Fantasy Baseball: Jose Martinez is elevating the ball — and his game
Jose Martinez has always had the tools. Now, he's putting them to use, Chris Towers says.
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Baseball's scouting scale doesn't make much sense to the unacquainted — Why does it go "20 to 80?" — but it's a helpful way of thinking about players when analyzing them moving forward. Breaking a player down to his discreet skill sets and attempting to quantify what he does well is a useful exercise when judging future performance.
And one of the most helpful ways to do that is with power, which can be broken down quite easily into two categories: Raw power and game power. Raw power is, essentially asking: Just how strong are you? How far can you hit the ball in batting practice?
In-game power, however, is more about skill. How much can you tap into that raw power when the ball is moving 95 mph, not 65?
Which brings us to Jose Martinez.
Just looking at him, he should be a power hitter. Even for a professional athlete, he's a big dude, standing 6-foot-6 and typically towering over his teammates and competitors. Knowing nothing else about him except his size, you'd expect him to be a big-time power hitter. Maybe a 65 on the scouting scale. And a lot of data backs that up. He hits the ball hard.
However, up until this week, Martinez wasn't really hitting for much power. He consistently hit the ball hard, but he also entered play on June 6 with a .149 Isolated Slugging percentage, a below average rate that put him in the company of the likes of Odubel Herrera and Wilson Ramos. Those are fine hitters, but they aren't the hulking slugger types. Clearly, size and strength aren't everything.
And they aren't. We all know that. Approach matters too, and this was where Martinez didn't measure up. Martinez was showing plenty of skills that suggested elite production — a tremendous eye at the plate, strong contact skills, elite hard-hit rates — but his approach was holding him back. Here's his groundball rate by date this season:
Put simply, he was hitting the ball on the ground too often to maximize his gifts. Martinez was hitting the ball on the ground twice as often as he put it in the air through the first two months of the season. You can square the ball up and hit it as hard as you want, but it's not going over the wall if you can't even get it over the third baseman's head. It probably won't go for extra bases, either.
You can see Martinez's groundball rate peaked on May 22, at 53 percent, toward the end of a long slump that saw Martinez's OPS drop from 1.056 on April 12, to .805 on May 31. It's not that Martinez was bad in that stretch, but he was a 6-foot-6 slap hitter, putting up a .273/.343/.387 line over 39 games. He could help you in batting average for Fantasy, but it was a pretty empty average without power.
Martinez has, of course, been red hot since the start of June, hitting .531 with five homers and three doubles in nine games. And, based on everything I've written so far, you can probably figure out what happened: Martinez started hitting the ball in the air. A lot more. And the change in approach started even before the results started showing up.
With Martinez's groundball rate peaking on May 22, that feels like a good place to draw a line. He's played in 17 games since, and we can look at his 17-game rolling average for the season and see Martinez has traded a bunch of those grounders for a lot more balls in the air:
I've been consistently skeptical about Martinez for a lot of reasons this season, but his batted ball profile was the primary one. With his baserunning and defensive issues, Martinez was a candidate to start losing playing time if he was just a .280 hitter with minimal pop.
Now, with Martinez beginning to elevate the ball the way he should, he's not going anywhere. I'm starting to buy in to Martinez as a starting-caliber Fantasy first baseman.
His previous approach made him akin to a better version Yuli Gurriel in a worse lineup; this version could be St. Louis' version of Justin Turner. That's a big gap. And it's one he could sustain moving forward. That's a big deal. One you should buy into.
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