J.D. Martinez’s Hot Start Seems Legitimate

J.D. Martinez is one of baseball’s hottest hitters right now — he’s hit six home runs in his last eight games, and ranks among the MLB’s top three in batting average (.343), home runs (15) and RBI (41) this season.

Martinez also leads the MLB in BABIP (batting average on balls in play), the infamous harbinger of regression, with a .402 mark. A BABIP in the .400s almost always signifies oncoming regression, but Martinez may avoid that because he’s hitting the ball hard more often than any other player and he’s been spraying the ball across fields.

Let’s also recognize that while .402 is a crazy high BABIP, it’s down from .427 just a week ago. The dip didn’t affect his counting numbers at all. In that week, Martinez racked up nine hits, five homers and eight RBI.

Martinez’s standard numbers aren’t dipping with his BABIP in part because he hits the ball very hard, very often. According to MLB.com Statcast data, Martinez hits the ball 95 mph or higher 59.1 percent of the time, the top mark in the MLB. He also hits the ball with an average exit velocity of 95.8 miles per hour, good for fourth in baseball behind Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge and Miguel Cabrera.

Additionally, Martinez barrels the ball up in 14.9 percent of his plate appearances, second in baseball only to teammate Mookie Betts (15.6). His line drive percentage is 23.6, on pace for his career-high for a full season.

In short, he hits the ball really hard. But also, he doesn’t hit the ball soft. This might seem redundant at first, but seriously, his soft-contact rate is glaringly low compared to the rest of the league. I included Betts in the chart to show some perspective.

Ranking Player Soft%
1 J.D. Martinez 4.7
2 Bryce Harper 6.6
3 Joey Votto 7.4
16 Mookie Betts 11.5

Courtesy: Baseball Info Solutions

This means that Martinez is hitting the ball at a medium- or hard-contact rate over 95 percent of the time he makes contact.

Not only is the 30-year-old outfielder hitting the ball hard, he’s hitting them to the opposite field, too. Now, I won’t say all fields, because he’s not hitting it into centerfield as much, but his opposite-field percentage (36.2) is second in baseball to Cincinnati’s Scooter Gennett (37.7). Over the last couple of years, Martinez has steadily leveled out his field distribution.

Year Pull% Oppo%
2014 44.9 22.1
2015 41.1 24.2
2016 40.4 23.7
2017 38.3 28.9
2018 37 36.2

Martinez’s opposite-field percentage took a five percent leap in his career year last season, when he batted .303 with 45 home runs and 104 RBI. The percentage has seen yet a larger increase in 2018, where he’s on pace to eclipse all three of those figures.

And while Martinez’s BABIP is high, that figure can be neutralized with sky-high hard contact numbers and effective field distribution: two figures that display much more skill than luck. If Martinez continues to hit the ball hard and spray his hits, he’ll likely be able to avoid regression and surpass his outstanding 2017 campaign.

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