I wouldn't touch Victor Martinez lately. The way he has been hitting since July, I would not be surprised at all to find that Martinez is currently reaching the temperature of a furnace. This is a welcome change from April, where he was so cold that the batter's box frosted over. This shouldn't come as a surprise, considering Martinez is an excellent hitter coming off of a debilitating injury. The words of caution began pouring in. It would take time; he would slowyl round into form; it might take all year to regain his stroke.
Umm... Nope. In the matter of a few weeks, Victor found his swing and has been crushing the ball ever since. Look at a tale of two halves:
1st Half: .258/.314/.380
2nd Half: .353/.408/.471
Even that doesn't do justice to how quick and extreme Martinez turned things around. Let's focus in on the period from May to July and look at his slash line.
It doesn't take Bill James or GWilson to figure out that something changed over those three months. What, exactly, did change? Was it a plate discipline thing?
May: 3.7% BB rate, 13.8% K rate
June: 11.3% BB rate, 7.8% K rate
July: 6.3% BB rate, 10.7% K rate
What we can conclude is that Martinez is starting to get his bat back up to speed. Early in the season, he was striking out more often. Those strikeouts are now being put in play, doubtless a good thing for a line drive hitter like Martinez. He's actually cut down on the walks since the All Star Break, but obviously the approach has worked. Still, plate discipline can't entirely explain the difference between Bad Martinez and Good Martinez. That means we must turn to our old friend BABIP.
Well, well, well. We've found our culprit. Martinez was getting about as lucky as Alex Avila when faced with foul balls before. All of a sudden, he's as lucky as Rick Porcello in a room full of single ladies. That explains it all. Right?
Not quite. What are Victor's batted ball profiles? These could show some clue of the improvement he's made at the plate.
His ground ball rates:
Not a whole lot surprising there. A guy like Martinez, who happens to be slower than a glacier, should not be hitting too many ground balls to be successful. What did strike me as odd was that in June, Victor had his highest ground ball rate by far, and yet still managed his second highest ISO (.160) of any month this year. I'll chalk that up to small sample size nuances.
Fly ball rates:
Not a whole lot to look at here. It's worth noting that June and July are the only months to date that Martinez has had a HR/FB ratio over 10%. He's making better use of his fly balls and driving the ball out of ballparks, although SSS caveats still apply.
Line drive rates prove the most telling of all:
Wait a second. Did Martinez really put up a line drive rate of 30.1% over an entire month? That's insane. I've been salivating over Jhonny Peralta's 25% all season, yet Victor just topped that. It wasn't even close. Obviously, he can't keep that kind of pace-
Second Half: 32.7%
There you have it. Victor Martinez has gotten much better lately, and he's gotten much better lately because he has a high BABIP, and he has a high BABIP because he's spraying line drives everywhere.
Victor Martinez, I pronounce you "King of the Duck Lemons."