In 2015, the possibility of J.D. Martinez being lost to the Detroit Tigers would’ve been an unfathomable thought. With the right fielder now on the 15-day disabled list for a non-displaced right elbow fracture, that’s not the case this year. His absence will be felt, but four to six weeks with Steven Moya is a survivable situation.
Last year, Martinez was a reserve outfielder for the 2015 MLB All-Star Game. He won his first-ever Silver Slugger Award after he hit 38 home runs, the third-most for a Tigers outfielder besides Rocky Colavito (45) in 1961, and Hank Greenberg (41) 1940. And he was a Gold Glove finalist at his position, with the second-most outfield assists (15) in the American League. His 7.7 UZR was second in right, and he had a 5 WAR.
This season, his 9.5 walk percentage is the highest in his MLB career and second-best only to a Double-A stint with the Astros in 2011. His strikeouts are down from last year (24.2 vs. 27.1), the lowest in the majors since 2012, and his .371 wOBA is nearly identical to his .372 mark in 2015. As a hitter, he hasn’t changed, despite some earlier struggles of inconsistency.
Offensively, he’s just as good. But his defense has fallen so far off the tracks that his WAR barely breaks level (0.7). Whereas he was one of the best outfielders in 2015, he ranks as the worst fielder at any of the three positions in the AL this season. His 8.8 ARM value last year, has dropped to -3.7 in 2016.
Whether you prefer defensive runs saved or ultimate zone rating for your defensive ruler, Martinez’s -12 DRS and -9.1 UZR both land at the bottom in both categories for any position in the AL. His -23.7 UZR/150 is a distant last by an astounding 5.1 points. Expanding to all of MLB, his DRS ranks dead last for any qualified player, and his UZR is second-worst only to Jay Bruce on the Reds (-14.8 UZR).
Although Moya’s time in left field earlier in the year was nothing short of adventurous, his 62 innings in the outfield for Detroit are still an improvement. With the Mud Hens, his defense can be described as circuitous and last year’s reports would’ve shown he’s worse than Martinez. However, if Moya can give the Tigers the same defensive contribution in right — his natural playing position — as he has in left this year, it will soften the blow of Martinez’s loss.
In 2016, all indications with Moya’s bat show him to be just above average at the major league level. But for Moya, that’s a massive improvement from last year, and in 2014. That’s not to say this will be a walk in the park, and mistakes are going to happen, defensively. But even an average offensive performance — combined with average defense — will be more than enough to see the Tigers through for 30 or 40 games.
Even with Martinez’s defensive issues this year, the Tigers are still only 1 1/2 games out of first place — partly because of their juggernaut offense, which has the third-best wOBA (.333) and wRC (107) in the AL. Being without Martinez for four to six weeks is not ideal for Detroit, but the difference in contribution over that time period is not likely to end the Tigers’ season.