We're four days away from honest-to-goodness spring training games, and finally the biggest free agent domino has fallen.
J.D. Martinez, quite possibly the best hitter in baseball at-bat for at-bat last year, has signed with the Red Sox.
For a relative bargain, too, considering he was, ahem, quite possibly the best hitter in baseball at-bat for at-bat last year. I keep saying it because it's true. He homered once every 10.87 plate appearances. Giancarlo Stanton, who you may recall finished with 59 home runs, homered once every 11.73. Among hitters with at least 400 at-bats, here's where Martinez ranked in Head-to-Head points per game:
Now granted, last year's 45 home runs were an outlier for a player who had only once previously topped 25, but injuries are largely to blame for that. And it's not like he's just some one-note hitter either, if the last four seasons tell us anything:
Nope, the guy's a stud.
The question is whether signing with the Red Sox will allow him to return second-round value, which is how he's being drafted, or, better yet, first-round value, which is how he actually performed last year.
My feeling is it couldn't hurt.
Some credit Josh Donaldson for the start of the fly-ball revolution. Others cite Daniel Murphy. But Martinez went down that path long before it was a trendy thing to do, his 43.2 percent fly-ball rate last year ranking among the top 25 in baseball. It was the key to his turnaround in 2014, the year that took him from Astros castoff to Tigers fixture with the help of hitting gurus Craig Wallenbrock and Robert Van Scoyoc.
A right-handed hitter known for elevating the ball seems like a perfect fit for a park whose left field fence is close but high. Here's the requisite spray chart overlay, courtesy Baseball Savant:
If the maroon dots are the actual home runs, I count what might have been 10 more with the help of the Green Monster. And while I suspect this overlay doesn't account for the height of the fence, it's also worth pointing out that any potential home runs that are stopped by the Green Monster are still going for hits, possibly of the extra-base variety. What this move has definitively done is raise Martinez's expected BABIP, upping his batting average potential, and it least has a chance of upping his home run potential as well.
It's worth noting that the two maroon dots he's losing in straightaway right also would have fallen short at Chase Field, where it's also worth noting everybody's fly balls may soon fall short. Though it's historically a more hitter-friendly park than Fenway, the front office'sthis season is expected to flip the script, skewing the numbers to the point of pitcher-friendliness. Martinez had the time of his life there in the second half last year, which probably had some Fantasy owners rooting for his return, but it would introduce an element of uncertainty far greater than Fenway's wacky dimensions. Yes, of the two places Martinez could have realistically wound up, this one is the more promising.
And I shouldn't sell short the American League aspect either. He's expected to serve primarily as a DH with the Red Sox, which should counteract his greatest flaw: staying on the field. Nelson Cruz is one example of an outfielder who spent the prime of his career in and out of the lineup before finding stability as a near full-time DH. Now, at 37, his Fantasy value is as high as ever.
Even if Martinez regresses to his numbers from 2014 through 2016, just being in the lineup for 145 games would probably be enough for him to return second-round value. Shoot, only once has he played even 125 games. Maybe it means Hanley Ramirez's playing time is in jeopardy with first base now being the former Marlins' only recourse, but who cares?
Maybe last year was too good to be true for Martinez -- law of averages says, yes, it was -- but seeing as it was only five-sixths of a season, you could also make the case that the best is yet to come. Maybe not in terms of percentages, but overall production? It's possible -- more possible than ever with his move to DH. And that makes today's decision something to celebrate.