J.D. Martinez. Where do I even begin with this guy? Released by the Houston Astros on March 22nd because he was "a victim of their own success," the Tigers signed him to a minor league contract two days later. Martinez started the season in Triple-A Toledo, but was called up to Detroit after hitting 10 home runs and posting a .538 ISO in 17 games.
Originally drafted by Houston in the 20th round of the 2009 MLB draft, Martinez played for the Astros from 2011 to 2013. J.D. was always a solid power hitter against left handed pitching, but was mainly considered to be a guy who "might run into one" instead of a legitimate threat at the plate. The Tigers called up Martinez with the intent of using him as exactly that: the guy with power off the bench.
Well, Martinez showed the Tigers power, though he didn't stay on the bench for very long. J.D. started a few games here and there at the end of April and May, but then came the fateful night of May 19th against the Cleveland Indians. Heading to the ninth inning in Cleveland, the Tigers found themselves down 4-3. Danny Worth was due to hit second in the inning, but manager Brad Ausmus opted to have Martinez pinch hit instead. Facing Indians closer Cody Allen with one out, Martinez sent a 1-0, 96 mile per hour fastball to dead center field for a game-tying home run. Although the Tigers would go on to lose the game, that was night where the legend of J.D. Martinez began.
J.D. Martinez posted monster numbers for the Tigers in 2014. In 123 games, J.D. hit .315/.358/.553 with 23 ding dongs and 76 steaks (HRs and RBIs). Although he didn't start the season in the majors and was not playing everyday at first after his call-up, he still proved to be one of the most productive hitters in all of baseball. Among players with a minimum of 450 plate appearances, J.D. Martinez was tied for ninth in Major League Baseball with a 153 wRC+, tenth with a .391 wOBA, and twelfth with a .238 ISO. In the playoffs, J.D. did not fold under the pressure. Despite only having 3 hits in 12 plate appearances, two of them went for home runs and the other was a double.
Martinez did have a robust .389 BABIP, but that can partially be attributed to his 19.9 percent hard hit rate (thirty third in MLB). Martinez will probably never have a BABIP that high again, but if he keeps hitting the ball hard, the power numbers should stay high. Call it a fluke, call it a career year, call it whatever you want, but J.D. Martinez was flat out raking in 2014.
On defense, Martinez saw time at both corner outfield spots. J.D. spent 689 innings in left field, and 242 2/3 innings in right. Overall, he was below league average in the outfield, but not a disaster. In 931 2/3 total innings, Martinez posted a -1.6 UZR, -2.3 UZR/150, and -1 DRS. Anyway you spin it, J.D. cost the Tigers between 1 to 2 runs on defense, but that's not so bad that you would consider his glove a liability. Overall, J.D. Martinez was worth 3.7 fWAR. Not bad for a guy that was suppose to be the left fielder for the Mud Hens.
The Tigers signed J.D. Martinez back in March as organizational depth. He finished the season as one of Major League Baseball's top hitters. I think that it's safe to say that both parties got much more than they bargained for. I'm not a big narrative guy, but J.D. easily provided one of the best feel good stories of the year. After being outrighted off the Astros' roster at the end of 2013, Martinez completely re-engineered his swing in the Venezuelan Winter League. What he did after coming back stateside is incredible.
Every year teams scour the market looking for middle of the order hitters via costly trades and big free agent contracts. The Tigers, although already possessing the great Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, found a premier power bat at the cost of a major league minimum contract. From his first home run off of the Indians in May, to his RBI double off of Zach Britton in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS that gave all Tigers fans hope, J.D. Martinez had an unbelievable, fairy tale 2014 season.