Just like last year, we'll be grading all the Tigers who contributed significant playing time over the course of the season, starting with the position players, then doing the rotation members, and finally finishing up with the bullpen and writing profiles for players without enough playing time to earn a grade. Each list will run in alphabetical order. These reviews will occasionally dip into sabermetrics so we can get a better idea why things happened, but I'll try to explain as we go through things.
This past offseason, after a bit of a sell job by his Venezuelan countrymen, Victor Martinez joined the Detroit Tigers.
The knock on Victor Martinez was that he was a big-bat catcher who couldn't field the positions. In fact, for much of winter we heard how runners who reached first would pretty much just be given a free pass to second base because there was absolutely no chance of Martinez throwing them out.
However, there was no doubt he swung a pretty good bat. He was immediately placed behind Miguel Cabrera in the lineup with hopes that he could "protect" Cabrera. It turns out not even Martinez would force pitchers to give Cabrera more balls to hit. However, unlike several players who batted fifth a season earlier, Martinez could at least make opposing teams pay for pitching around Cabrera.
In the end, Martinez started only 26 games at catcher and played about as expected. He continued hitting well -- finishing with an average of .330 and an OPS of .850 while driving in 103 runs -- making him a valuable piece of the puzzle.
He was among the best designated hitters, and was credited with much off-the-field leadership. So although I'm tempted to give him a high-B due to the fielding, I have to bump it up to
At the plate
Using a few sabermetric stats, he had a wOBA of .368. Remember that wOBA is a weighting of offensive categories scaled to on-base percentage, so .368 is pretty good. It was actually an improvement from his time in Boston.
In Detroit, Martinez slightly increased his walk rate (7.7%) while decreasing his strikeout rate (8.6%). However, he did see a dip in his isolated power (.141) to 27 points below his career norms. In fact, this was his lowest ISO in any full season he played.
He more than made up for it in batting average, however, as .330 was the highest of his career. He got to that average through a couple of ways. The first was career-high line drive rate of 24.2% Couple that with a near career-low fly ball rate of 33% and you can see why the power numbers dropped a bit. Martinez also hit extraordinarily well with two strikes. His batting average was .299 with an OPS of .758. Finally, he may have had a bit of luck thrown in. The BABIP of .343 was a career high, and 20 points higher than the .321 xBABIP.
In the field
There's really not a lot to write about here. He just didn't play much in the field. He started 26 games at catcher and 6 at first base. It's hard to quantify catcher stats still, but the one stat we can be sure about is the 22% caught stealing rate. That resulted in 29 stolen bases, or more than a steal per game. However, he did limit wild pitches and passed balls to just one every 22 innings. Obviously both of those stats are a bit reliant on the pitcher on the mound, too.
And of course, once Martinez started having some lower body pain -- to us a hockey term -- Martinez's time in the field was pretty much up -- for 2011 and beyond.
Summed up, we can assume he's below average but won't spend much time worrying about that fact.
Looking to 2012:
The Tigers have said Martinez is the full time designated hitter in 2012. Of course, when he was signed that was the fear, if you could call it that. He signed a deal as a catcher/DH with the idea he might be able to serve as a backup catcher for a couple of years. Now he's a well-paid DH while the Tigers seek a backup catcher. That's not the end of the world to me, but I'm sure some are displeased.
As far as batting goes, Martinez seems to sit around the mid-800s for OPS. He finds ways to get on base. He is good with runners on base. I wouldn't be surprised if the average dropped a bit and the power went up by a bit, but I wouldn't expect huge changes to his game.
I'm happy with Martinez as a Tiger. Looking back at Martinez and other big-name free agents of the past offseason, the signing may have been the best move Detroit could make.
And hey, nobody told us we were going to get two Victor Martinezes for the price of one.
I could see him easily becoming a big fan favorite by the time this contract is up.