Through his first 10 games played of the 2013 season, Victor Martinez has more stitches in his hand (8) than hits (5). If his unfortunate run-in with a bat rack doesn't say enough about his rough start to the season, his batting line does. In 44 plate appearances, Victor is hitting a paltry .132/.227/.132 with three RBI. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .143, well below his career mark of .314.
Here's the 13 million dollar question: is Victor just getting unlucky, or is there something wrong with the 34-year-old designated hitter?
Normally, we wouldn't be so worried about a player with Martinez's track record starting off the season slowly, but with recent drop-offs from aging stars like Albert Pujols, Roy Halladay, and the entire New York Yankees roster, it's worth exploring whether Martinez might be starting to hit the end of his career. The fact that he missed the entire 2012 season with a torn ACL doesn't help.
One encouraging aspect of Martinez's slow start is that his plate discipline hasn't suffered in the process. He has taken five walks to just four strikeouts, and is swinging at just 17.4% of pitches outside the strike zone in 2013. He has only swung at 35.9% of all pitches that he has seen so far, and seems to be taking a few more pitches than usual. Perhaps the most encouraging sign is that Martinez's swinging strike percentage is just 2.3%, well below his career mark of 5.2%.
So Martinez has put the ball in play in all but nine of his plate appearances, but what does this mean? Given the small sample size, not much, but let's play along anyway.
Martinez's ground ball percentage on batted balls is just 29%, well below his career average of 43.1%. Ground balls are the least likely type of batted ball to be turned into a hit -- especially for someone as slow as Martinez -- so it's encouraging that he isn't hitting very many of them.
Martinez's line drive percentage is 19.4%, slightly below his career mark of 20.6%. By comparison, his line drive rate was 24.2% in 2011, which probably explains why he had such a great year.
At 51.6%, his fly ball percentage is well above his career norm of 36.3%. However, the term "fly ball" can have several meanings. Did he hit a lazy pop up to the shortstop? Was the ball swallowed up by Comerica Park's deep center field? Did the outfielder make a spectacular catch at the wall to rob him of extra bases?
In order to explore this further, I watched all of Martinez's at bats on the young season and have grouped the plays into four categories: line drives (LD), warning-track shots/Comerica outs (COPA), great defensive plays (WHY), and pop outs/lazy fly balls/pretty much anything that should be an out (UGH). The results are below.
|Line drives (LD)||4*||2||6|
|Warning track shots (COPA)||3||2||5|
|Great defensive plays (WHY)||3||0||3|
*One of these was a sacrifice fly, which still counts towards BABIP calculations.
Oddly enough, three of Martinez's five hits this season have come on ground balls, leaving his batting average on fly balls in play (BAFBIP?) at a ridiculously small .083. This screams bad luck to any hitter, but with the way Victor has been teeing off on the ball, it's highway robbery in his case. If he keeps swinging the bat as well as he has been, expect Victor to break out in a big way very soon.