J.D. Martinez is back. Through the first two weeks, Martinez is performing at a record-breaking level. According to Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora “He’s on a mission to prove people wrong,” You’d be hard-pressed to find a player who had a more frustrating season than J.D. Martinez in 2020. The shortened 60-game season had many of the game’s brightest stars, including Martinez pressing at the plate. Boston Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers was with Martinez every step of the way last year. Even Hyers acknowledged what was going through Martinez’s mind last season. “I’m trying to hit it a little farther. I’m trying to hit the big home run, and you come out of your mechanics. You’re not relaxed.”
In 2020 Martinez finished with a subpar slash line of .213/.291/.680. That is a far cry from his career averages of .291/.355/.887. 2021 is definitely a pivotal season for Martinez. He is set to prove that last season was more of a blip on the radar than an indicator of his prime ending. 2020 struggles didn’t stop Martinez from working, it actually motivated him. The offseason was all about putting in the work to work through mechanical and mental blocks.
It definitely seems like that motivation has worked. So far in the 2021 season, Martinez has been absolutely raking. Through April 11th Martinez is .472/.500/1.583 with 17 hits in only 36 at-bats. That line includes a three-home run game against the Baltimore Orioles where he sprayed one bomb to dead-center and two others to the opposite field. Red Sox fans know that when J.D is going dead-center with power, he’s locked in. So just what is the secret that has J.D. Martinez bouncing back so nicely from such a lackluster 2020? Let’s take a look.
Martinez is Back to Mashing Fastballs
J.D. Martinez has historically been dominant against the fastball. From 2015-2019 Stat Cast showed an average of .330 XBA, .676 XSLG, and an XWOBA of .452. In 2020 it was a different story for Martinez. The XBA became .230, the XSLG .475, and his XWOBA .278. Again, the 2020 season was a small sample size but there was something clearly wrong with Martinez’s approach at the plate.
According to Martinez himself, it was a mechanical issue with his hips that was the cause of him being uncharacteristically bad against the fastball in 2020. I’ve had very mobile hips, very loose hips and they’ve been kind of out of control. “It’s something I’m aware of, and it’s something I’m excited to get to the offseason and just grind the hell out of it.” He’s definitely shown that he has made the proper adjustment with his hips. Through his first 36 at-bats, Martinez has returned to his regular form against the fastball. He has a stunning .529 AVG. and an even 1.000 SLG against the fastball.
How else do we know that J.D. Martinez is really back? As the stats get broken down even further, we can see that Martinez is certainly back to hitting righties extremely hard. In 2020 he only slugged .387 against righties. He flat-out struggled. In 2021 however that percentage is at a whopping 1.240. Four of his five home runs have also come off of righties.
Student of the Game
It is also worth noting that in 2020 players were not able to view film during the game. For a player like Martinez, having that data in real-time was a big key for him. In 2020 he wasn’t able to make the in-game adjustments that he was used to. Luckily this year MLB has allowed players to use an Ipad in the dugout. It is widely known that Martinez utilizes the technology in batting practice and in games to be able to make the necessary adjustments to his swing. Again, we know that this is a small sample size overall and that no one has ever won the MVP in the first two weeks of the season. However, these early numbers are seeming to indicate that the old J.D. Martinez has returned to form.
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