %
12 %
9 %
18 %
9 %
7 %
20 %
14 %
4 %
5 %
18 %
14 %
9 %
9 %
9 %
15 %
29 %
12 %
16 %
16 %
16 %
4 %
12 %
14 %
10 %
15 %
5 %
10 %
21 %
6 %
5 %
13 %
5 %
0 %
0 %
0 %
10 %
6 %
3 %
11 %
4 %
0 %
0 %
0 %
0 %

This year, it’s the inside and away, lower half pitches that are inducing most ground balls. So while his FB% has only gone up by a few percentage points, his GB% has dramatically lowered and the location of pitches inducing ground balls has changed to a more reasonable area, allowing him to drive the ball when pitches are thrown to other areas of the strike zone.

Now let’s look at where he likes to hit the ball for power:

J.D. Martinez SLG/P vs All Pitchers
Season: 2012 | Count: All | Total Pitches: 1641 | Viewpoint: Batter
.000
.000
.000
.020
.118
.216
.228
.055
.040
.014
.000
.056
.161
.224
.159
.065
.017
.008
.000
.101
.178
.272
.154
.102
.070
.035
.000
.000
.167
.129
.190
.184
.151
.124
.111
.061
.018
.067
.117
.255
.208
.228
.107
.080
.091
.053
.145
.236
.232
.157
.097
.054
.056
.051
.067
.206
.213
.131
.042
.043
.028
.017
.012
.078
.193
.116
.032
.013
.018
.000
.029
.000

In 2012, he loved the inner half of the plate, from top to bottom. It’s too bad a lot of those balls thrown up and in were pounded into the ground, as well as balls thrown down the middle and low.

In 2014, let’s see where he likes the ball thrown:

J.D. Martinez SLG/P vs All Pitchers
Season: 2014 | Count: All | Total Pitches: 451 | Viewpoint: Batter
.000
.000
.000
.250
.533
.200
.000
.000
.000
.000
.000
.217
.180
.078
.000
.083
.129
.000
.000
.231
.357
.104
.102
.167
.277
.143
.000
.000
.104
.175
.141
.213
.321
.211
.156
.036
.000
.114
.203
.329
.291
.370
.194
.119
.062
.243
.159
.370
.371
.370
.309
.097
.050
.095
.175
.170
.149
.160
.155
.143
.034
.000
.400
.762
.121
.029
.089
.036
.022
.000
.000
.000

He still likes the ball thrown on the inner half but also the middle outer half, as well. Being that he no longer is pounding those balls thrown up and in into the ground, this bodes well for his future. His ability to drive balls thrown on the outer half of the strike zone is an improvement as well.

Looking at his spray charts, he hit almost all his HR’s in 2o12 to the pull side. In 2014, he already has three HR’s to the opposite field. Two HR’s were pulled just inside the foul pole, so maybe that helps explain the 25% HR/FB rate. At any rate, whatever mechanical changes he has made seems to be having a positive impact on his batted ball profile and ability to hit for power throughout the entire strike zone, thus allowing him to go opposite field, as well. This bodes well for his batting average and slugging percentage, despite his overall contact% and z-contact% remaining relatively unchanged from 2012, as the quality of contact has improved. His plate discipline is still atrocious and he is a very aggressive hitter, but at least when he does make contact, he makes it count. While his HR pace is unsustainable at the moment, it is quite possible that we are witnessing the transformation of J.D. Martinez into a serviceable major league regular.



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