I still remember when the news broke, via Twitter, that Victor Martinez was going to require knee surgery before the 2015 season. The reason I remember is because preseason boredom was nearing its peak for a lot of people, and some people on Twitter were reliving the glory days by re-posting old tweets from years back. "Tigers to sign Prince Fielder," I would read, and I'd be halfway through the bottle of Jack Daniels before I'd check the original post date and realize what had happened. This happened two or three times before I vowed never to get fooled again, so when I read, "Victor Martinez to have knee surgery," I ignored it.
Then I checked the post date.
Then I said some NSFW things.
That was how VMart's 2015 season started, and for those who want the TL;DR version of his season-in-review, the chronological order went something like this:
- Aw, ****
- Ok, maybe ...
- [lots of lip biting]
- HE'S BACK HE'S BACK H--nope, he's not
- BENCH HIM YOU IDIOT!
- oh please oh please oh please oh please oh please
- He's looking slightly better! No, you have to look from this specific angle!
- Aw, ****
Ok, so a career batting average, a career on-base percentage, and a career slugging percentage walk into the bar, and the bartender says, "hey, .302/.367/.467," but the guy at the end of the bar with a bum knee says, "Nope, .245/.301/.366!" I'm sorry, I thought maybe Martinez's 2015 slashline would be a bit easier to take if I turned it into a punchline, but now there are children crying and some people are glaring, so apparently that's a no-go.
You have to give him a bit of a break, though. He only played in 34 games (slashing .216/.308/.270) before going on the disabled list in mid-May, and not returning for nearly a month. At first, he looked like the time off may have cured him, and from June 19 until July 9 (19 games, 88 plate appearances) he posted a sexy slashline of .337/.375/.506 with eight doubles and a couple of home runs.
But from the All Star break through the end of the season, he hit .222/.271/.333, and I think most of us had already mentally moved him to the "See You Next Year" category by the end of July, a few bright spots along the way notwithstanding.
His strikeout rate of 10.7 percent was his highest yet in a Tigers' uniform (compare to 6.6 percent in 2014, and 9.3 percent in 2013), and his walk rate of 6.4 percent was also the lowest he'd posted with the Tigers (10.9 in 2014, 8.1 in 2013). Those are not thing you'd normally look at and say, "Oh, that's his knee thing," because in theory a knee that isn't quite as strong as usual wouldn't mess with your plate discipline. But this is baseball, and things get strange sometimes. Players get in weird mental spaces and try to press too hard. They spend a month away from live pitching and it messes with their timing. I don't know, maybe "mojo" is actually a thing.
What's encouraging is that his batted ball rates weren't terribly off from what he posted in his monster 2014 season: a 21 percent line drive rate (down a lousy 0.3 percent), a 40.3 percent ground ball rate (improved by 0.3 percent), and a 38.7 percent fly ball rate (also improved by 0.6 percent). The big different is in the HR/FB ratio, which Fangraphs has at 16 percent for 2014, and down to 7.2 percent for 2013. He hit plenty of fly balls this year, but not nearly enough of them were clearing the wall. He might as well have just tattooed the words "power outage" on his forehead and made it clear for everyone.
Catherine's grade: C-
He was never healthy. Spent large portions of the year on the DL and his power didn't truly begin to show until the last 4-5 weeks of the season. Even then Martinez was only a shadow of his career-best 2014 self. He was, however, healthy enough to play first base when needed down the stretch and smacked a few powerful home runs at the end. But it just wasn't a good year for Martinez overall. He needs a good offseason to recover.
Expectations for 2016
The question, of course, is whether an aging veteran who will be turning 37 in December can do the whole recovery thing. What little I know about medicine and biology tells me that, as the human body grows older, it gets more fragile and broken down, not less. Whatever training program Martinez was using in the past offseason (I can only assume it involved giving piggy-back rides to Miguel Cabrera) should probably be modified slightly to save his deteriorating knees. Can he stay healthy? Sure he can. Can he slip on a banana peel in January and watch his knee burst into literal flames? Let's not tempt fate by answering that.
If Victor can get those legs back into good shape for 2016, I would expect him to post a slashline closer to an average of his three healthy seasons in Detroit, somewhere around .320/.380/.485, with 20 home runs and 95 RBIs. This is going to be very, very necessary if the Tigers are going to get their run differential high enough to be a contending team in 2016, because they probably won't re-sign Yoenis Cespedes to play left field, which means both Martinez and Cabrera need to post at least career-average Runs Created stats next year.
If his knees won't hold up, I'm afraid we'll be looking at a slashline much closer to STUPID/EXTENDED/CONTRACT.