Victor Martinez was flirting with some historical company for most of the 2014 season. At the All-Star break, Martinez was hitting .328/.391/.599 with 21 home runs and 55 RBI. The impressive numbers -- which included more home runs than all but three of his previous 11 seasons -- were enough to earn him the fifth All-Star appearance of his career.
The significant part of this story lies elsewhere in Martinez's stat line. While most hitters endure a rise in strikeouts when they sell out for more power, Martinez had gone in the opposite direction. He ended the first half of the season with just 23 strikeouts in 340 plate appearances, a paltry 6.8 percent rate. If Martinez could hit a few more home runs and maintain that elite strikeout rate in the second half, he could join Barry Bonds as the only player to hit 30 home runs and strike out less often than he homered in a season since 1956.
Alas, this statistical oddity did not continue. Martinez struck out 19 times in the second half -- a slightly lower rate than in the first half, actually -- but only hit 11 home runs. He finished the year with a career-high 32 home runs and a career-low 6.6 percent strikeout rate. His incredible season earned him a second-place finish in the AL MVP voting, the first full-time DH to finish that high since David Ortiz in 2005.
Unfortunately, Martinez's power streak is not likely to continue. His .230 ISO was a career-high, and nearly 100 points higher than the .135 ISO he posted in his two previous seasons with the Tigers. At 36 years old, he doesn't have the bat speed that he once possessed. Nearly all of his power came on pitches on the inner half of the plate, which allowed him to open up his hits and drive the ball to the pull field.
While he still was able to spray the ball to all fields, his power was decidedly limited to these mistake-punishing instances. Martinez did not hit an opposite-field home run, and only had one homer to center field, a solo shot off Joe Saunders in Texas.
Martinez signed a four-year, $68 million contract extension with the Tigers in November, ensuring that he will end his career in Detroit. The contract pays him $14 million in 2015, and $18 million in each of the next three seasons. He has a 10-team no-trade clause for the 2015 season, and will have 10-and-5 rights starting in 2016.
Stats and projections
Martinez's home run totals are likely to drop off, but his batting average and plate discipline look like they're here to stay. His batted ball profile remained almost identical from 2013 to 2014, and he actually swung at a higher percentage of pitches than he has throughout his career. His overall contact rate, which sat in the mid-80s during his years with the Cleveland Indians, has been above 90 percent in each of his three seasons with the Tigers.
The Tigers won't necessarily be counting on another 30-homer season from Martinez, but his ability to hit both righties and lefties for a high average with solid power is one of the keys to this offense. I don't think it's a coincidence that we have seen a slight uptick in Miguel Cabrera's numbers -- not to mention a significant decline in intentional walks -- since Martinez arrived. Expect the duo to be one of the most lethal one-two punches in the majors again in 2015.