If it seems like J.D. Martinez has been around for a while, then you are not alone. Martinez came up in 2011, briefly took the Astros by storm, and has been fighting an uphill battle for success ever since.
After batting .274 with six home runs and 35 RBI’s in 53 games after making his debut, Martinez opened up 2012 batting in the heart of Houston’s lineup. The outfielder was counted on to be a middle of the order run producer, but that didn’t last long.
Martinez battled injuries and poor performance and hit .241 in 113 games with 11 home runs and 55 RBI’s. After that disappointing campaign, Martinez was on the outside of the Astros outfield competition entering 2013. He ultimately found his way on to the roster thanks to an injury, and then had health problems of his own to deal with.
Struggling through 2013 and hitting just .250 in 86 games with seven home runs and 36 RBI’s, Martinez was moved off the 40-man roster this winter to make room for some of the Astros’ new additions. The 26-year old ended up clearing waivers and is back in camp with Houston for 2014. Martinez is still in the outfield mix but will have to fight an uphill battle to make the team on Opening Day.
Just because Martinez has struggled through three seasons with Houston, it doesn’t mean we should totally discount him. To that end, the outfielder took the necessary steps this off-season to remake himself and turn around his career.
You have to give Martinez credit for recognizing this as his career has gone sideways since a strong debut. The fact that he is still just 26 years old means he still has some time to figure it all out. This doesn’t mean he will ever be an elite outfielder, but it is possible that Martinez can still put together a solid career.
The two things Martinez needs to truly improve on is hitting line drives and striking out less. In 2011 his line drive rate was 27.6% and it dropped to 16.6% and 21.7% in each of the subsequent two seasons. His strikeouts also increased from 21.2% to 21.9% to 26.5% last year.
It sounds like Martinez is at least taking steps in the right direction as some progress was made this winter regarding his swing.
“The way it hit me was when I saw the slow-motion video and looked at how many frames — I call them clicks — when your bat is in the zone, and you watch some of the great hitters and they’re in the zone for six, eight clicks and you’re like, ‘Wow,’” he said. “I was in the zone, at my best, two or three clicks.
“I looked at guys like Jason and [Jose] Altuve and the adjustments they made, and they’re in the zone five to six [clicks]. There it is. If you’re in the zone longer, you have more margin for error. That’s really all I worked on the entire offseason and getting some kind of rhythm into it.”
Astros hitting coach John Mallee said Martinez’s swing was too sloped, which didn’t allow him to get on plane with the pitch and stay there. Mallee lowered his hands at his launch and did different things to help him get on plane with the pitch sooner, helping his bat stay in the zone longer.
Incorporating changes like that will serve to increase his line drive rate and also cut down the strikeouts. This should help Martinez to recreate the success he had early in his career.
The success Martinez had in winter ball this year should help push the outfielder in the right direction. In 24 games Martinez hit .312 with six home runs and 18 RBI’s. Carrying this momentum forward should help J.D. make the Astros in 2014. This is the type of performance that makes winter ball such a useful tool for some players.
“I went down there to work on trying my new swing, what I’ve been working on all offseason,” he said. “Venezuela is supposed to be one of the better leagues to go, and that’s where I wanted to go off the bat. I really just enjoyed playing down there. It was fun. They had good baseball, and the fans were great. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”