Can Free Agent Victor Martinez Have A Repeat Performance?
On the list of “Best Hitters in Baseball,” Martinez’s name is overlooked as his numbers have never wowed. He has one silver slugger under his belt, received in 2004 as a member of the Cleveland Indians, but more time at first base and designated hitter has forced comparisons to the elite hitters in baseball. With two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera batting behind him in Detroit, nobody expected Vic-Mart to out slug a triple crown winner. Martinez did in his free agent season, but at 36, what will the reward be?
Martinez finished second in the AL with a .335 batting average, posted a career-best 32 home runs, drove in 103 RBIs, and had a BB/K rate of 1.67. This season was historic as he was just the second switch hitter over the age of 30 to hit 30-plus home runs and bat over .300 while accumulating more walks than strikeouts in Major League history. The first was Reggie Smith in 1977. Smith nearly repeated the feat by batting .295 with 29 home runs the following season, but hit just 44 home runs the remainder of his big league career after 1978. At 36, time will eventually run out on Victor Martinez’s career, but when?
A player peaks at age 32. Then, a gradual decline in offensive production is expected. A player must have a .330 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in order to maintain a .300 batting average. Zone contact percent is an indicator of strikeout rates with an 84.3% z-contact rate expected to produce a 20% strikeout rate.
Victor Martinez posted a .316 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) this season, identical to his career numbers. Based on this, a .284 batting average is expected over the course of a season, as well as his career. With a lifetime batting average of .306, Martinez has been luckier than most and a .335 batting average is tantamount to being struck by lightning from the baseball gods.
On the wrong side of 30, his batting average will inevitably regress with age and a loss of bat speed. As this happens, strikeouts will increase too. The switch hitter posted a 95% Zone Contact rate which should yield a 10.1% strikeout rate. Instead, he whiffed at a 6.6% clip (which made him the toughest batter in 2014 to strikeout). With a career strikeout rate of 10.4% and zone contact percentage of 92.7%, the numbers have always correlated. Over 600 plate appearances, one can expect 25-30 more strikeouts. And while this seems insignificant, it will bring down Martinez’s numbers across the board.
Last year, Martinez posted a FB% of 38.3%. Luck played a part in his home run prowess too. To hit 30 home runs, a hitter has to hit fly balls at a 48.8% rate (give or take). Over Martinez’s career, he has averaged a 36.3% FB%, hitting 189 home runs in 12 seasons. Similar to his contact rates, the top free agent’s power production has been in line with what the percentages indicate. If his fly ball rate is 38.3% again, Martinez should his 21 home runs, not 30-plus.
What’s Victor Martinez’s Value Going Forward?
Heading into free agency, teams will evaluate Martinez and come to the conclusion his 2014 season was due to a combination of luck and skill given the peripherals and more teams using advanced statistics to gauge player value. Fantasy Baseball owners can do the same and decide whether or not the MVP candidate is worthy of a high round pick or keeper consideration. In dynasty leagues, older players are dealt for pennies on the dollar regardless of production. This leaves owners with a decision to make — ride out an aging player’s post prime years or take a mid-level prospect in return and cut the chord.
Ultimately, Reggie Smith is a strong comparison and Martinez and owners need to take note. The former Dodgers All-Star continued to hit well, but never played more than 128 games again. In his final four MLB seasons, he reached 100 games played just once. The ability to be the designated hitter helps with longevity, but older players break down regardless. If in need of a solid contributor for 2015, Martinez is worth an investment. Just don’t expect Victor Martinez to be the centerpiece of a fantasy baseball championship again.
8 Oct 2014 / Edward Sutelan /
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