J.D. Martinez must rediscover his lost bat speed to excel again for Red Sox

John Tomase
·2 min read

Tomase: Was 2020 just a hiccup for J.D. Martinez or something bigger? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

* Throughout this month, we'll put a member of the 2020 Red Sox and one of their most notable statistics under the microscope while assessing their season and what lies ahead. Today's installment: J.D. Martinez. 

.186

If there's one thing J.D. Martinez can do, it's hit a fastball. He hit .366 against them with a Bondsian .838 slugging percentage in 2017. A year later he joined the Red Sox and hit .361 against fastballs with 26 home runs. The 2019 season saw a tiny regression to .318 with a .574 slugging percentage, but the real shocker came in this truncated 2020 season.

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Martinez hit just .186 against fastballs while slugging .372. Those are basically Jacob deGrom numbers, but as a hitter, not a pitcher. So did Martinez really lose that much bat speed, or are his problems fixable? The answer will go a long way towards determining the effectiveness of the 2021 Red Sox offense.

What went right for Martinez in 2020

Uh, how about nothing? He hit just .213 with a .680 OPS. Let's not pretend there was anything redeemable about his season. At least he didn't opt out of his contract.

What went wrong for Martinez in 2020

How about everything? We've already discussed fastballs, but Martinez's failures extended off the field, where he whined about the lack of in-game video. The rest of baseball made an adjustment that he apparently considered a bridge too far, leading former manager Ron Roenicke to intervene early on in an attempt to get Martinez's head right.

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Martinez battled his mechanics all season, and his average exit velocity dropped below 90 mph for the first time since Statcast started tracking pitches in 2015.

Early outlook for 2021

OK, this is a little scary. Martinez chose not to opt out of his contract because he didn't see a market developing. This should be good news for the Red Sox, who retain one of their most thunderous bats, but he'll merely be a $20 million albatross if he repeats his struggles.

Missing in Action

J.D. Martinez's career-worst batting average in 2020, the first time since 2013 that he batted below .280

.213

Variation

Single

Still, let's give the 33-year-old the benefit of the doubt and assume that a more normal offseason, the return of manager Alex Cora, and experience without in-game video puts him a better mental place. In that case, he's probably the best DH in baseball and the Red Sox offense will be lucky to have him.