Victor Martinez has been the best hitter in baseball this season.
Granted, that’s just an opinion that I’ve presented as fact, but he has a strong case. The strongest part of his case is that, at the time of this writing, he leads the MLB in both wOBA (.412) and wRC+ (167). There aren’t any better hitting metrics than those two, but in case you want more evidence, he’s also second in batting average (.337), first in on-base percentage (.407), second in slugging percentage (.575), 10th in isolated slugging percentage (.238) and second in total batting value behind only Mike Trout, thanks to a disparity of plate appearances. Victor Martinez has the same total batting value as Giancarlo Stanton and he’s come up to the plate 56 fewer times. That’s how good he’s been. He’s been so good, some have tossed his name around in the MVP discussion, despite serving primarily as a designated hitter. A DH has never won the MVP award.
But he has been much more than just a great hitter. He has been a downright fascinating hitter. One thing that really jumps out when looking at his numbers are his walks and strikeouts. He has the lowest strikeout rate in the MLB, at 6.5%. He also has a 10.7% walk rate. No other player in baseball has walked more than they’ve struck out this year. Victor has 22 more walks than strikeouts (not including his league-leading 25 intentional walks). His strikeouts and walks, as well as his still-elite bat speed, are things I touched upon when I wrote about Martinez for this site back in May. But that’s in the past. The contents of that post were remarkable because of the circumstances, e.g. his age, injuries and past as a catcher. The content that follows in this post is remarkable because of its place in history.
Martinez is currently running an 89% O-Contact rate, meaning nearly 90% of his swings at pitches outside the strike zone result in contact. That’s the highest mark in the league and it’s not even close. Only seven qualified batters are over 80%. Number two is Nick Markakis, nearly five full percentage points below Martinez. After Markakis are Jose Altuve, Dustin Pedroia, Denard Span and Kurt Suzuki. You may have noticed something about that list of names after Martinez. None of them hit for any power. The highest isolated slugging percentage to come from that group this year is actually Denard Span and his four home runs. Guys who make a habit of hitting pitches outside the strike zone are, more often than not, slapping them the other way. Martinez is absolutely crushing them.
We have PITCHf/x data dating back to 2007. Since then, Martinez doesn’t quite have the highest O-Contact%, but it’s close. He definitely doesn’t have the highest ISO. But when you put the two together, Martinez is in a league of his own.
Since 2007, there have been 1,193 qualified hitter-seasons. In an attempt to compare Martinez only to his peers, I’ve weeded out all hitters who fall outside the top 10% in O-Contact, leaving me with the 119 highest O-Contact rates since the beginning of the PITCHf/x era. Then, I plotted them against their ISO. You didn’t need the red text to identify where Martinez falls:
I’ve included the names of a few other outliers to help put this into perspective. Victor Martinez is making contact with pitches outside the zone like Juan Pierre and getting results like Troy Tulowitzki. It’s not totally unprecedented for him, either, as his 2010 season was the previous benchmark for high O-Contact, high power production, but this season truly stands out above the rest.
And it’s not like he’s particularly patient with which pitches he chases. His O-Swing rate is 33%, meaning he has chased pitches out of the zone at the exact same rate as Ryan Howard this year. Of those top 119 O-Contact seasons since 2007, you have to go all the way down to Ichiro at No. 21 to find someone with a higher O-Swing% than Martinez. If you can pull off the “swing at everything, make contact with everything, crush everything” approach – that’s usually a good strategy.
Where does the league’s best “bad-ball hitter” do the brunt of his damage? Mostly low-and-away:
Of the 30 lowest pitches hit for home runs this season, Martinez is responsible for four of them. No other hitter can say that. Much has been made of Mike Trout’s ability to crush the low ball, and even he only has three. Pablo Sandoval and Scooter Gennett each have two.
It’s not been uncommon this season to see Martinez hit homers on pitches like this:
Or this one, from the other side of the plate:
One more for good measure, off of Corey Kluber:
But when it comes to doing damage on pitches outside the strike zone, it’s not like he’s limited to the low ones. Martinez is also responsible for the 14th-highest pitch hit for a home run this season:
As well as the eighth-most inside pitch for a homer against a left-handed batter:
No pitch is safe against Victor Martinez.
Here’s one more little Victor nugget before we go: Martinez has hit seven home runs off pitches outside the strike zone this year. Of those seven, four have come in an 0-2 count. No other player in baseball has hit four home runs off any pitch in an 0-2 count this season, ball or strike. Look up. The second gif came in an 0-2 count. The fourth gif, even though the broadcast displayed it incorrectly, came in an 0-2 count. Even when you get ahead of Martinez 0-2 and throw him a good 0-2 pitch, he can still do damage against you. It’s not over until it’s over.
To wrap this up, here are the things that make Victor Martinez one of a kind:
- Lowest strikeout rate in baseball
- Only player in baseball to walk more than he strikes out, could strike out in 21 consecutive plate appearances and still be true
- Highest O-Contact rate in baseball by five percentage points
- Abnormally high O-Swing rate, given O-Contact rate
- Totally unprecedented combination of elite O-Contact and elite ISO
- More home runs on pitches less than 16 inches above the ground than anyone in baseball
- More home runs on balls in 0-2 counts than anyone has on balls+strikes in 0-2 counts
August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.