Mookie Betts was the league MVP, but designated hitter J.D. Martinez could very well be the 2018 Red Sox team MVP. One of the smartest hitters in the league, Martinez perfectly filled the void left by David Ortiz and established himself as arguably the best power hitter in all of baseball. Martinez was a godsend in 2018, but can he continue his godlike play in 2019?
Boston Red Sox 2019 Preview: J.D. Martinez
J.D. Martinez had a memorable debut season with the Boston Red Sox, posting a .330/.402/.629 slash line with a 170 wRC+. His 43 home runs were most on the Red Sox are ranked among the top hitters in the league. Despite offering little in the field and on the bases, Martinez still managed to finish fourth in the MVP voting.
While these numbers were somewhat inflated by an unsustainably-high .375 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), Martinez was an absolute monster at the plate. On top of the traditional stats, Martinez’ underlying peripherals backed up his great season. His strikeout rate was the lowest it’s been since 2012 and he made hard or medium contact 88.1% of the time.
Interestingly, his ground ball rate was actually higher than it had been since 2013. Martinez had a 43.5% ground ball rate, compared to just a 34.0% fly ball rate. Martinez should improve on this in 2019, so he actually has room to improve in 2019.
Martinez won’t get as lucky with batted balls this season, so he’ll need to find a way to protect against that natural regression to the mean. The best way to do that is by putting the ball in the air on a more consistent basis. Now, it obviously sounds strange to criticize a guy who just hit 43 homers for hitting too many ground balls, but understand that this is all nitpicking. Martinez is going to be a great hitter, regardless of BABIP luck, but he can improve on his ground ball rate.
Additionally, Martinez not nearly as prolific on the bases or with the glove. At age 31, there’s not much chance that Martinez ever develops into an elite baserunner or fielder. However, he should work on being more cautious on the bases, as he ran into quite a few outs last year. Ideally, the Red Sox won’t have to rely on his glove very much, but he still is the fourth outfielder at the moment. Boston doesn’t need Martinez to be elite in the field, but they’d like him to be at least an average fielder.
Steamer Projections has Martinez finishing the year with a .297/.371/.568 slash line and a 146 wRC+. His slugger percentage and wRC+ would be the second best in the league, only behind Mike Trout. These numbers are less than what he did last year, but expecting him to be that good for a second straight season is asking a lot.
In my eyes, this projection sounds just about right. As previously mentioned, Martinez was assisted by some considerable batted ball luck last season. Additionally, his ground ball rate was his highest in years, so his numbers shouldn’t have been as good as they were.
That said, it’s totally possible for Martinez to regress and still be among the best two or three hitters in the league. Martinez can hit for average and power to all three portions of the field, making him one of the most complete bats in the league. He’ll be in Boston for at least one more season, and his bat should help the Red Sox defend their World Series title.
We asked the crowd, and Red Sox Twitter by and large agrees with this assessment.
Steamer Projections says JD Martinez will be baseballs second-best hitter in 2019. Do you guys agree?
— Red Sox Unfiltered (@bosoxunfiltered) January 1, 2019