It has been a few days since the initial report broke that the Tigers had signed designated hitter Victor Martinez to a 4 year, $68 million extension. Now that the dust has settled, it's time to breakdown Martinez's contract by exploring what we should expect in terms of his production going forward.
Victor Martinez has been in the MLB for twelve seasons, and has put together a career line of .306/.373/.474 with 189 home runs, a .365 wOBA, 125 wRC+, .168 ISO, 10.4 percent strikeout rate, 9.5 percent walk rate, and a .316 BABIP. A catcher in his younger years, Martinez, who will be 36 at the start of next season, is primarily a designated hitter. He will occasionally play first base when Miguel Cabrera needs to get off his feet, but his defensive contributions are minimal.
Martinez is easily coming off his most productive offensive season, a year in which he hit .335/.409/.565 with a career high 32 home runs. What's even more astounding is his plate discipline. V-Mart led all of baseball with a 1.67 walk-to-strikeout ratio and 28 intentional walks. He only struck out 42 times, the lowest total among qualified hitters. In his age 35 season, Victor Martinez was worth 4.4 WAR without playing the field for more than 300 innings, and finished second in the voting for the American League Most Valuable Player award.
In a year where Miguel Cabrera had to battle coming back from core muscle repair surgery for a good chunk of the season, I would go so far as to say that the Tigers would not have won the American League Central division without Victor Martinez's monster year in the middle of the order.
However, that was that, and this is now. Victor Martinez is technically at the end of his career, and declared in his press conference on Friday that he will finish his career in Detroit. Many agree that a four year contract for the Tigers' DH is a risky bet, especially when the Tigers are paying him $17 million per season. While Martinez's veteran leadership and professional attitude will be invaluable to the culture in the locker room, what can we expect out of him on the field for the next four years?
It is unrealistic to expect Victor to have another 30 homer season. Before 2014, Victor's career high was 25 home runs, which came in 2007 with the Indians. Why the power surge this year? It's hard to tell, but he did have an inflated 16.0 percent home run to fly ball rate. His career rate is 10.7 percent, so regression in that department is inevitable. With all of that considered, it's best to just write off 2014 as Victor's career power year, and prepare for between 10 to 20 home runs per season going forward.
Despite Martinez setting new career highs in batting average and on base percentage, it's hard to see that skill set declining significantly within the next four years. Martinez's BABIP was .316 in 2014, which is identical to his career rate. While .316 is considered a little above league average, it makes sense for Victor considering his line drive rate is consistently between 21 and 24 percent every season. His fly ball rate is consistently between 33 and 38 percent. In terms of discipline, Victor holds a career 9.5 walk percentage, which shouldn't regress considering his eye at the plate has only gotten better as he has matured as a hitter.
Martinez, like his partner Miguel Cabrera, is also known as a hitter that will gladly take the pitch he gets to the field it is meant to go to. He is not one that tries to pull everything. While he will gladly turn on a mistake inside, 850 of the switch hitter's 1,668 major league hits have gone to center or the opposite field. Again, like the home runs, it's unfair to expect Victor to hit above .330 again, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him stay around the .310-.315 range, along with an on-base percentage in the .360-.380 range.
Based off of the data available, I have a hard time believing that Martinez's typical production is going to take a nose dive simply because of age. It's one thing if he suffers a serious injury during the next four years, but his hit tool should not regress too much. The most regression-prone skill in baseball is power, and 2014 aside, Martinez is not a power hitter. He's an on-base machine that hits the ball on the screws more often than not. He's an RBI-collecting middle of the order bat, but that's because he can spray the ball all over the field and find finds a lot of gaps.
Finally, and although I don't think this is the most worthwhile exercise for a team where money doesn't seem to be an object, I need to bring up the price the Tigers are paying per win. V-Mart was worth 4.4 wins in 2014, which is extremely high for a DH will not be duplicated again for him. Steamer projects Victor to be worth 2.8 WAR next year, so essentially worth three wins. Martinez is set to make $14 million next year, so the Tigers will basically be paying $4.7 million per win.
Victor's contract increases in 2016 to $18 million, and it stays at that level till it expires at the end of 2018. I would prefer to use the Oliver five year projection to find an educated guess at V-Mart's future production, but that hasn't been released yet. For the sake of analysis, if I had to guess today, I would say that Martinez will be worth 2.5 WAR in 2016 and 2017, and then 2.0 WAR in 2018. What that means is that the Tigers will be paying about $7.2 million per win in 2016 and 2017, and then $9 million in 2018.