Victor Martinez is one of the better hitters in baseball, and yet he's often overshadowed on his own team. Having shared the stage in Detroit with one of the best hitters of all time, a pair of Cy Young winners, and (formerly) a second generation Tiger slugger, it's easy for fans and media to take VMart for granted, forgetting just how good he really is.
Victor has done great things for the Tigers before - things that certainly ought to gain plenty of appreciation. He hit .330 for us in 2011 (setting a career mark at age 32). And after struggling early in 2013 after missing all of 2012, he posted a .361 average in the second half - at age 34, posting his best half season of baseball aside from a hot 2nd half back in 2005. In light of his amazing finish last year, I wondered if VMart could have a really special 2014. And yet, one could be forgiven for expecting some decline at the age of 35.
Instead of fading into the twilight of his career, Victor Martinez continues to age like fine wine, turning aging curves upside down. While a typical 35 year old hitter would be down 50 points off his career high wRC+, VMart is currently setting a new personal best with 158 (versus a previous high of 130). And incredibly, a player born in the heyday of disco currently leads the AL in OPS with a .986 mark.
As usual, VMart has a nice average this year at .329, though the fact that this raises no eyebrows is a huge compliment to his consistent production. A bigger surprise, though, is the sudden emergence of Victor Martinez as a home run hitter. Suddenly (at age 35), a guy who has never knocked more than 25 dingers in a year is among the league leaders. He has 17 HRs already this year, and we're only about 40% of the way through the season. Perhaps his HR rate will regress a bit, but chance alone is unlikely to account for this power surge.
Martinez appears to be an unusually sharp-eyed and intelligent hitter, which seems to have helped him age well as a hitter and even continue to improve. He has always combined good batting production with a low strikeout rate, and this year is no exception. He's striking out just 6% of the time, and his 17 K's are exceeded by his 23 walks. Heck, in 2014 Victor has THE SAME NUMBER OF HOME RUNS AND STRIKEOUTS. I'm sorry, but that's an utterly ridiculous video game statistic, and it suggests that having to face Victor Martinez just isn't fair to MLB pitchers. If Victor somehow kept this up for a full season, he could become one of only 3 players since the mid 1950's (along with George Brett in 1980 and a performance-enhanced Barry Bonds in 2004) to finish with HR > K.
He may not field a position on most nights, but VMart is the best DH in the league. In light of his lack of decline thus far, he will be a difficult player to evaluate for a new contract this offseason. But I sincerely hope the Tigers make his re-signing a top priority, and that we can see Victor Martinez retire (eventually) wearing the Old English D.