J.D. Martinez on His Many Adjustments

J.D. Martinez is a thoughtful baseball player who has made major changes to his swing mechanics. As much as writing is what gets me out of bed on Monday mornings, it seems a shame to sully this one with too much of my own clumsy verbiage. So what follows is just J.D. Martinez, running us through the myriad realizations and swing changes he’s made since he was once a struggling Astro. Of course, there are a few edits and moving pictures.

“I used to always think, ‘Hit down on the baseball.’ But then I realized that’s not what everyone else is doing.

“When I got hurt in 2013, I was watching Jason CastroHe changed his swing plane, and that’s when I noticed him doing it and I was like, Whoa. What’s this guy doing differently? When I started watching it and asking questions, I got intrigued by it. Then I was injured, so I just went to my computer and started looking up everybody’s swing.

Castro tried to add more loft to his swing in 2013 (right) after not showing enough power in 2012 (left).

“At first I thought maybe it was just Castro. Then I went into the weight room, and that was when Ryan Braun was going through the PED scandal. They were showing all of Ryan Braun’s swings on ESPN over and over. And then it just hit me: there it is again. I went back to the video after the game, and stayed an hour after the game, just looking everyone’s swings up on video. Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Braun, Allen Craig, all these guys. I started out with Braun, because he’s one of the game’s best hitters.

Jump to the halfway point for a slow-mo of Miggie’s hands.

“I was blown away. This is it, this is it, right here. My swing does not look anything like this — the way it comes into the zone. I’m going to concentrate on that. And by concentrating on that, I ended up having to change every little thing.

“The new swing almost feels like an uppercut. Hands drop down to the zone instead of coming up before the pitch.

Watch Martinez swing down on the ball in 2012 (left) and drop his hands more in 2014 (right).

“I had to change my step because it was kind of causing me to do other things. When I figured out how I wanted my path to work, I had to be in the zone as long as possible. If I get my foot down earlier, I’m going to send the bat earlier.

“I have my hands so high, they have to come back down. If I bring my hands down a little more, I can be more into that slot that I need to be. Trickle effect. You fix one thing, it’s a ripple effect. You have to fix other things so that things line up.

Cliff Floyd focused on the toe-tap on MLB Network, but that was step two.

“People are like, ‘Oh they’re pitching you differently this year.’ They’re really not. They’re pitching me the same as they did last year, I just went through a rough patch. I was 0-for-20-something with 19 punchouts. Take away that and my numbers are good. It happens; it’s part of baseball. I’m not worried about it.

Season Team FB% SL% CT% CB% CH% SF%
2014 Tigers 48.7% (92.1) 20.3% (83.4) 7.3% (87.7) 9.3% (78.2) 12.0% (82.9) 1.8% (85.3)
2015 Tigers 52.4% (91.8) 20.4% (84.0) 7.8% (88.7) 8.9% (77.6) 8.7% (83.3) 1.7% (85.5)
Total – – – 53.2% (91.8) 19.8% (83.4) 6.4% (88.0) 9.9% (77.2) 8.9% (82.5) 1.5% (85.0)

“I overdid the changes a bit in the offseason — trying to be so perfect with my swing — that I ended up taking away stuff that was good. I stopped my hands from moving. Last year, I kept my hands moving. So this year, when I was going through that funk, that was one thing we noticed. My hands were moving less than last year, and that movement got me more into my rhythm and timing.

Martinez put a little movement back into his hands late in 2015 (right) after a poor stretch early in 2015 (left).

“I’m glad that stretch happened now, because I don’t think I would have been able to make that fix without it. Now my swing is built to try and get the ball in the air.”

Years GB/FB LD% HR/FB PULL% Hard%
2012-2013 1.49 18.7% 10.7% 35.5% 29.5%
2014-2015 1.00 23.6% 18.3% 44.2% 42.3%

That’s the story of how Martinez — once a dark horse for the Rule 5 draft — followed a string of changes that started with his hands, traveled to his feet, returned to his hands and helped him find his way to being one of the premier power hitters in the game. And it’s all because of one day in the weight room when Ryan Braun was on the television and Martinez was trying to figure out how to get better.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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baltic wolfmember
8 years ago

Nice piece. So lucky I was able to pick him up last year in both an AL only format and a 16 team league. FG alerted me to the change in his swing and when I checked his minor league stats after he was called up I jumped on the opportunity.

BTW, that’s not Harold Reynolds. Doesn’t look like him, and definitely not the same voice.