Baseball is a business, and players can and should aim to maximize their contracts whenever they can. So, it does not really make sense to criticize players who do not live up to the value of their contract, as the team who signed them is more at fault for making the decision. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of Victor Martinez.
Every single person who follows baseball knew instantly that Martinez could never produce at a level equal to the four-year, $68 million contract he signed following the 2014 season. Ownership wanted to reward the slugger and hopefully squeeze out a productive year or two with some veteran leadership before it all came to an end.
Unfortunately, that is not really how it all played out for Martinez. Over the span of the contract he hit .262/.320/.297 with 57 home runs and 91 wRC+. Compared to other designated hitters with at least 300 plate appearances during this four-year window, Martinez ranked dead last with -3.6 fWAR. Meanwhile, his reported clubhouse issues at times were just about the opposite of a positive mentoring presence.
While it was clearly best for the Tigers for Martinez’s contract to end, the last few months were bittersweet, as it became clear that this was the finale of his professional career. Martinez had some excellent seasons in Detroit, particularly his 2014 campaign which ended with 32 homers and 168 wRC+. That was clearly the high-water mark, though, and even producing average numbers soon became a challenge.
One big stat: 105 second half wRC+
Admittedly, 105 wRC+ is not an outstanding number; at just five percent better than the average batter, Martinez was near the bottom of the DH rankings. However, his end of the season was at least a brief reminder of who he once was in his prime, helping the Tigers reach the playoffs multiple years in a row while slotting into the heart of the batting order.
Victor Martinez 2018 statistics
Martinez clearly emptied the tank during the final stretch of his career, as he absolutely should have. No stat is more telling than his hard hit percentage in September, which was 20 percentage points higher than his career norm, sitting at 53.3 percent during his final month. A .250 BABIP did not see that hard contact turn into many hits, but Martinez was obviously grinding hard, and in the end he left everything on the field.
An increased swing rate was also a mark of Martinez’s final month, but the real production came in August, when he hit .295 with a couple of homers. Overall, his 2018 season will not be anything spectacular in memory, but he showed some level of value during the final moments. Rather than success, it was his ability to hold off the total collapse many expected that defined the final chapter of his career.
The fact that Martinez received a contract too large for his production is no fault of his own and should not impact how fans view his overall tenure in Detroit. A .290/.349/.440 line over eight seasons with 113 wRC+ hides some of the ups and downs, but ultimately he was a net positive for the Tigers, particularly in 2016 when the team was still a viable playoff hopeful.
If the Tigers were still playoff contenders, Martinez’s role in the lineup would rightly have come under major scrutiny, but with few alternate options and nothing to lose, there was no reason not to let him play. Thankfully, Detroit can now turn the page and gain some roster flexibility, while Martinez can feel happy about the whole of his career and the fact that he was able to go out on his own terms.