Last season J.D. Martinez came out of the gates strong. It was a nice continuation of the success he had after being promoted to the major leagues in 2011. The Astros were counting on him to be a run producer in the middle of their lineup, and it looked like he was going to deliver. Unfortunately, he had some health problems and the end result was a disappointing .241 average with only 11 HR and 55 RBI.
J.D. Martinez (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
Entering this season, Martinez quickly became a forgotten man in the Astros’ outfield discussions. Until Fernando Martinez came up with a back injury, J.D. was ticketed for AAA.
Given a new lease on life quicker than expected, Bo Porter placed Martinez right in the middle of the order and the results were mixed. He showed some flashes as he did last season, but was also pulled mid-game for making a mental error at the plate. But even despite that, and a .244 average, J.D. was showing just enough to stay in the lineup until a knee injury landed him on the disabled list.
But a .244 average to go along with a .271 on base percentage and only two home runs was not enough to generate much optimism for Martinez’s return. The problem though, is that the Astros really do not have many run producing threats, and Martinez (along with Carlos Pena) are the only bats with a track record. Even though in Martinez’s case it was only for half a season.
Perhaps the stint on the disabled list and the subsequent rehab stay in the minor leagues was just what Martinez needed. At this point, he has nothing more to prove in the minor leagues with his .333 average and consistent home run and doubles production. The window for Martinez to earn a consistent role and playing time is closing as the Astros top prospects are getting closer.
The Astros have been a team in flux all season with the exception of Jose Altuve and Matt Dominguez. That was until two weeks ago when Porter announced that the Astros outfield would consist of the same three players on a daily basis. It could be temporary, but it seems to have sparked Martinez.
Since his return, there has been no mistaking the results. Porter’s decision to make Martinez part of the everyday outfield appears to have done wonders for his approach. Martinez has been able to take a more consistent approach at the plate and it has shown in his production.
After returning to Houston on May 7, Martinez has seen his average climb from .244 to .261. More importantly, his slugging percentage went from .444 to .511. In that time Martinez hit three home runs, including one in each of the last two games. Starting with Porter’s announcement on May 13, the left fielder has been on fire.
Starting with his two hit night against the Tigers, Martinez has 3 HR and 10 RBI with a .364 batting average. Martinez has two hits in each of the last three games and is becoming a serious threat in the middle of the lineup.
Based on his minor league track record, this is something that he can expect to continue. Of course he has struck out 22.7% of the time, but that is more of the norm these days for both the Astros and baseball as a whole. Obviously, Martinez will not continue to hit .364, and you can expect him to hit more in the .270-.280 range. However, that should not stop him from still driving in some runs.
The two stats that stand out to me, are his line drive rate and home run to fly ball ratio. Martinez is only hitting line drives at a rate of 19.7% which should make it difficult for him to continue this level of success. Also his home run rate of 17.6% is on the high side for his past and does not seem to be sustainable.
As long as Martinez continues producing, his role is secure. And even better than that, the Astros are competitive and winning some games. Martinez has been a big part of that recent success. He will continue to drive in runs, but he will cool down some.