J.D. Martinez Is Worth the Price

J.D. Martinez is the one, true elite bat on the market this winter. (Photo: Keith Allison)

Pitching and defense didn’t win in 2017. Offense did. Specifically, launching juiced balls into the air did.

That’s an oversimplification, of course. Charlie Morton played a significant role in winning two Game 7s. Justin Verlander was generally great. Pitching and defense were certainly part of it. But an examination of wRC+ and FanGraphs’ Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) statistic for 2017 playoff teams reveals a noteworthy finding.

Of the three clubs that won 100 games in the regular season and the two clubs that met in the World Series, each finished in the top four by FanGraphs’ Off and wRC+. The historically good Astros offense led the club to a World Series title.

This past season’s edition of the Astros now rank fourth all-time since in wRC+ since 1901, trailing only the 1927, 1930, and 1931 Yankees. They’re seventh in Offensive Runs Above Average.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Red Sox and Rockies stand out. They were, far and away, the poorest clubs by adjusted offense to reach the postseason. Neither played deep into October.

Consider the following table:

2017 Playoff Teams by Adjusted Offensive Performance
Team wRC+ Off Off (MLB) Rank
Astros 121 161.8 1
Yankees 108 72.9 2
Indians 107 61.9 3
Dodgers 104 40.7 4
Twins 102 28.4 5
Nationals 100 13.0 6
Cubs 101 -1.3 10
D-backs 95 -27.4 14
Red Sox 92 -56.7 21
Rockies 87 -110.9 27

While teams haven’t been willing to pay much for offense in free agency over the past year — only Yoenis Cespedes broke the $100 million mark among position-player bats last year while both Justin Turner and Edwin Encarnacion took around $65 million each in guaranteed dollars — or in acquiring it via trade (see: J.D. Martinez at the deadline), perhaps they should consider pursuing it more aggressively this winter.

If they do, the pursuit should likely be most aggressive for the one truly elite bat available on the free-agency market: J.D. Martinez.

Since 2015, Martinez ranks seventh in wRC+ (147). And it’s not as if he’s ancient. He’s entering his age-30 season. This is one Boras client where I’m buying the agent’s hyperbole — or, at least the nickname.

As he noted in conversation with with FanGraphs this past March, Martinez transformed himself by avoiding “fucking ground balls”, becoming one of the truly elite offensive forces in the game as a result.

While the slugging numbers are loud, his peripherals are also encouraging: last season he posted the highest walk percentage of his career (10.6%) and the lowest out-of-zone-swing rate (32.1%).

While a club might not like the performance on the back end of the deal, Martinez should nevertheless continue to be a force at the front. Dave ranked him as the No. 2 overall free agent, and I fully endorse that position. At the crowd’s five-year, $110-million median prediction, Martinez would be a deal for a club, I suspect.

The Red Sox are a natural fit given their expectation to win now, their willingness to pay for marquee names, and their need for offense. Martinez would be an excellent fit in Boston. And while the Yankees might have their eye on younger superstars in next year’s class, Martinez would be a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium II and its absurd right-field dimensions. After all, Martinez is an opposite-field fly-ball hitter.

Out of the 928 major-league hitters to put at least 90 air balls in play since 2015, Martinez ranks 145th in lowest pull percentage of fly balls and line drives (22.1%).

Here are all of Martinez’s line drives and fly balls from the 2015-17 seasons overlayed at Yankee Stadium:

And at Fenway Park, too, where he would likely gain a signficant amount of home runs to left but lose some to right:

Martinez seems like an AL fit, but there’s at least one intriguing NL spot, too.

While Martinez’s glove is a concern for NL teams, the Rockies are losing Carlos Gonzalez, and Ian Desmond would perhaps have more overall value were he to occupy an outfield position full-time. Gerardo Parra has a career 90 wRC+ and isn’t an ideal fit in a corner-outfield spot. Might Martinez be a worthy experiment at first base in Denver? The Rockies were willing to attempt such a transition with Desmond, though he was a better athlete. If not Martinez, perhaps Carlos Santana — arguably the second-best bat in the class — ought to be of interest. The Rockies had the 17th-highest payroll last season and Gonzalez’s contract comes off the books.

While Martinez’s glove doesn’t have an ideal fit in the NL, the Rockies ranked last in baseball in Offensive Runs Above Average in right field and first base.

For any club with playoff aspirations in need of offense — and the Rockies might be at the top of the list –Martinez could very well be worth a significant contract.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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Isn’t 5/100 the baseline minimum for JD Martinez? Why is that the median? Fucking ground balls.