DETROIT -- Lost in the doldrums of a frozen Detroit Tigers offense is the little hot streak Victor Martinez has going on. It's hard to see the positives with the lack of hitting going on with the rest of the team, but Martinez is already significantly better than he was last season.
Last year, Martinez was dealing with left knee issues that required surgery in the 2014 offseason and later landed him on the disabled list mid-season. After an All-Star 2014 where he went .335/.409/.565 with 32 home runs and 103 RBI, last year was a massive letdown. An unavoidable one, to be sure, but a letdown nonetheless.
But even in his All-Star year, which led to a contract extension in the 2015 offseason, he wasn't hitting the ball as hard as he is this season. In 2014, which was a career year, Martinez's hard-hit percentage was at 39.4. A severely hobbled version of himself finished the 2015 season with a 30.6 hard-hit percentage. Coming into Tuesday night's game, though, Martinez has a 42.3 hard-hit percentage -- a career high.
Additionally, Martinez's hits have a higher average exit velocity (Avg EV) this year than last. That statistic only become available last season, so there's no more than 2015 and this year to work with. However, while Martinez had an 87.99 Avg EV, it's gone up to 91.29 so far this year. It's not the highest in the league, but for Martinez it's another positive sign that he's making better, harder contact.
Martinez's first two at-bats were pinch-hit appearances against the Miami Marlins during interleague play, and they went for home runs. He didn't hit another one until Monday night, when he obliterated one to right-center following Miguel Cabrera's second homer of the night. But in the last three days, he's homered, hit two doubles, and had three consecutive multi-hit games.
When Cabrera doesn't hit, the offense generally disappears, too. Ian Kinsler has had at least one hit in all but two games this year, but even he's quieted down the last few days. But Victor Martinez has been quietly smoking the baseball. With the No. 3 and 5 hitters nearly silent, Martinez is looking very much like his old self. If he keeps it up he'll be performing better than in 2014.
Since April 16 he's been hitting .325/.342/.625 with five doubles and two home runs while the rest of the team has been quiet. And it can be frustrating for a hitter to be on a hot streak and not have the rest of the team clicking on at least some level. Monday night, Martinez did not mince words with how he felt the offense has been performing.
"If it was so easy that we could do that, everyone would be playing and making money," Martinez said. "Give (Rich Hill) some credit. He threw the ball good. We were the ones who were horseshit."
Martinez has been anything but hot garbage, but it's no small secret the Tigers are scuffling big time. When the entire team gets going, it will be a dangerous lineup again. But for now Martinez's hot streak isn't as noticeable because of the lack of traffic on the basepaths. There's no one to score if the offense behind him can't get on-base or drive in runs.
One area where Martinez needs to improve right now is getting on-base himself. Having a .342 on-base percentage in the last handful of games is respectable for someone like Nick Castellanos, but not the cleanup hitter, and it doesn't bode well for the guys after Martinez when their bats do wake up and they start hitting.
Martinez had an MLB-high .409 on-base percentage in 2014 and drew a league-leading 28 intentional walks. As the season progresses, his on-base percentage will go up and pitchers will start walking him again. But while the rest of the offense sleeps, at least Martinez's bat is red-hot.